Exact Russian military casualties in the Chechen War have been hard to pin down. The problem is that the Defense Ministry is known to keep such figures guarded from public scrutiny. According to Mosnews, the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces claims that 3,826 troops were killed, 17,892 were wounded, and 1,906 were missing in action in the first Chechen War, 1994-1996. For the second war, 1999-present, casualty figures are “unclear and often contradictory.” The only official figure given was by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in December of 2002. He reported that total losses of federal forces were 4,572 killed and 15,549 wounded. No official update has since been given.
But even the above figures have been met with scrutiny. The human rights groups Prague Watchdog and the Union Committee of Soldiers Mothers of Russia have both raised skepticism about the reliability of the Kremlin’s figures.
Compounded with the Russian’s lack of transparency in casualty figures, is the fact that more than one Russian and Chechen security forces operate in the region. In addition to the standard military, police, FSB, and Ministry of the Interior (MVD) troops as well as Kadyrov’s squads also engage in what is now called “anti-terrorist activities.”
According to a short article by Vladimir Mukhin in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the chaotic and deadly situation in Chechnya continues. Nothing says this more than the high casualty rate Russian MVD forces are still sustaining in the region. Based on Russian Defense Ministry figures published last week, Mukhin writes,
In July of this year six servicemen were killed in the course of fulfilling their service duties in Chechnya. And it is noted that all of them fell in battle. These were members of the elite spetsnaz (special-purpose forces) group that was fired on at almost point-blank range on the highway near the settlement of Avtury on 4 July. A further 15 soldiers and offices were wounded during that battle. According to ‘s sources in the military department, a subunit of troop unit No. 54607 from near Tambov fell into an ambush. It is not ruled out that the emergency visit by Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov to Chechnya on 11 July was prompted by this tragedy.
Russian Federation Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev is also concerned about losses among his subordinates. In Makhachkala the minister drew attention to the fact that about 200 police officers and Internal Troops servicemen have been killed in Dagestan in the past four years. In 2005 alone there were more than 100 attacks, as a result of which 60 personnel were killed and more than 120 wounded. According to Nurgaliyev, since the beginning of this year 22 police officers have been killed and 59 wounded as a result of terrorist acts in Pakistan.
The statistics show that one police officer or serviceman is killed in the North Caucasus nearly every day. Although there are as yet no complete figures on this. Only the Russian Federation Defense Ministry continues to give reports of losses on a monthly basis. In all, since the beginning of 2006 42 Defense Ministry servicemen have been killed in Chechnya, and one is missing. From the beginning of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya (1999) to the present day, 3,588 Russian Federation Defense Ministry servicemen have been killed in the course of their service duties and 31 have gone missing. The losses in MVD structures are as follows: In 2004-2005 236 people were killed from among representatives of the law-enforcement agencies, and 279 from among servicemen of the Russian Federation MVD Internal Troops. As of today there are no official figures on losses among police officers and Internal Troops servicemen in Chechnya in 2006.
All of this comes with another article written by Mukhin on how the idea of a Russian contract army is failing. Mukhin writes,
It follows from the documents drawn up in the General Staff that at the present time the Armed Forces are suffering from the massive breaking of military-service contracts by soldiers and sergeants. Thus, according to the chief of a group of analytical subunits in the Main Organization and Mobilization Directorate (GOMU) of the General Staff, Col Yevgeniy Shabalin, in 2005 12.9 percent of servicemen who became professionals prematurely stopped military service (that is, they broke their contracts). In the case of the 42nd Motorized-Rifle Division stationed in Chechnya and operating, as is known, under combat conditions, almost every third professional broke his contract early.
The RF Armed Forces expects a similar trend in 2006, although in smaller proportions. This does not even worry Col Shabalin so much as the fact that a significant number of servicemen who signed a first contract do not intend to extend it.
According to the RF Defense Ministry’s Sociological Center, only 15-19 percent of professionals of the RF Armed Forces are ready to sign a second contract. Thus, over the next 2-3 years, the troops may lose the backbone of professionals who signed contracts in 2004-2005 (the document is signed for three years) and now constitute the foundation of the so-called permanent-combat-readiness forces. It is understandable that this will affect the quality parameters of the country’s entire national defense, since the significant shortfall caused by leaving professionals will have to be restored by other people recruited from civilian life and from among other young soldiers. They will have to be trained again, subunits will have to be coordinated, etc. And this, of course, will cost money, since almost half the army will have to be retrained in accordance with the professional programs. According to the information of GOMU chief Col-Gen Vasiliy Smirnov, it is planned to have 40-45 percent contract soldiers in table-of-organization positions in the Armed Forces in 2008. Here the professional sergeant layer is to exceed 50 percent.
Of course, the Defense Ministry is undertaking measures to change the situation: it is working harder with military commissariats and on the quality of contractor recruitment, increasing moral incentives, and intensifying indoctrination work in the troops. However, this is plainly far from enough, since the motivation of professionals for the work, as the polls of military sociologists show, depends primarily on the material incentives determined by the state. Some 29 percent of the professionals surveyed did not want to continue military service because of the absence of conditions for rest and leisure (clubs, sports facilities, etc). In the past the Finance Ministry has significantly cut expenditures for these items, although the government has approved a federal targeted program (FPTs) for changing the troops over to a professional basis. Some 27 percent of the contractors intend to leave the Army because of low pay. This is completely explainable. On average, a professional receives very little even by average-Russian standards — from 7,000 to 9,000 rubles. True, this figure amounts to 15,000 rubles in Chechnya. But even this money is not a sufficient incentive today. Next year the 42nd Division in Chechnya expects a mass exodus of contractors. Some 26 percent of those polled explained their upcoming departure from the army by the failure to solve the housing problem. This is again connected with the federal targeted program: the government skimped on money for small-family construction, and the majority of contractors now live in refurbished barracks.
It appears that the Russian military’s own failures at improving soldiers living conditions and compensation has killed any hope of establishing a professional army in Russia for the foreseeable future.