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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Takes Up $2.6Bln Army Plan

After a heated public debate, the Cabinet on Thursday is expected to sign off on a four-year, $2.6 billion program to turn a large part of the 1.1 million-strong military into all-volunteer units.

"The draft program has been coordinated with all interested ministries and the Institute of Transitional Economy, which was the main opponent of the Defense Ministry," First Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Vladislav Putilin told reporters Wednesday.

Under the reform, the number of professional soldiers and sergeants in the armed forces will grow by 147,578 to reach about 277,500 in 2007. The military has about 600,000 soldiers and sergeants.

Only a fraction of the 500,000 officers in the military are currently conscripted, and their number will shrink as 36,052 more become volunteers.

In all, some 80 so-called permanent readiness units will be turned into all-volunteer units in the 79 billion-ruble program, Putilin said.

The financing for the reform is much less than the 135 billion rubles that the Defense Ministry had asked for. Union of Right Forces leader Boris Nemtsov has suggested that the entire armed forces be made all-volunteer in three years at a cost of 91 billion rubles.

Putilin said volunteer servicemen will be accepted into the Defense and Interior ministries and as border guards.

He also said that starting in 2005, conscripts will no longer be sent to serve in the North Caucasus region, and they will be replaced there by contract servicemen.

Enlistees will have to be between 18 and 45 years old and must serve for at least three years, Putilin said, adding that the optimal length of service would be between six and nine years.

While saying that the details about the time schedule for the reform will remain a state secret, he did outline some of the major parameters, including:

Some 20,000 soldiers will be transferred to contract service this year;

The minimum length of service for conscripts will be cut from two years to one in 2008;

Some 9.6 billion rubles will be spent on the reform next year, while the biggest chunk of the earmarked 79 billion rubles -- 26.8 billion rubles -- will be spent in its final year, in 2007.

The reform program is divided into two parts, the most expensive of which will cost the government 64.2 billion rubles and will focus on social issues such as reconstructing military housing, building new barracks and increasing salaries.

On the lowest end of salaries, a rank-and-file paratrooper will earn 7,056 rubles per month, a soldier in the ground forces will get 6,369 rubles, and those serving in Chechnya will get 16,844 rubles. Putilin said extra pay for combat duty in Chechnya will amount to 5,000 rubles per month.

Salaries will top out at 8,089 rubles per month for officers in paratrooper units, 7,009 rubles in ground forces units and 18,570 rubles in Chechnya.

In contrast, contract soldiers in Chechnya used to be paid more than 20,000 rubles per month and now get about 5,500 rubles.

The other part of the program concentrates on ensuring combat readiness and will cost 14.9 billion rubles. Of this amount, 5.5 billion rubles will be spent on keeping military equipment combat-ready.

"Unfortunately, there is no money for new weapons," Putilin said.

Money from this part of the program also will go toward hiring civilian workers to relieve servicemen of tasks such as guard duty and cooking.

About 432 million rubles will be spent to advertise contract service in the media.