Tag Archives: Contract Service

Don’t Publish This Story

It seems TASS, RIA Novosti, and Interfaks got orders not to report on Pavel Bakhtin’s rampage. It’s entirely possible under Russia’s increasingly controlled media regime.

Recent military-related news focused on Arctic exercises, MAKS-2015, and Tsentr-2015 preparations, but nothing about Bakhtin from the major Russian wire services.

Smaller outlets published stories about Bakhtin, and a few larger ones (lacking the reach of big news agencies) printed bare-bones reports.

Nothing here is meant to suggest senseless and tragic incidents don’t occur everywhere men and women are under arms for the state. They do.  The U.S. has more than its sad share.  What’s different is that everywhere (except Russia) it’s the lead story on TV news, it’s front page in the largest national papers, etc.

Here’s the basic story . . .

On 26 August, Corporal Pavel Bakhtin took his automatic weapon and killed his sleeping company commander and two other soldiers.  He wounded three more (one of whom later died) before turning the gun on himself.  Some sources claim that a fifth victim died.

Pavel Bakhtin

Pavel Bakhtin

That day, 18-year-old Bakhtin — just about three months shy of demob — was a sentry for the 331st Parachute Regiment (of the Ivanovo-based 98th Airborne Division) at a field camp near Pesochnoye on the border between Yaroslavl and Kostroma Oblasts.  After duty, Bakhtin went back to the guard house without returning his weapon, and unleashed it on his comrades.

With the apparent perpetrator dead and his victims dead or seriously injured, it’ll be hard to get what happened and why.  Nevertheless, a criminal case is open.  The investigation focuses on Bakhtin’s “personal motives” for killing his fellow servicemen.

Lifenews.ru reports maybe Bakhtin flipped out because Senior Lieutenant Andrey Voronchikhin punched him in the chest half a dozen times for removing a plate from his bullet-proof vest.

Sobesednik.ru cites human rights advocate Ella Polyakova who says men like Bakhtin are usually driven to a point where they commit such a crime.  She reports that the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers has received complaints of abuse from the Kostroma-based regiment.

Komsomolskaya pravda writes that soldiers in Bakhtin’s training company in Omsk say they knew he “wasn’t right.”  He couldn’t carry a weapon there.  They imply he had some kind of “psych file” at Omsk that got lost and didn’t follow him to his permanent unit in Kostroma.

But there are contradictory accounts saying Bakhtin’s friends claim he was a good guy who had no problems in the army.

Gazeta.ru reports that the VDV is apparently testing (or re-testing) the mental fitness of soldiers in the Kostroma regiment.  The web site also suggests the regimental command may have leaned hard on conscripts to sign up for voluntary contract service to make its quota.  Some troops and family members assert that officers forced conscripts to sign up, and even kept them standing at attention on the parade ground for hours until 30 men joined up.

The possibly belated psych testing seems akin to checking to see if newly renovated and re-occupied airborne barracks are safe to inhabit.  Conscripts and contractees are supposed to be assessed prior to induction.

The VDV is an elite branch of service.  It gets the pick of the best available conscripts in Russia’s twice-a-year draft.  Not to mention top choice of candidates for contract service.  This kind of crime is supposed to happen in other services, not in the airborne.

The Bakhtin case may illustrate what NG suggested in 2014: Russia’s military is pressing too hard and too fast.  Pressing to fly lots of aircraft and losing some, pressing to stretch its budget and not paying its electric bills, pressing to build military housing and facilities that are sub-standard, pressing to reach 425,000 contractees by 2017 and putting the wrong people in the ranks.

Adding (and Subtracting) Contracts

General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin

General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin

Chief of the Main Directorate of Cadres (GUK) — head of personnel for the MOD, General-Colonel Viktor Goremykin was on-stage Friday, 3 April as the latest spokesman for contract service, i.e. the military’s professional enlisted recruitment program.

This is an interesting, if subtle, shift.  More often in the past, the General Staff’s Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate (GOMU) spoke to contract manning issues.  GUK has typically dealt more with officer promotions and assignments.

