Although the overall size of Russia's armed forces will slip modestly from just under 1.2 million to 1 million men, the planned changes will slash the 355,000-strong officer corps, particularly the bloated upper ranks, by almost 150,000. More importantly, it will reconfigure the forces to eliminate many Soviet-era "phantom" divisions, which have generals but no troops. In their place, a smaller number of fully staffed units will be formed and – eventually, it is hoped – retrained, equipped with modern weapons, and handed a fresh mission that expresses Russia's post-Soviet national priorities.
Supporters of the reform are jubilant. "By the end of this year Russia will have a new army," says Vitaly Shlykov, a former deputy defense minister who now works as a civilian adviser to the defense ministry. "All these skeleton formations from Soviet times will be replaced with real, functioning units. This alone is an achievement we have not seen in Russia for 150 years, a triumph of common sense over bureaucratic inertia."
But opponents insist this reform, which comes after almost two decades of futile tinkering with the military, will only hasten the collapse of Russia's once-proud armed services.
"This is not a reform, it is the final blow to the army," says Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist parliamentarian and deputy chair of the State Duma's Security Committee. "The essence of these measures seems to be to cut staff, especially the officer corps. We are losing the professional basis of our army, and demoralizing those who remain. Officers have been constantly under stress of these endless reforms for the past 15 years or more, and they are exhausted and harassed by the constant threats of dismissal or demotion. This is the biggest damage."
A more efficient fighting force