April 13 2005
`Society Is Afraid of Our Army'
Created: 13.04.2005 15:54 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 17:58 MSK, 45
Sergei Borisovich, let's start with the most recent events.
Kyrgyzstan is not the first, and perhaps not the last reason to say
that the CIS is falling apart.
Despite this, no one is willing to drop out of the CIS. You cannot
Still, the CIS is also a system of strategic security which may now,
in light of the new developments, start to stagnate. Can a situation
develop where we will have to defend ourselves from threats emanating
from `revolutionary' regions?
Let's start with the fact that the CIS was not created for the
purpose of integration in the first place. There was no such aim. The
CIS was created for a `peaceful divorce'. And in this sense, it has
fulfilled its task. Thank God, we didn't have a Yugolsavia-type
breakup of the Soviet Union. There were no wars. Yes, conflicts that
originated in the USSR remained: Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia,
Transdnestr. And with the help of the CIS mechanism, we were able to
freeze these conflicts. Secondly: the CIS was never a
military-political organization, and never aspired to that role.
A lot of CIS members initially didn't take part in the military
organs of the Commonwealth, for example the Council of Defense
Ministers, which I head.... That is why the question of defense against
threats is not exactly correct. If we speak of defense and security
in the broad sense, then there is only one military-political
organization that deals with these issues in the post-Soviet
territory. This is the Collective Security Treaty Organization. They
have military planning, they ship weapons using domestic Russian
prices, they educate and train for both the regular military and the
special forces. And on the whole, this organization works. So I
wouldn't say that we have to take action in forming a defense in the
utilitarian sense. But there is a different matter of our
understanding of threats, which have transformed from military or
classical threats to threats that even we in the Ministry of Defense
classify as an uncertainty factor.
So what should we be afraid of?
The uncertainty factor is understood to be a situation, a conflict,
or a process of a political or a military-political kind which can
considerably change the geopolitical situation in regions that are
top priority for Russia or create a direct threat to its security.
These factors include developments in the CIS and countries that
neighbor them. That is why Russia, wholly supporting the
democratization of the Commonwealth states, will take corrective
measures in its military planning in case of domestic instability or
in cases where actions have been taken to bring down democratic
developments there. But on the whole, when talking of post-Soviet
territories today, I don't see such threats.
Many speak of the threat of migration. But I don't agree with this
point of view. We need migration. Russia cannot subsist without work
resources, first of all from former Soviet states. The issue is that
they must be regulated in a way that is advantageous to the
government, and not in a way that is advantageous to the migrants.
For example, we made a bold move: we invited CIS citizens to join the
contract army, and after three years of impeccable service they will
get Russian citizenship.
But another `revolutionary' situation: Ukraine aiming towards NATO
To join or not to join is the business of a sovereign state, and no
one else's. We will not interfere in this process, and it is useless
to try to influence it in any way. At the same time, I don't think
that any CIS country will join NATO in the near future: they are
simply not ready. And NATO is not ready to accept them. Although I
don't rule out that someday this will happen. And then, some degree
of a reassessment of our policy in relation to these states will
become inevitable. Just as it will entail a change of policy towards
Russia by these states. But once again, this is not an issue for the
next five to seven years, that is certain.
Also, it is hard to foresee what the NATO bloc will be like in five
to seven years. That it will change is absolutely certain. There is
the globalization process, and all the threats that exist today -
terrorism, nuclear proliferation - are beyond the geographic zones of
NATO and Russia.
But not so far from them...
Afghanistan, Iraq...but this was always the case. If we use American
terminology, it is the Middle East and Central Asia.
Still, are there plans to reform the Russian defense machine in
connection with the terrorist threat? In particular, there were
reports recently about the creation of a new special forces unit.
Are approaches and plans towards military development changing? Yes,
they are, and not for the first year. Part of the military forces,
and I stress, only a part, is being rebuilt to accommodate the new
threats. In particular this concerns the mobile units of the special
forces. In Chechnya they have already shown themselves to be very
effective. There are other regions that are worrisome because of the
But we are not planning to command nationwide special forces. Inside
the Armed Forces, special forces have already existed for a long
time. So I don't see the need for changing anything within the
Defense Ministry. A question is often posed: should we create
something on a country-wide scale, a state-level military
organization, not just with the Defense Ministry? In the sense of
joining the special forces with the FSB, the Interior Ministry, to
put them under joint command. But this exists only as an idea - there
are no particular plans in the near future to create something like
this. I am speaking unambiguously, so that there is no speculation or
misunderstanding. But within the Armed Forces, yes, it must be
developed, and modernized taking into account technological
developments and communication, and especially effective kinds of
By the way, about expenditure. There is a point of view that says the
country's budget is too militarized.
The budget is growing.... 564.4 billion rubles ($20.9 billion) has
been set aside for national defense. The increase is over 45 billion
rubles. But apart from this there are social issues....
NATO generals often make statements saying that America as a military
power leads the planet - it is ahead of Europe and Russia....
