Russia: July 30, 2004


The Russian effort to eliminate corruption among the 900,000 members of  the armed forces is having an impact, but it also revealing how widespread the rot is. In the first six months of 2004, 6,500 troops and 800 officers were convicted of corruption. And even more military personnel are under investigation. The number of convictions is about the same as it was during the first six months of 2003. One difference this year has been the increasing number of senior officers, including generals, who are caught and convicted. The crimes ranged from outright theft (at least $17 million in cash and material was stolen in the first six months of 2004), to taking bribes.   It's widely known that if you don't want to get drafted, a bribe will deal with it. 

There's good reason to avoid getting drafted, for the system of violent treatment of new recruits continues. In the first six months of 2004, 500 soldiers (out of a force of 320,000) died, and 109 members of the armed forces committed suicide. The suicide rate was up 38 percent, the death rate was up ten percent. Many of the army deaths were from soldiers beating and abusing new recruits. This custom began after World War II, when Russia continued to use conscription, but did not develop a large NCO corps. Without lots of NCOs to supervise the troops (Russia preferred to have a larger number of officers), bullies tended to take over in the barracks. Since newly drafted troops went straight to their units, they were seen as "fresh meat" and vulnerable. If the new kid wasn't tough enough to fight off the bullies, or couldn't bribe some of the older soldiers, then he got abused, and often murdered. 

The Russian army is a shadow of it's former self. Actually, the Russian army is now much smaller than the U.S. Army. With only 320,000 troops (and no organized and trained reserves), Russia is way outnumbered by America's 500,000 soldiers on active duty, and 700,000 trained reserves who are organized into units.  Russia has no trained and organized reserves, just men who have served in the last few years. About a third of the 900,000 Russian troops are conscripts, while all 1.4 million active duty American military personnel are volunteers. The Russians do have a large number of paramilitary forces (400,000 troops), which include 150,000 national police organized as infantry, 50,000 railroad police, border guards and coast guard. Many of these are being used in Chechnya, but they are basically more heavily armed cops, and many are young conscripts.

Russia realizes that it's armed forces are a mess. The army is a joke, with a paper strength of some two dozen tank, infantry and airborne divisions, units that contain only a fraction of the troops they should have. The high proportion of conscripts means that, not only are most army units understrength, but they are poorly trained as well. For real combat power, the army keeps its four airborne divisions and five Spetsnaz (commando) brigades up to strength and manned by a higher proportion of career troops. Most Russian officers want an all-volunteer force, but the cost right now is too great for that. So, for the time being, the balance of forces between Russia and the United States remains very much against the Russians.  


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