Russia: May 23, 2005


The rapidly aging Russian population is not only shrinking, but is not fit for any major economic or military efforts. Some 60 percent of Russians are elderly, children, or disabled. Out of 20 million males of working age, one million are in prison, a million in the armed forces (including paramilitaries), five million are unemployed (or unemployable due to poor education, health or attitude), four million are chronic alcoholics, and a million are drug addicts. Thus there is something of a labor shortage, with plenty of jobs for women and immigrants. The birth rate is below replacement level, and a declining population means more immigrants just to keep things going. Improving medical care, and health habits (especially treating alcoholism and drug use) is a government priority, in order to raise the life span of Russian males. All of this makes the idea of a smaller, all volunteer, military more attractive. Too many of the current troops are drunks, addicted to drugs or just unreliable. Volunteers must be paid much more, but their discipline is much higher. Russian officers are very impressed with what the British, Japanese and Americans have done with all-volunteer armed forces and want to emulate them. 

Russian president Putin, who came up through the largely volunteer, and highly selective KGB, has practical experience with a high quality force. The KGB had combat units (to deal with any rebellious military units), and the difference between these and the regular army was stark. The all-volunteer Russian armed forces is likely to happen sooner, rather than later. A growing portion of the armed forces are already "contract troops" (higher paid volunteers working on contract). By 2008, the army expects to have all infantry units staffed with volunteers. After that, as money is available, the other two thirds of the troop jobs would be converted to volunteers. The all-volunteer units are much more effective, with less hazing of new recruits, or poor leadership (treating the troops like animals, an old Russian custom). The volunteers are expensive, and the officers are expected to take care of them. The officers like having volunteer troops, who are more enthusiastic and reliable. Even though most contract troops end up serving in Chechnya, the all volunteer units have good morale, and have been effective in fighting the rebels down there. The all volunteer units have gained a good reputation among Russian civilians, making recruiting easier.


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