The GUK’s Goremykin was commissioned into the army, but his mid-career training came in counterintelligence at the FSK Academy (soon renamed the FSB Academy).  So perhaps he was a KGB “special section” guy or osobist from his earliest days as an officer.  His path is reminiscent of his immediate boss, Nikolay Pankov.

According to TASS, Goremykin told the assembled media that the MOD will very soon have 300,000 contractees, because it now has exactly 299,508.  He added that the military gained 80,000-90,000 men on contract service in 2013 and 2014, and has added 19,000 in 2015 thus far.

We can peel back the contract service onion as a result:

  • If, from this 299,508, we subtract 90,000 + 90,000 + 19,000, the Russian MOD had only 100,508 contractees as recently as 31 December 2012. Pankov claimed 186,000 contractees at the start of 2013.  The 85,492-man discrepancy represents contract attrition over the last 27 months, or an average loss of 3,166 contractees — an entire brigade of recruits — every 30 days.
  • As Mokrushin notes, General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov said there were only 295,000 contractees in late December.  If 19,000 were added in 2015 but the total is only 299,508, then a net of only 4,508 was added due to the loss of 14,492 contractees during those months.  Call that five percent attrition, but annualized it’s 20 percent.
  • We were told in early November 2014 that the Russian military, for the first time, had more contractees than conscripts.  Since there were 305,000 conscripts at the time, ipso facto, contractees must have numbered at least 305,001.  You can add the November-December losses — 10,001 — to 14,492 and you get 24,493 lost in five months.  That’s 4,899 per month on average — call that two brigades of recruits lost — every 30 days.

Russian recruiting centers have to keep a torrid pace just to stay even with these losses.

But back to Goremykin.  He said the MOD’s goal for 2015 is to reach 352,000 contractees, and plans for the outyears haven’t changed — 425,000 by 2017, and 499,000 by 2020.

With possible attrition of 27,000 over the next nine months, the MOD will have to recruit 79,000 contractees to be at 352,000 by the end of 2015.

Goremykin indicated the MOD will continue allowing conscripts with higher education to serve two years as contractees instead of one as draftees.  The percentage choosing this option isn’t large, but it’s growing, according to him. The six-year service requirement to qualify for a military-backed mortgage may be dropped to five years just to encourage this category of contractees to re-up.

The GUK chief said there are plans to make the Russian Navy almost 100 percent contractee, starting with its submarine forces first, then most of its surface forces.

According to RIA Novosti, General-Colonel Goremykin also announced this year the MOD will make its entire contingent of “junior commanders” (NCOs) contractees.  It intends to do away with the longstanding practice of selecting and making some draftees into sergeants.  Goremykin added, “This is a task for this year.”

Two take aways:

  • As always, it’s difficult to trust the MOD’s numbers; they tell us about additions, but not subtractions.
  • As shorthand, we tend to call newly recruited and enlisted Russian contractees professionals when, in fact, they have just signed up to become professional.  Whether they do is a function of whether they stay, get trained, and become experienced.  One senior Russian commander has said he considers soldiers professionals when they’ve served two or more contracts (6+ years).

Catalyst for Military Reform

It’s sad, but safe, to conclude that Russian politics has always been pretty violent. Always being the last several hundred years.  And that violence has claimed its latest high-profile victim.

RIP 1959-2015

RIP 1959-2015

The many eulogies for Boris Nemtsov were eloquent and on-target for what they said about the man and about Russia today.

It was surprising, however, that they all (from what the present writer can tell) pretty much neglected Nemtsov’s role as a critical catalyst for serious reform of the Russian military.  The part Nemtsov played was just one way he reflected hope for the emergence of a liberal, European Russia.

Whether in government in the 1990s or out in the 2000s, Nemtsov argued for making military reform a priority.  He was the political face of criticism of President Vladimir Putin for failing to reform the armed forces.  He had lots of knowledgeable help and supporters, but he was a politician who could make the case publicly and loudly.

