I read an article a few days ago that positively buoyed my spirits – this WSJ article titled
Russia was attempting to move away from an all-conscription army and towards a mix of volunteers and conscripted soldiers. In common parlance an all-conscription army generally has poorer morale and is less able to run high technology equipment that is necessary for today’s battlefield. In addition, draft evasion is high and there is a great deal of incentive to avoid conscription due to its brutal nature as practiced by Russian officers, who commonly physically abuse the draftees as well as extorting their pay. From the article:
The enlistment drive’s failure puts constraints on Russia’s reach. When ethnic rioting in June threatened to tear Kyrgyzstan apart, its president appealed for Russian peacekeepers, the kind of force Moscow once deployed routinely as a political tool. This time the Kremlin demurred—in part, defense analysts say, because the army couldn’t spare a full brigade of professional soldiers.
I remember books from the 70′s about how America’s post-Vietnam war fighting was being crippled by the difficulties of the transition from a conscription-based army to an all-volunteer army. Someone who is closer to this could provide better information but I’d say it wasn’t until the first Iraq war that we’d made this type of long term change and worked effectively into an all-volunteer army that was capable of dealing with wartime issues.
While we currently are not having significant difficulties with Russia, their invasion of Georgia shows that they are capable of projecting force to protect their interests, and often their interests are not compatible with their neighbors. It is generally good news for the US that this modernization effort failed; how you can run a high technology army with integrated command control consisting of demoralized conscripts that represent the “bottom of the barrel” since all others desperately try to avoid the draft, is beyond me.
Another element I found surprising is that individual Russian soldiers spoke about their conditions in the army and were named…. this takes a lot of bravery in Putin’s Russia today and I hope that they escape with their lives.