In terms of our common forces, I don't believe that our units on the
brigade or battalion level are inferior in their fighting efficiency
to the leading armies of the world. I say this because, first of all,
the character of the latest military conflicts has demonstrated this.
Second of all, there is a false belief that if only professionals, or
contract soldiers, serve in the army, then the effectiveness is
higher a priori. I know a lot of commanders who served in Chechnya
and told me that conscript reserves fought more boldly and
effectively. I am not saying we should use only conscripts in our
troops, especially in the fighting units. You know that we have
implemented a partial recruitment program for our reserve forces so
that we have a professional army to act in major and minor conflicts.
[Once it is complete] we will not send conscripts to conflict zones
at all. By 2008, 133,000 soldiers and sergeants will be on contract,
and there will be some 50 joint armed forces fully formed on a
contract basis. The issue will be solved. The term for conscripts
[who have to serve mandatory time in the army] will be shortened to
one year from the current two.
But the army draft will remain?
We are not planning to get rid of the draft. First of all because it
would be very expensive.
How much would a professional army cost?
Hundreds of billions of rubles - that is a full contract army. Apart
from that, there is this common view that if you replace a conscript
soldier with a contract soldier the problem is solved. This will not
solve anything! Because a contract soldier has an advantage over a
conscript soldier only if he gets military training from morning till
night. Otherwise, he is not a professional. Otherwise, it is a
But what keeps contract soldiers from getting military training?
Lack of funds. I return to the idea that from a financial point of
view, the country cannot afford this in the near future. Or it would
take three military budgets that would go only towards salaries and
training for contract soldiers. Then we would have to forget about
re-arming ourselves, about building homes for officers. It's a
vicious circle. And it's just one of the reasons. There is another.
We have a large country, 10 time zones. And we cannot have a small
army. We need units capable of combat over all the country's
territory, taking into account the uncertainty factor that I spoke
about. We have determined that this will take about a million men.
Then, we have and will have strategic nuclear forces, which do not
exist in virtually any European states, except for France and Great
>From the view of a layman, this is still a lot.
North Korea's army is bigger, America's army is bigger, China's army
is bigger. And these countries are territorially smaller than Russia.
The armies of Germany and France are much smaller, but, if you'll
excuse me, these countries are located within one time zone, and they
don't have the kind of neighbors that we have. We need our Armed
Forces to effectively defend our territory and in some cases as
peacekeeping forces beyond our borders. But this is a political
decision. It is not related to military action.
Back to the draft...
The draft was, is, and will continue to be.
I understand. From the point of view of the state's capabilities, you
have convinced me. But when one thinks of the individuals, many
I can say it openly. People are afraid of our army. Society is
afraid. It is a fact.
There is hazing in the army, it has always been there, during the
Soviet years too. It's just that in the Soviet era no one spoke of
it. It was taboo. At the same time, I can confirm that in 80 percent
of the units of the Armed Forces there is no hazing, because there
are no violations there.
Do you have a special program for this issue?
There are specific thoughts and approaches in this issue. We change
to a one-year term of service, we fill our reserves with contract
soldiers, and the next step will be to have all the sergeants in all
the Armed Forces on a contract. And this includes the junior
commanding officer who is responsible for order and discipline in his
barracks. Moreover, the difference between those who are serving
first year and those who are serving second will be eliminated. Half
a year conscripts attend a training center, the second half of the
year they serve in units. The objective conditions for hazing in this
case are significantly fewer.
Now in terms of numbers. 10 years ago, when our army was bigger,
27-28 percent of the conscript contingent was actually conscripted.
Now this number is 9 percent. This means that in 10 years the number
of people conscripted has decreased three-fold. This is also a fact.
This cannot continue, because that would mean that for every
conscript I would have to issue a medal of honor right at the
conscription office, awarding him as a man honestly fulfilling his
constitutional duty. And 91 percent do not fulfill it! We hold the
record for the number of deferments. We have 28 different kinds of
First of all, I want to say that we will not conscript students in
any case. Or graduate students. Medical deferments will remain. But I
believe all the professional deferments must be canceled. I know that
this is a painful [transition]. If you believe the statistics and the
real facts, then our young people are either all sick, or all
talented. And that's it! There is no one else left.
But a talented driver can be professionally applied in military
service. A balalaika player cannot.
But he can join a military orchestra or ensemble and perfect his
talent every single day, not for two years, but, I repeat, for one.
For some reason, this is also something that people don't want to
understand: one-year service is not the same as two-year service.
There is a big difference. And knowing the European system well, I
can say that in those countries where conscription has remained, and
it has remained in a majority of states, everyone serves. The
doctorate students and the businessmen serve11 months.
What is the comparison in numbers between professionals and
By 2008, we want to have 70-80 percent contract-based servicemen in
the Armed Forces, and only 30 percent conscripts who will serve one
What about now?
Right now, in order to reach this number, we need 133,000 soldiers
and sergeants who we want to put on a contract basis within three
And so the Red Army is still the strongest?
Yes, exactly, no matter what they say, the Red Army is the strongest.
We have some very good traditions in our army. And you can't just
thoughtlessly get rid of them.