Facts in Contractee Debate

Perhaps you saw the tweet relaying a RIA Novosti report claiming 900 men  signed up for contract service in Kemerovo this year against only 160 in 2012.

A reader responded that Russia’s recession obviously benefits recruiting, while another said no, it’s the doubling of volunteer pay that’s bringing more men in the door.  The first said twice nothing is still nothing.

You get the idea.

An interesting issue, but one that requires some facts.

We can’t test the idea that it’s the recession.  We can, however, examine (at least a little) the idea that it’s the doubled pay.

The most recent series of Russian contract service experiments began in Pskov in 2002.  The first men to sign up were paid 3,300 rubles per month (rank and duty pay with no supplements).

By 2007 — the end of that effort to add about 130,000 contract enlisted to the army’s ranks — some contractees were earning 9,000, 10,000, or even 12,000 per month.

If we adjust the 3,300 and 12,000 for Russia’s consumer inflation during the intervening years, contractees have to get 10,000 to 20,000 to get equivalent pay today.

The Defense Ministry has said they will get about the same as today’s increased junior officer pay, or 30,000 to 35,000 rubles per month.

So is that doubled or not?

For a contractee who re-ups, maybe it is.  But field research would be required to find out how these guys perceive the proffered pay.

For comparison’s sake, the average Russian monthly wage at this time last year was (according to Rosstat) about 26,000 rubles.

The Russian Army’s tried to professionalize its soldiers since its inception in 1992.  It’s tried especially hard since 2002.  That was during the second Chechen when the prospect of being a conscript sent to a shooting war caused large numbers of young men to evade the draft.  And the Kremlin was already paying relatively good money (about 30,000 rubles per month) in combat bonuses to soldiers willing to go to Chechnya.

But here’s what became obvious during the contract service push in 2002-2007:

  • Promised pay was not always delivered.  If it was, it was sometimes siphoned off by officers and other middlemen.  Now, maybe (just maybe), that’s changed because officer pay has risen fairly dramatically.
  • Promised benefits were not delivered.  Especially when it comes to housing and living conditions.  Contractees were told they’d live better than conscripts in barracks.  The vast majority of times they didn’t.  Service apartments (for married contractees) and even renovated dormitories were generally unavailable.  Money for construction was tight, and tens of thousands of officers were also awaiting housing, or improved housing, owed them.
  • Retention was, not surprisingly, a huge problem.  The majority of contractees were not more stable guys interested in a career as an enlisted man or NCO, but younger men looking to make quick rubles while searching for something better.

Without high retention, contract service was, is, and will be meaningless.  Actually, worse than meaningless because it entails great expense, lots of time and effort, and considerable opportunity cost.

We could talk all day about current contractee accession, but fact is, it really doesn’t matter.  The real test is whether the Russian Armed Forces have 425,000 professional enlisted soldiers by the end of 2017, and how many of them they manage to keep by 2020, 2023, 2026, etc.

P.S.  The quality, knowledge, and training of those 425,000 guys is pretty critical too.

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2 responses to “Facts in Contractee Debate

  1. Nice report. Military commissars have been known to spin the numbers. Wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the increase belong to ‘dead souls’ where commanders create soldiers to fill out the accounting book. I also wonder how many of the new contractees are the wives and girlfriends of those already in uniform.

    • In 2002-2007, there was a “dead souls” problem in places. Perhaps not so much now. Don’t think they would falsify numbers outright today; when the news is bad, they just say nothing. The wife and girlfriend problem was more characteristic of the 1990s. They have focused this time on putting recruits in combat units rather than support positions. However, this Mil.ru piece indicates a group of 500 contractees (including 85 women) recently underwent “survival course” training. Thank you for reading.

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