Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Hollow Paper Tiger That is Russia's Military

Russia's severe and growing shortage of 18 year old men fit for military conscription is sending repercussions throughout the corrupt and corroding infrastructure of Russian defense forces. When a nation's military is as unpopular with its own people as the Russian military, its credibility as a viable defense diminishes. As this process continues to its seemingly inevitable conclusion, the bulk of Eastern Siberia becomes less and less likely to remain in Russian hands for many more decades.
The basic problem is two-fold. First, military service is very unpopular, and potential conscripts are increasingly successful at dodging the draft. But the biggest problem is that the number of 18 year olds is rapidly declining each year. The latest crop of draftees was those born after the Soviet Union dissolved. That was when the birth rate went south. Not so much because the Soviet Union was gone, but more because of the economic collapse (caused by decades of communist misrule) that precipitated the collapse of the communist government. The number of available draftees went from 1.5 million a year in the early 1990s, to 800,000 today. Less than half those potential conscripts are showing up, and many have criminal records (or tendencies) that help sustain the abuse of new recruits that has made military service so unsavory.

With conscripts now in for only a year, rather than two, the military is forced to take a lot of marginal (sickly, overweight, bad attitudes, drug users) recruits in order to keep the military and Ministry of Interior units up to strength. But this means that even elite airborne and commando units are using a lot of conscripts. Most of these young guys take a year to master the skills needed to be useful, and then they are discharged. Few choose to remain in uniform and become career soldiers. That's primarily because the Russian military is seen as a crippled institution, and one not likely to get better any time soon. With so many of the troops now one year conscripts, an increasing number of the best officers and NCOs get tired of coping with all the alcoholics, drug users and petty criminals that are taken in just to make quotas. With the exodus of the best leaders, and growing number of ill-trained and unreliable conscripts, the Russian military is more of a mirage than an effective combat (or even police) organization.

...Conscription itself, and the prospect of being exposed to the hazing, has led to a massive increase in draft dodging. Bribes, and document fraud, are freely used. Few parents, or potential conscripts, consider this a crime. Avoiding the draft is seen as a form of self-preservation.

...When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it had five million troops in its armed forces. Now it's less than one million in just Russia (which got about half the population of the Soviet Union, and most of the territory). Although the Russian armed forces lost over 80 percent of its strength in the last 18 years, a disproportionate number of officers remained.

...As a result of these personnel problems, Russian efforts to reform and upgrade its armed forces have, so far, failed. The basic problem is that few Russian men are willing to join, even at good pay rates. Efforts to recruit women and foreigners have not made up for this. The Russian military has an image problem that just won't go away. This resulted in the period of service for conscripts being lowered to one year (from two) in 2008. That was partly to placate the growing number of parents who were encouraging, and assisting, their kids in avoiding military service.

...Russia has tried to change public attitudes towards the armed forces, by publicizing all the new changes and programs. But word got around that most of these efforts failed. Blame that on the Internet. A recent poll revealed that 75 percent of military age men do not want to serve in the military, and the main reason is the hazing and prison-like conditions in the barracks. _StrategyPage
That is not entirely true. There are far too many reasons to list, as to why 75% of military age men do not want to serve in the military. Take away the hazing and the prison-like conditions, and perhaps only 74% of military age men would not want to serve in the military.

But the way things are going, the number of military age men in Russia of sound mind, body, and character -- and who are also ethnic Russians -- are shrinking rapidly.

If the Russians were smart, they would get rid of Putin however they could, and make firm and irrevocable partnership and investment deals with successful and reputable outside entities, to allow upgrading of Russia's infrastructure from top to bottom. Such a move would hurt the famous Russian pride and egomania, but it might just save the country from itself, and make it a place worth living for once.

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