Russia's Defense Ministry is currently drafting amendments to the federal Law On Defense that would allow for the creation of several reservist armies, according to Frants Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma's Defense Committee.
Klintsevich explained that those forces would consist of men who have performed their compulsory military service or enlisted as contract servicemen. They would report for training on a monthly basis while continuing to work at their civilian jobs. He did not cite any figure either for the number of such armies or of their optimum strength.
Retired Colonel Viktor Litovkin predicted that this innovation would enhance the combat readiness of the Russian armed forces as a whole and ensure that in the event of unanticipated hostilities, conscripts would not be used as "cannon fodder" (as was the case during the initial advance on Grozny during the 1994-96 Chechen war).
But a second military observer, Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Director Roman Pukhov, warned that in the long term, the creation of a network of regional armies not directly subordinate to the federal Defense Ministry could create more problems than it solved. He recalled that the Bolshevik victory in 1917 was largely thanks to the extensive network of such reservist battalions.
It is not clear whether the new proposal is in any way linked to the recent fighting in eastern Ukraine, in which Russian officials deny any military participation, or whether the planned new forces are being created in anticipation of an attack on Russian territory from beyond its borders, or to suppress large-scale domestic unrest. (The latter was the most plausible explanation for the decision in the fall of 2011 to train thousands more snipers).
Nor is it yet clear in which Russian regions these planned new forces would be based. The one regional leader who is most likely to embrace this idea wholeheartedly is Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. But the stipulation that only men who have performed their military service will be eligible to serve in the reservist armies automatically disqualifies most Chechen men in their 20s and 30s, given that since the early 2000s no young men from Chechnya, and only a few from other North Caucasus republics, have been drafted.
That ban has now been lifted: as of this year's fall draft, 500 Chechens will be inducted, with priority going to university graduates. The figure will rise to 1,000 in 2015. The planned total number of draftees from the North Caucasus Federal District this fall is 4,100, of whom 2,000 will come from Daghestan, 600 from Kabardino-Balkaria, and 500 from Ingushetia.
-- Liz Fuller