In a bid to further increase numbers of contracted soldiers, the Russian military has begun a full-scale marketing campaign, which if successful will lead to a predominantly professional rank and file
The Russian army has launched an advertising campaign (see video below) in an effort to recruit more servicemen for its target of 350,000 contract soldiers by the end of this year.
This target is part of a package of reforms coordinated by Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov in 2008 after Russia’s military conflict with Georgia over its invasion of South Ossetia; reforms which saw opposition from the officer corps as they made huge changes to the organisational structure.
The changes brought an end to Russia’s dependence on mass mobilisation of manpower in the event of war and although Serdyukov was eventually removed in 2012 due to corruption scandals, they are largely thought to have been effective and necessary. If the figure of 350,000 is raised it will overtake the number of conscripts for the first time which currently sits at just over 300,000.
The focus on contracting soldiers is no doubt also due to the high numbers of ‘draft dodgers’. Be it through bribery, forged birth certificates or imaginary illnesses, many Russian men will find a way to avoid this dreaded duty, despite a law being passed in 2008 shortening the length of service from 18 months to a year.
Indeed a 2013 report from the General Staff of the Russian Federation Council stated a total of 244,000 conscripts avoided their patriotic duty in 2012, despite the risk of conviction and a two-year prison sentence. The main reasons for what has even been referred to as a ‘national pastime’ are thought to be the poor conditions, low wages and the legacy of Afghanistan and Chechnya wars which soured the sentiment of many Russians to the army.
The Russian government is therefore set on turning things around. Earlier this year it was announced that a law would be passed banning draft dodgers from careers in the civil service. Efforts to manage conscription in this way, together with an effective programme to hire professionals, are generally being considered successful. There has been word that the Russian government is planning to completely phase out conscription, although Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has denied this will take place, stating that Russia is too large a country not to have conscription in place.
Russia has accordingly increased its military investment in recent years, last year allocating a sum of $84.5 million to defence - an increase of 8.1% on the previous year. Russia remains, however, well behind the US in terms of military spending, constituting only 5% of global military spending compared with the US’s figure of 50%. For the largest country in the world, with land borders stretching 20,241km, to be spending 10 times less than that of its antagonist, it is rather ironic that any boost to its military is immediately portrayed as an act of aggression in the western media. But that's another story...