Military reform in Russia

Publication date
Tuesday, 15.01.2002

A group of IET experts


The tragic events of September 11 have radically changed the geopolitical and military political situation in the world. The terrorists have defied the humanity by showing unprecedented boldness, cynicism, and savagery. The civilized world, including Russia, must give an adequate answer to terrorism, including military means. The Russian military can not stay the same.

The authorities of the Russian Federation must modernize the RF military to cope with new challenges of aggression and international terrorism by precisely targeted and inevitable retaliation.

For this Russian needs a professional military.

Uncompleted military reform considerably damages the preparedness of the Russian armed forces.

The present system of conscription for the Army and the Navy inevitably results in the harassment of recruits (infamous “bullying” on the part of “old timers”) humiliating human dignity and bringing about crime among soldiers.

At the same time, the public begins to take an aversion to the military service. Draft dodging acquires mass character, while the number of soldiers absent without leave grows.

The composition of new conscripts is inferior in quality terms.

The same is true about the reservists, the mobilization resource of armed forces personnel. In case of a war a professional military of peace time as a rule needs reinforcements, and therefore there arises the necessity to call up reservists. It is a general law for all large military powers of the modern world. Therefore, however impossible a new war seemed to us, the country needs a trained reserve.

The necessity of a radical military reform has been widely discussed. However, there is no more time for contemplation. Without putting the RF military organization on a qualitatively new level and professional basis, it is impossible to ensure the military security of the nation.

It is time to act.

The RF military organization shall be reformed basing on the combination of two principles: voluntary military service and mandatory discharge by citizens of their constitutional duty to defend the Fatherland .


The concept of changes in the recruitment system


The decision on the implementation of reforms shall be taken urgently.

1. As soon as possible (at the end of year 2001, or in the beginning of year 2002), there shall be taken a political decision, its importance shall be stressed by making it public as a part of the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. The essence of this decision is as follows:

Armed Forces, other troops, military units and agencies responsible for the military and state security -- all structures currently included in the RF military organization – shall immediately start the transition to professional organization principles (to be completed in 2 to 3 years);

The autumn draft of year 2002 shall become the last instance of the two-year conscription implemented in accordance with the current RF legislation;

The leadership of the country shall issue a special address to the servicemen, drafted for a two-year term for the last time in the history of the Russian Armed Forces. The address shall emphasize the fact that they carry out the most important historic mission ensuring the transition to the new system, and, therefore, they deserve a special esteem, gratitude, and reward. The Russian state shall reward their service with a special badge of honor, money remuneration, and privileges to be granted to all servicemen upon completion of their contract service in the future.

2. In the future, all types of military units and formations of the Army and the Navy, and other troops engaged in deterring aggression, preventing armed separatism and terrorism, being on combat duty or alert, those engaged in any combat mission shall be manned (reinforced) only with volunteers, including privates and non-commissioned officers (first of all, sergeants). Units and formations manned in this way are to be called regular troops.

RF citizens belonging to trained military reserves or having served six and more months in the military organization upon examination of their attestation and class certification of their military training shall be entitled to be drafted as volunteers.

After three years of faithful service “contract servicemen” shall be rewarded by opening a savings account. The savings may be spent either to pay a part of costs of higher education, or, after expiration of the service term over 20 years, to purchase a housing at a price typical for the central part of Russia.

Civilians required non-military professions shall be recruited by regular troops and the Navy for discharging auxiliary and other duties, which may be performed by non-military personnel. Terms and conditions of service (employment), and mutual obligations of the parties shall be stipulated by contracts.

3. At the same time, all draft-eligible citizens of Russia shall be trained to carry out their constitutional duty to defend the Fatherland against armed aggression.

In order to achieve this goal, all draft-eligible RF citizens (except those exempted fr om conscription, granted deferment, or those who declared the wish to be drafted into an alternative military service) shall be drafted into military reserve training centers for 6 to 8 months depending on their abilities and the requirements of their military specialization. During training they shall:

  • acquire a military profession in military reserve training centers,
  • guard and maintain reserve armaments, military equipment, and property.