In the early 2000s, Nemtsov and the SPS advocated reducing the compulsory military service term from two years (which the MOD thought barely sufficient) to just six months.  He also called for slicing the army from more than 1 million to just 400,000.

Early and often, Nemtsov said the military should rely first and foremost on professional contract servicemen.  He did this in rallies and marches back when they were permitted and could be arranged with relative ease.  Former Defense Minister and Putin confidante Sergey Ivanov labeled Nemtsov’s call for an all-contractee army by 2007 “populist hodgepodge.”

But Nemtsov’s insistence was a major impetus behind the government’s 2003 contract service experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, and the 2004-2007 Federal Targeted Program to introduce contract service throughout the armed forces.  In the latter, the MOD aimed to convert 200 divisions and regiments to full professional manning instead of conscripted soldiers.

Even Ivanov said, if the government’s program worked, conscription could be cut to one year.  It didn’t.  Nemtsov argued that the contract service program, as implemented, was underfunded.  He also tried to tell Putin that the MOD generals could never be trusted to reform themselves.

What has happened since?

Civilian Anatoliy Serdyukov served almost six years as Defense Minister and imposed many military reforms on reluctant Russian generals.

One-year military conscription was phased in and became the norm in 2008.

Most importantly, professional contract service replaced conscription as the basis of Russia’s military manning policy.  The armed forces have the goal of putting 425,000 volunteer enlisted in the ranks by recruiting 50,000 each year through 2017.

And the Russian Army has, generally speaking, become a safer place to serve.

Boris Nemtsov wasn’t solely responsible for these important changes, but he was a significant force pushing for them.

So it isn’t surprising Nemtsov was killed while urgently trying to awaken somnolent Russians — mothers and fathers — to the dangers of letting the Kremlin send its young men to fight, and possibly be injured or die, in eastern Ukraine.

Contract Euphoria

Vadim Koval offered words of caution and perspective on contract service in an October 31 NVO op-ed.  Until 2012 or so, the retired colonel was the official spokesman for the RVSN.

Koval suggests you can’t measure contract service by numbers alone, which merely represent “start-up capital” for the professionalization of the armed forces.

He was prompted a recent official announcement that the MOD has signed up an historically high number of contractees this year — more than 70,000 already — with two months left on the calendar.

The MOD reports, for the first time, the number of soldiers and sergeants serving on contract exceeds the number of conscripts in the ranks.  That means something more than 305,000 — based on fall 2013 and spring 2014 draft campaign target numbers.

Success in finding contractees, Koval writes, is due, in no small part, to an aggressive MOD advertising and recruitment drive this year.  But the greatest attraction for young men is increased training, new arms and equipment, and the overall improved condition of the armed forces.  None of which “remain unnoticed among potential candidates for contract service.”

Still, Koval concludes, even in light of record recruiting numbers, it’s obvious “the defense department’s main work with this category of servicemen is still ahead.”  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu didn’t fall into euphoria over the numbers, and ordered his subordinates to concentrate on the quality of contractee training, according to Koval.

He writes:

“Even statistics graphically confirm that problems with the quality of recruited contractees exist:  the quantity of contract servicemen dismissed from the Armed Forces in 2014 was 18 thousand.”

Koval finishes noting that much depends on the clarity of the MOD’s response to the challenge of getting and keeping suitable and well-trained soldiers in the military.

It’s surely difficult (well, impossible) to make that 305,000 number jibe with numbers we’ve already seen.  If Moscow had 225,000 or 205,000 at the end of 2013, this year’s 70,000+ would make 295,000 or 275,000 contractees.  Neither of those is 305,000.

It could be that Koval’s very interesting 18,000 number plays into this . . . if that many contractees quit or were drummed out this year, maybe that’s why the numbers don’t equal or exceed 305,000. Perhaps the MOD isn’t counting its attrition — only the manpower it added.

If 18,000 is the number of contractees who left the service, that’s pretty low attrition — about 6 percent.  Last year that percentage looked to be 12 or more.

