Russian military having serious problems retaining contract soldiers, new data show

His former commanders left this Russian soldier's corpse in the Ukrainian soil near Luhansk, at a site of the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbas, Ukraine (Image:

His former commanders left this Russian soldier's corpse in the Ukrainian soil near Luhansk, at a site of the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbas, Ukraine (Image: 

Analysis & Opinion, Military analysis, Russia

Vladimir Putin said this week that he remains committed to moving to an all-volunteer military, even though budgetary stringencies have slowed the process. But figures from the military itself show that Moscow faces an even more serious task, given demographic problems and the army’s inability to get contract soldiers to sign on for new tours.

In his commentary in Yezhednevny zhurnal, Russian military expert Aleksandr Golts says that Putin’s words contradicted the statements of his generals earlier this month at the start of the fall draft. Many of them said they wanted the draft to continue forever, even though the Kremlin leader wants to do away with it.

Although if Putin is as committed and certain as he says, the military commentator continues, that raise the question as to why he not long ago signed a law prohibiting those who manage to avoid military service “without respectable causes” to serve in the government until after ten years have elapsed.

Putin is quite right that the transition to an all-volunteer military has slowed, but his words do not convey just how serious the problem may be. That is suggested by a report of Col.Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev to the social council of the defense ministry. His words were truly “sensational,” Golts says.

The general said that this year the number of contract service personnel equaled 354,000, a number that, if true, means that the number of such soldiers has in fact declined, given that at the end of 2016, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu reported that there were already 384,000 contractor soldiers in uniform.

If Mizintsev’s numbers are correct, the journalist said, that means that the transition to a contract army has stalled at the level of 2015, the “only explanation” for which is that “approximately the same number of [contract soldiers] left the service” as joined it in the last two years.

Having served their original three-year term, “they have not begun to conclude new contracts,” something that means that the conditions of service are “not as attractive as the propagandists of the military agency describes them.” Pay hasn’t risen for five years, inflation has cut into that, and not all of the contractors are happy to be sent to “secret” wars.

“The secret burials of those who have been killed, the shameful explanations” about the war in Ukraine, and “the cynical refusal to acknowledge the country’s own soldiers who have been taken prisoner all have a negative impact on the attitudes of many toward service,” Golts says.

But such a state suggests an even bigger problem. If the number of contractors hasn’t increased over the last two years, then Shoygu’s claim that Moscow was able to cut the number of draftees this fall by 18,000 from a year earlier because of the increased number of contract soldiers is meaningless, Golts says.

What that cutback actually reflects, the military analyst continues, is the demographic bottleneck Russia now faces. Those being drafted this year were born in 1999, “when the number of births was the very lowest for all of post-Soviet history.” But there will be no quick turnaround: the number of births in each of the next seven years weren’t much better.

(“But there is no bad news without good,” he continues. Shoygu said that “only 13,000 draftees” will be sent to force structures other than the army. Most of these will go to the Russian Guard. But the other siloviki forces are “learning to live without draftees.” The emergency services ministry has been doing so for two years already.)

And looming behind all these figures is yet another the Kremlin is certain to be concerned about. If one adds up the total number of draftees, contract soldiers and officers in the army, one gets a total of 850,000. That is 160,000 less than Putin has confirmed in a recent decree.

Such a shortfall “inevitably will lead to a decline in military readiness,” Golts says. But the numbers may be less important in reality than as confirmation of the Kremlin’s belief that “only a million-man army corresponds to the status of a great power.” The only way to get to that number quickly, however, is to call up reserves.

And to avoid doing that, military commanders are certainly telling their civilian superiors, will require keeping the draft in place for far more years ahead than Putin and his team have suggested. Thus, “ambitions are harming the transition to a contract army no less than budget reductions.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Ihor Dawydiak

    Seeing is not always believing especially when that which is viewed is actually a mirage or a “Potemkin Village”. In that regard, despite the fact that the Russian Armed Forces are numerically strong, does that actually make them equally powerful? Do they not have a multitude of problems which are almost impossible to hide? Here are a few examples, including: 1) An all volunteer force is always superior to an army composed of draftees either in part or in whole. On this point Russia continues to struggle and will continue on that path for at least the near future. 2) The Russian Armed Forces have a bad reputation for low morale for reasons that include but are not limited to: a) Constant mistreatment including unwarranted mental and physical abuse of soldiers, b) Lies concerning deployment (especially to Eastern Donbas and Chechnya), c) Unwillingness of the Kremlin to account for soldiers who have been captured or gone missing (especially in Eastern Donbas), and d) The disposal of the remains of Russian soldiers killed in Eastern Donbas have almost always been buried in secret without notifying loved ones or have been dumped into rivers or abandoned mine shafts or cremated and then scattered in the countryside. 3) Many draftees enlist because they are unemployed and not because they are interested in joining the armed forces as a career. 4) It is a well known fact that Russia has a very difficult time in competing with the US in particular. This does not mean that they cannot develop technology. However, they cannot pay for that technology as Russia lacks the financial resources. Hence, Putin’s claim that Russia will soon rival the Americans on the high seas is nothing short of laughable. The Americans currently possess 12 nuclear powered aircraft carriers and the Russians have at their disposal ONE antiquated non-nuclear powered carrier that has been constantly prone to breakdowns. Then there is point number 5) Russia has a multitude of nuclear weapons but so does the US, China, the UK, France, India, Pakistan and probably other countries including North Korea. However, could Russia ever use this nuclear capability as a matter of offence without destroying itself? Probably not. So where does this leave the Russian Armed Forces and their actual capabilities? More importantly, what can the Kremlin expect to achieve through any aggressive albeit localized military action(s)? War is always extremely expensive and the imposition of sanctions are even worse not to mention the upgrading of an antiquated military. Nevertheless, Pompous Putin the Pederast has yet to learn his lesson even though it’s just around the corner and its name is bankruptcy.

