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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fewer Prospects for Success

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Current efforts to modernize the army are a perfect example of how trying to update the individual parts of an outdated military machine instead of implementing fundamental reforms is doomed to failure.

In 2003, then Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to President Vladimir Putin that military reforms had been completed and that the process of modernization had begun in the armed forces. The whole idea of modernization, however, was to form 72 military units of enlisted soldiers, rather than conscripts. This would have made it possible to reduce mandatory military service from two years to one.

The program has turned out to be a miserable failure. Conscripts are forced into extending their term of service by signing contracts, often under duress. All the same, they flee the army at the first opportunity. The Defense Ministry has been forced to revise its recruiting target downward from 144,000 volunteer servicemen, first to 133,000 and most recently to 125,000, according to a recent statement by General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the General Staff.

It is now evident that the switch to one-year mandatory service will require more changes. These changes, however, do not go so far as to constitute an effective new system either. Officers must be in shock following Putin's decree requiring longer terms of service to achieve higher ranks, which means that it will take five years more to rise from lieutenant to colonel. Thousands of soldiers hoping to pin new stars on their epaulets this year will now have to wait at least another year.

The top brass explained that this measure was necessary because officers were gaining promotions too quickly to gain the knowledge and experience needed to handle their increased responsibilities. Recent graduates of military academies are often placed in command of large military units, they say, and are unable to ensure combat readiness or handle the staff work for their units. The commander of the Moscow Military District, General Vladimir Bakin, has pointed out that the command of a company is too much pressure to place on the shoulders of a 23-year-old.

Although most of the army's officers are unhappy with the decree, it was needed. This is because the reduction of obligatory service from two years to one will compel the Defense Ministry to enlist about 700,000 young men next year, notwithstanding the fact that in 2010 only 718,000 young men will turn 18 nationwide. Virtually every man of the appropriate age will have to serve in the military. In an effort to maximize the number of bodies available for service in the ranks, most officer-training courses have been closed as well. So, given that more than one-quarter of current platoon commanders are graduates of civil universities, where is the next batch going to come from?

The Defense Ministry's answer comes in the form of two related ideas. The first is to permit officers up to the rank of major to serve as company commanders, a position that previously bhadeen the purview of captains or lower-ranking officers. The second is extending the time spent at each rank. The simple math involved reveals that an officer could spend a full 14 years at the platoon and company level. This will be the fate of most officers.

This would make sense, in principle, in a small, volunteer army in which soldiers receive reasonable salaries determined more by length of service than rank and position. But it doesn't make sense in an army of more than a million like Russia's, in which one of the chief incentives to perform is the possibility of rising rapidly through the ranks.

Moreover, any officer wishing to receive a promotion first has to undergo additional training at a military academy. But now it will be clear from the first day of a lieutenant's command that he, along and most other officers, will never rise above the rank of major and the command of a company. There will be no point in getting further training.

The concern here is that these policies will only cause young officers to lose all interest in military service once and for all and to start looking for ways to get out of the army as fast as possible. This doesn't appear to worry the army's generals, even though the deadline to have all positions in the armed forces staffed, Jan. 1, continues to draw nearer.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.