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”

Manning the Northern Fleet

Parade in Murmansk (photo: Mil.ru)

Parade in Murmansk (photo: Mil.ru)

Krasnaya zvezda recently reprinted a column from the Northern Fleet newspaper about manning and contract service.

It’s an interview with the chief of the sailor and NCO manning section in the fleet’s Organization-Mobilization Directorate (OMU), a Lieutenant Colonel Verbov.  It’s funny (perhaps suspicious) because his name is the root of the word verbovat (вербовать) — to hire, enlist, or recruit.

In any event, this LTC Verbov says his priority is manning the fleet’s submarines, and several years ago, submarines were manned at 98 percent — or “practically fully” with contractees.  Since then, conscripts sent to the submarine force have served only ashore.

The manning of billets which should be occupied by contractees is about 90 percent for the fleet as a whole.  He adds, however, that officers lacking officer billets hold some of these contract enlisted positions.  But the situation varies.  In the Kola Mixed Forces Flotilla, third-rank ships are “practically fully” manned with contract sailors and NCOs, but first- and second-rank ships only 50-65 percent.

Contractees are needed for those ships, and for Coastal Troops, Naval Infantry, and Naval Aviation units.  Some 200-250 recruits are accepted on contract service every month.  But this isn’t enough to solve his TO&E manning problems.

So, the interviewer asks, what’s the problem?  Verbov answers:

“. . . many wish to serve, but there are a number of factors, let’s say, negatively impacting organization of the selection of citizens for military service on contract.  Here’s an example, a young man comes into the military commissariat [voyenkomat] and says:  ‘I want to serve on contract in the Northern Fleet.  How much do they pay here?’  They tell him:  ‘Initially 27 thousand rubles [per month].’  ‘That’s not much,’ — says the potential recruit and he leaves.”

“But 27 thousand is really just the starting pay.  Then polar supplements, time served, sea duty begin to ‘grow’ — the salary will begin to grow by leaps and bounds.  But they didn’t explain this to someone, someone who didn’t want to wait, as a result they are left without a contractee.”

“A second factor is poor living conditions.  Unfortunately, they can’t give service housing in all garrisons to every citizen who concludes a contract with the Ministry of Defense.  Initially, a recruit has to live in the unit [usually a barracks], on a ship.  Such a situation doesn’t suit very many, and they break the contract.”

“Non-compliance with the regulation on working time on some ships and in some units forces some contract servicemen to leave military service.  One has to confess, occasions arise when the ‘needs of the service’ deprive people of normal rest.  Not everyone can withstand a regimen of two days off per month.”

Nevertheless, our Verbov says the Northern Fleet filled its quota of contractees at 96 percent in the last year.

So ends a micro-level look at Russia’s military professionalization problem.  Let’s see what the MOD is saying about the issue at the macro-level.

The basic idea was to add 50,000 contractees per year, reaching a total of 425,000 in the armed forces before 2018.

By the end of 2013, the MOD overfulfilled its plan by 27 percent, accepted more than 81,000 new recruits, and had more than 225,000 men serving on contracts, according to the annual report on Action Plan 2020.  The goal for 2013 had been 240,000.

According to Deputy Defense Minister Pankov, the MOD had 186,000 contractees at the beginning of 2013.  If it added 81,000, it would have reached 267,000.  So it must have failed to retain 42,000 contractees during the year, if it ended with 225,000.

For completeness, we should note Defense Minister Shoygu said that the armed forces had more than 205,000 in November 2013.  In December, President Putin said 205,100 (just to be precise).

By early May 2014, the MOD said it had 237,000 contractees.  That’s a good start for about four months.  It wants to reach 280,000 by year’s end.

For argument’s sake, assume it had 205,000, adds another 80,000, but also loses another 40,000.  That leaves the MOD at 245,000 at the end of 2014 (i.e. the same number as the endyear goal for 2013).

Again, ultimately, what matters for the success or failure of contract service is how many guys stay or leave the service.

Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.