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Russian Soldiers You Can Rely On
by James Dunnigan
January 28, 2012

When the Cold War ended in 1991, the Russian army began to rapidly shrink. It was believed that the eight airborne divisions would shrink along with rest of the army. But that was not the case. Airborne commanders made a convincing case that their elite troops would remain professional and increasingly be among the few combat troops that could really be depended on. Thus the airborne force did not shrink as much as other ground troops. This decision was vindicated in 1999, when Russian troops were sent back into rebellious Chechnya and defeated the separatist rebels there. In the first three years of fighting in Chechnya, over 12,000 paratroopers served there, and were the most effective troops. This success led to the temporary expansion of the airborne force from 40,000 troops to 45,000 troops. Finally, in 2006, the last paratroopers withdrew from Chechnya, largely replaced by interior ministry paramilitary forces. Two years later, paratroopers again proved their professionalism and effectiveness when they led the invasion of Georgia, just south of Chechnya. The airborne force currently consists of about 30,000 troops (organized into four small divisions plus an independent brigade and an independent regiment).

For over a decade, the Russian paratroopers have used intensive training and constant innovation to maintain their combat effectiveness. The Russian paratroopers use "triads" (three-man fire teams) which are organized into larger units for airborne assault group training. Throughout the post-Cold War period, most (about 60 percent) of paratroopers have been conscripts. But that is changing as conscription fades away in Russia. The paratroopers will probably be one of the first components of the army to be all-volunteer.

Russian paratroopers have been around for 82 years. In that time, over 2.2 million troops have served in the airborne forces. The airborne forces have always been the boldest and most reliable Russian troops available and the 32,000 troops currently serving as paratroopers are no different.



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