  • veth

    Reuters Exclusive: Death certificate offers clues on Russian casualties in Syria

    An official document seen by Reuters shows that at least 131 Russian citizens died in Syria in the first nine months of this year, a number that relatives, friends and local officials say included private military contractors.

    World 15:34, 28 October 2017

    The document, a death certificate issued by the Russian consulate in Damascus dated Oct. 4, 2017, does not say what the deceased was doing in Syria. But Reuters has established in interviews with the families and friends of some of the deceased and officials in their hometowns that the dead included Russian private military contractors killed while fighting alongside the forces of Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The presence of the Russian contractors in Syria – and the casualties they are sustaining – is denied by Moscow, which wants to portray its military intervention in Syria as a successful peace mission with minimal losses. The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to detailed questions submitted by Reuters. Requests for comment from the Russian consulate in Damascus did not elicit a response. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement provided to Reuters on Friday: “We do not have information about individual citizens who visit Syria. With that, I consider this question dealt with.” Reuters sent questions to a group of Russian private military contractors active in Syria through a person who knows their commanders but did not receive a response. The official death toll of military personnel in Syria this year is 16. A casualty figure significantly higher than that could tarnish President Vladimir Putin’s record five months before a presidential election which he is expected to contest. A Reuters count of the number of Russian private contractors known to have been killed in Syria this year, based on interviews with relatives and friends of the dead and local officials in their hometowns, stands at 26. Russian authorities have not publicly released any information this year about casualties among Russian civilians who may have been caught up in the fighting. The Russian Foreign Ministry, in response to Reuters questions, said the consulate in Syria was fulfilling its duties to register the deaths of Russian citizens. It said that under the law, personal data obtained in the process of registering the deaths were restricted and could not be publicly disclosed. Read also Russia vetoes extension of mission probing chemical weapons use in Syria – Reuters In August, Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defense ministry spokesman, said in response to a previous Reuters report that information about Russian military contractors in Syria was “a myth”, and that Reuters was attempting to discredit Moscow’s operation to restore peace in Syria. A Russian diplomat who has worked in a consulate in another part of the world, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the figure of 131 registered deaths in nine months was unusually high given the estimated number of Russian expatriates in Syria. Although there is no official data for the size of the community, data from Russian national elections shows there were only around 5,000 registered Russian voters in the country in 2012 and 2016. “It is as if the diaspora is dying out,” he said. High numbers of deaths are usually recorded by Russian consulates only in tourist destinations such as Thailand or Turkey, he said. Russian consulates do not register the deaths of military personnel, according to an official at the consulate in Damascus who did not give his name. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova The consular document seen by Reuters was a “certificate of death” issued to record the death of Sergei Poddubny, 36. It was one of three death certificates seen by Reuters. Poddubny’s certificate, which bears the consulate’s stamp, lists the cause of death as “carbonization of the body” – in other words, he was burned. It said he was killed on Sept. 28 in the town of Tiyas, Homs province, the scene of heavy fighting between Islamist rebels and pro-Assad forces. Several Russian contractors were killed in the area earlier this year, friends and relatives told Reuters. Read also Russian Su-24 warplane crashes at air base in Syria, crew dies – media Poddubny’s body was repatriated and buried in his home village in southern Russia about three weeks later. He had been in Syria as a private military contractor, one of his relatives and one of his friends told Reuters. Poddubny’s death certificate had a serial number in the top right corner, 131. Under a Justice Ministry procedure, all death certificates are numbered, starting from zero at the start of the year and going up by one digit for each new death recorded. The Russian diplomat confirmed that is the procedure. Reuters saw two other certificates, both issued on Feb. 3. The numbers – 9 and 13 – indicate certificates for at least five deaths were issued on that day. They were both private military contractors, according to people who know them. The death of a Russian citizen would have to be registered at the consulate in order to repatriate the body back to Russia via civilian channels, according to the Russian diplomat. A death certificate from the consulate would also help with bureaucracy back home relating to the dead person’s assets, the diplomat said. The bodies of Russians fighting on the rebel side are not repatriated, according to a former Russian official who dealt with at least six cases of Russians killed in Syria and the relatives of four Russian Islamists killed there. A few thousand Russian citizens with Islamist sympathies have traveled to rebel-held areas since the conflict began in 2011, according to Russian officials.

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  • zorbatheturk

    RuSSian mercenaries make great corpses.