Therefore, the country will regularly reproduce its military trained reserves. The availability of such reserves, and of the stockpile of well-guarded armaments, military equipment, and property in working condition will become a factor decreasing the possibility of aggression and terrorism.

Potential draftees declaring that their beliefs prevent them from bearing arms shall be conscripted for an alternative civilian service to perform such duties, which will enable them to render non-military help to the armed defenders of the Fatherland in repelling aggression.

4. The respective amendments to the law on military duty and military service, and to other laws and legal rules determining the principally new terms of military service in the RF shall be approved in the first six months of year 2002.

In the process of elaboration of the new legislation, all rights of deferment currently in force for students shall be retained. There shall be introduced the right to choose from two service options (6 months or two 3-month periods of service). All citizens, who have acquired a military profession via RDSTO (Russian Defense Sports and Technical Organization) training courses, shall be eligible for one 3-month term of service in respective reserve training centers.

The problem of draft dodging will become less urgent due to such a significant reduction of the term of service and radical changes in its essence and conditions.

In case a political decision is taken to introduce the new recruitment system in the second half of year 2002, it will be possible to have no draft in the spring of year 2002, and the autumn draft of year 2003 will be carried out on the new legal basis as the first draft only into military reserve training centers.

5. The network of military reserve training centers required for the whole military organization of the RF shall be established over two next years on the base of:

  • existing military training units (training centers, detachments, schools, teams, navy crews, and navy training crews), and formations;
  • combat and reserve military units, depots, and some redundant military education institutions subject to closure.

At the same time, any infringement on the social and official status of the managers and educators working at existing military education institutions shall be prevented. Moreover, the educators and instructors shall be granted privileges, since they are responsible for education and training of the citizens both for reserves and for contract military service immediately after graduation from the reserve training centers.

6. Simultaneously, over first two years after the political decision on the transition to the voluntary recruitment into the RF military organization is taken, there shall be implemented urgent modernization of the infrastructure in the military garrisons, wh ere regular troops and the Navy shall be stationed on the permanent basis, and in reserve training centers.

7. The military commissariats shall be reorganized in order to operate under the new recruitment system envisaging the end of the two-year conscription service and gradual (as new centers are established) increase in the number of draftees eligible for service in the military trained reserves over the period of the transformation of the recruitment system of the RF military organization.

8. Salaries of professional soldiers shall be at the level of earnings of public employees, allowing for the specifics and dangers of the military service. According to estimates, the expenditures for the transition to the proposed recruitment system of the RF Armed Forces will be relatively small and affordable for the Russian economy. The distribution of expenditures across years of the reform permits to avoid expenditure peaks, in particular, in year 2003.

The rate of growth in the money remuneration of professional servicemen may decelerate after the sharp increase in 2004 through 2005; later military salaries will change in line with salaries of all public employees. The accumulated reserve of funds will be transferred to the savings accounts.

9. A respective program is required to successfully implement the political decision of the RF President.

The operative elaboration of such a program may be vested with an inter-departmental working group, which is feasible to create at the RF Security Council.

Urgent measures shall be taken as concerns:

  • deployment of regular troops and forces, and of reserve training centers, 
    more precise plans of development of the Armed Forces, 
    amendment of service regulations, instructions, and other normative documents.

The RF Ministry of Finance in cooperation with the Chief Financial and Economic Directorate of the RF Defense Ministry, the Directorate for Military and Economic Analysis and Expert Examination of the RF Defense Ministry, respective agencies of other departments within the RF military organizations shall be urgently charged with the task to elaborate a long term financial plan with regard to the implementation of this reform and to include respective expenditures in the draft federal budget for year 2003.

10. Another important task is to explain and advocate the merits of the new recruitment system of the RF military organization and its advantages for different categories of the RF population.

Proceeding from this fact, it is necessary to elaborate a special program for a PR campaign promoting the military reform.


