Russian military allows replacement of conscription with contract service

Russian Army troops © Alexey Filippov
According to new rules of military service, citizens summoned for one year’s compulsory service now have the right to become contract soldiers straight away – but for double the term.

The move is described as yet another step aimed in the transition to fully-professional military forces. Previously, conscript soldiers could sign their first contract as professionals only after six months of service.

The law that allowed such a move was originally written for people with higher education - graduates of institutes and universities. And they planned to summon them not so much for ordinary army units, but rather for various structures connected with the Defense Ministry that were in need of specialists with higher education, such as space launching sites, defense industry enterprises and so on,” the head of the NGO ‘Soldiers’ Mothers’, Valentina Melnikova, said in comments with Izvestia daily.

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The salary of a private contract soldier is relatively low for the first two years of service – just 17,000 rubles (about US$225) per month. However, the allowance doubles in the third year of contract service and grows further with the soldiers’ experience.

According to the Defense Ministry’s website, the average salary of a contract soldier in 2015 was 62,200 rubles ($830). Contract servicemen are also offered various benefits in housing programs and free higher education.

Former head of the Russian General Staff General Nikolay Makarov told reporters that he expected the number of contract soldiers to reach 425,000 by the end of this year. The official Defense Ministry estimates were lower, at 384 000. In April 2015, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told reporters that for the first time in Russian history the number of contract servicemen exceeded the number of conscripts – 300,000 against 276,000.

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Earlier this month the independent polling agency Levada Center released the results of research in which they asked Russian citizens about their attitude to universal conscription. Fifty-eight percent of respondents think that the authorities should not abolish universal conscription (up from 40 percent in 2014) and 37 percent said they would prefer fully professional military forces (down from 48 percent in 2014).

About a year ago, the state-run sociological center VTSIOM released the results of research which showed that around 68 percent of Russians thought that the likelihood of foreign military aggression against the country had increased. The same poll showed that 49 percent of Russians considered the state of their country’s military as good.