Personnel is a major problem for the Russian military. Efforts to move from a conscription army to “contract-employed” soldiers (such as the U.S. volunteer force) have not been successful.
The military forces that Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use “as a last resort” in eastern Ukraine are in the early stages of a major, seven-year modernization program that is not expected to be completed before 2020.
Starved for funds in the 1990s and early 2000s, Moscow’s “troop readiness, training, morale, and discipline suffered, and most arms industries became antiquated,” according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report released Wednesday.
The number of combat-capable aircraft dropped from 1,600 in 2010 to 1,460 in 2012, according to the Swedish study. The new Russian defense minister, Sergey Shoygu, has said that the air force was concentrated in too few locations and required more bases.
He also spoke publicly about increasing the number of rounds that artillery and tank crews fire in exercises. “Our colleagues in other countries shoot 160 shells a year per crew. We have to increase our indicator at least five times,” he said.
This is not the Russia of the Cold War, and it has few allies who would join it should Putin try to move into eastern Ukraine.
As Gorenburg put it Sunday, any such move would lead “to a quite bloody and potentially long-lasting conflict,” and “even though Russia would win such a war, the result would be long-term instability on Russia’s immediate border, with guerrilla warfare likely for some time.”
Given the current state of the Russian military, there is good reason to believe that Putin will never take that step.