Transition to professional military organization: available options


Option 1. The present legal base and the two-year conscription system persists. The transition to the recruitment into the RF Armed Forces only on the contract basis is delayed for the future. The number of privates and non-commissioned officers serving under contracts is kept at the current level. The number of conscript servicemen steadily reduced to the planned level. The number of new draftees decreases respectively. In fact, the Ministry of Defense has promoted this option until recently.

Option 2. The conscription is eliminated in year 2002. Servicemen drafted earlier are demobilized in 2002 through 2003 after completing their respective terms of service. The number of privates and non-commissioned officers serving under contracts grows accordingly until year 2004. This option envisages the general dynamics of the total strength to be the same as for Option 1. Conditionally, this option may be referred to as a fragment of the “Yabloko” party political platform.

Option 3.  - recommended. Servicemen conscripted earlier complete their terms of service. The draft for short-term service and training at reserve centers starts in year 2002; gradually the number of trainees increases to meet the capacity of existing training military units (about 100 thousand), there are established new centers. Further all these centers shall be referred as reserve training centers.

Since the Ministry of Defense under the pretext of organizational problems excludes the possibility to start these reforms in year 2002, another option was estimated (the only difference from Option 3 is the starting year of the reform – 2003).


  • first option sets the transition to the volunteer recruitment for an indefinite future;
  • second option envisages the immediate start of the reform along all avenues;
  • third and fourth options, differing by the starting year of the transformation of the recruitment system of the military organization are a compromise.

The feasibility of Option 3 as concerns privates and non-commissioned officers greatly depends on the minimal threshold amounts of salaries sufficient to attract young people to contract service. The preliminary multi-aspect estimate of these parameters was carried out by IET experts; a more thorough analysis was carried out by VTsIOM experts along the traditional methods of public opinion polls. The polls were to estimate the amount of remuneration above roughly Rub. 1,400 per month currently expended for a conscript serviceman, i.e. food, uniforms, barracks living costs, etc.

As a result, it was established that out of about 12 million of Russian citizens (age 18 to 28) the number of potential volunteers (contract servicemen) was:

  • 106 thousand (salary at Rub. 2,000 a month – the level of year 2000),
  • 425 thousand (salary at Rub. 3,000 a month),
  • 910 thousand (salary at Rub. 4,000 a month),
  • 2,174 thousand (salary at Rub. 5,000 a month, etc.).

The results of other public opinion polls are also of interest. In spite of the fact that accroding to VTsIOM estimates almost 5 million people (40 per cent) have a negative attitude to the service in the RF military organization in the peace time, notwithstanding the amount of salary, the majority of respondents (67 per cent) approve the concept of reducing conscript service to 6 – 8 months, while 83 per cent support the transition of regular troops (forces) to the exclusively professional service.

Proceeding form the necessity to guarantee the recruitment of the required number of privates and non-commissioned officers to troops (forces) being in the state of constant combat preparedness and taking into account the feasibility of having not less than 2 applicants per a vacancy, it is recommended to gradually increase average salaries by Rub. 500 a year (in prices of year 2001).

Besides, it seems feasible to conclude contracts in a way guaranteeing the recruits this annual increase in salaries until year 2004, so that later the level of payment was adjusted to the salaries of RF public employees. It goes without saying that future increases in salaries shall be stipulated not only in contracts concluded in 2003 through 2004, but also in contracts of earlier recruits in order to prevent their demobilization.  


Comparing options: an analysis of economic indicators


By analyzing the results of calculations it was established the following:

1) Option 1 maintains the amount of expenditures for privates and non-commissioned officers at practically the same level, since the increase in salaries of contract servicemen is compensated by the decrease in number of new draftees, while Options 2 and 3 (envisaging the reform of the present recruitment system) require a considerable increase in expenditures.

2) The amount of additional funds required for the transition to the new recruitment system by Options 2 and 3 differs significantly, both in aggregate terms (over the whole period under observation), and in annual terms, especially in year 2003, which, as it is generally known, is a critical year for the Russian economy. This difference persists across both systems of initial data.

3) The amount of expenditures required to implement Option 3 increases insignificantly up to year 2004 in comparison with Option 1, which maintains conscription. This fact may be explained by the presence of two-year conscripts in the composition of the RF Armed Forces, what makes more feasible the transition to volunteer recruitment system in a two-year period.

4) In year 2004, additional expenditures caused by transition from conscript to volunteer recruitment of privates and non-commissioned officers will increase in comparison with preceding years. However, this increase is not very significant as compared with the total defense expenditure in the current year. Additional expenditures will make 8.1 per cent for the second option and 5.3 per cent for the third option.

Comparing options: general conclusions

First option: although the cheapest, it does not settle the problem of transition to a professional military organization in near future;

Second option: it is most expensive, however, it does not settle the problem of maintaining the mobilization reserve at the necessary level;

Third option (recommended): it solves both problems at a moderate cost.

The conclusions remain practically the same, notwithstanding what data on the strength of the RF Armed Forces are used for computation.


Analyzing the relationship between economic characteristics and terms of the recruitment system reform


The problem of the terms required to reform the system of recruitment of privates and non-commissioned officers in the RF military organization is a difficult and multi-aspect one. As concerns its economic aspect, the arguments can base on the quantitative evaluation.

However, the discussion of this problem shall start not with economic, but organizational aspects. Opponents constantly argue that the military is unprepared to implement the reform, that the reform requires a thorough preparation. However, it shall be noted that this problem is not new at all. The discussion has been carried out for almost ten years. The Ministry of Defense has maintained the special Directorate for the Military Reform since 1992. There were conducted numerous studies. The RF President (not present, but the former one) set exact terms for transition to contract method of recruitment. These terms have expired long ago, and it is reasonable to inquire: what the time and money were spent for, were the plans are, why no feasible option to settle this problem was elaborated, and why it seems that the reform starts from the scratch again.

It shall be mentioned that responses to the recommendation to reform the recruitment system on the base of Option 3 lack quantitative estimates with regard to preliminary operations and the time they require.

For instance, as concerns the legislative base, as experience shows, the passing of traditional steps of the legislative process may be accelerated and urgent laws (amendments to laws in force) may be passed in less than six moths. However, is it necessary to wait for the completion of this process, when the results of VTsIOM public opinion polls demonstrate that 83 per cent of Russian citizens think it feasible to start the transition to the professional armed forces immediately? Moreover, there is a sufficient number of RF citizens, who are ready to serve in the RF military organization under contracts in case salaries of this category of servicemen somewhat increase.

The reform can be started in the framework of the legislation currently in force. Shall there be the conscription? This question is in the jurisdiction of the RF President. He may announce the start of reforms and stop two-year conscription since the spring of year 2002. A similar precedent has been recently set in Ukraine.

End-2001 through first half-year of 2002 may be used to prepare the transition to the new recruitment system:

  • elaboration of the legislative base;
  • adjustment of the structure of the military organization;
  • establishment of reserve training centers.

A special problem is the financing of the reform. Bearing this question in mind and using more precise initial data, it is possible to work out the program of reforms for year 2002 in such a way (it was done in the process of elaborating Option 3) that only minor adjustments will be necessary in terms of financing. Even additional payments to servicemen to be demobilized in year 2002 may be provided without radical revision of the budget, at the expense of funds saved due to the abolition of the traditional conscription. These payments are substantially below the expenditures for a traditional draft campaign.

The recruitment of draft-eligible citizens for a six-month training in military reserve training centers may be started since the second half-year of 2002, when the present legislative base is amended and the capacities of existing training units to train required specialists become more clear. In fact, Option 3 permits to use the whole year 2002 for comprehensive preparation of all agencies and services for the complete transition to the new recruitment system for the RF military organization without additional spending as compared to the military expenditures targeted by the federal budget for year 2002.


Young people: tentative response to the recommended option


In order to elaborate further certain components of the recommended reform, there was conducted a study of the attitude young people have towards the recommended transformations. IET experts carried out a questionnaire poll among students attending Moscow and provincial institutions of higher education (both having and not having military departments).

This study was considerably developed and convincingly substantiated in the course of a public opinion poll carried out by VTsIOM experts. The representative character of the VTsIOM sampling (1,602 respondents) permitted to draw the conclusions about the attitude of the whole RF male population (age 18 – 28), which according to Goskomstat estimates makes at present 11,815 thousand. It shall be noted that persons not eligible for military service made 13 per cent of this segment of VTsIOM respondents.

For the answers given by men in response to the question about the reasonable and at the same time attractive increase in salaries of contracted servicemen, see above.

The processing of respondents’ answers to other entries of the questionnaire permitted to arrive to the following conclusions:

a) the majority of respondents gave unequivocally positive answers to the deliberately varying question about their support for the transformation of the military organization into a professional one. For more detailed information, see below:

  • nine tenths (90 per cent) of respondents answered “yes” and “probably yes” to the question if Russia needs professional armed forces recruited on the voluntary basis;
  • four fifths (83 per cent) of respondents supported the proposal to carry out the transition to a professional military organization, that meaning that regular troops shall recruit volunteers; 
  • three fourths (76 per cent) of male respondents (age 18 to 28) expressed the opinion that regular troops and other forces ensuring the security of the country in the time of peace should be reformed in a way permitting exclusively volunteer recruitment (contract service);

b) the majority of respondents prefer short-term service at reserve training centers to other methods of preparing citizens for discharge of their constitutional duty to defend the Fatherland against aggression (71 per cent according to IET and 75 per cent according to VTsIOM). Only six per cent are for retaining the present two-year conscript service; 67 per cent of the youngest respondents (age 18 to 19) would prefer short time (six months) service to the present two-year conscription.

c) respondents mentioned the following incentives making contract service more attractive: privileges concerning higher education (49 per cent of student respondents according to IET and 75 per cent of all respondents according to VTsIOM); licenses to work as security guards; this incentive was mentioned by 35 per cent of students and about 75 per cent of all respondents. 


Will the proposed plan be supported by the public?


Yes, the majority of the population will support this plan. It concerns young people (both showing positive and negative attitude to the service in the RF military organization); the commanding officers of the Army and the Navy, who will be able to spend more time performing genuine military tasks, officers working at military commissariats, and many other RF citizens, not to mention soldiers’ mothers.

Since it is proposed to increase salaries of officers, warrant officers, and ensigns (and therefore, military pensions) simultaneously with the transition to the volunteer contract service, their support is assured.

From our viewpoint, the merits of this plan ensuring the professionalism of regular military units and simultaneous training of military reserves, practically excluding such a phenomenon as “bullying” (all this at a reasonable cost!) are obvious for the majority of Russian citizens and will be supported by them.


Will there be objections against the proposed concept and resistance to its implementation?


There is no doubt that it will happen. Those lobbying interests of other budget recipients will openly oppose any increase in military spending, even for reasonable reforms.

Among less apparent opponents there will be those used to dispose of submissive and undemanding subordinates ready to execute any order in exchange for timely demobilization. Those loosing free labor force to build their dachas (it will be difficult to assign such a task to a professional soldier) and opportunity to “write off” material and financial resources at the expense of conscripts not knowing their rights.

As a matter of fact, the concept has been already publicly criticized, even if critics more and more often have to admit usefulness of key principles of the concept in the course of stating their own views about rational transformation of the recruitment system. In the end, there remain only two objections: “no money” and “no hurry.”

On the whole, speaking of the position taken by persons who object and can resist the reform, let us note that in critical periods of its history Russia relied on quite different people. The people and the state need the reform. And since there is an opportunity to carry it out, the reform shall not be delayed!



A group of IET experts has developed proposals on military reform in Russia. We post a brief variant of the memorandum submitted to the RF Government.

Go to other releases