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Russia’s Conscription Conundrum

The Obstacles to Modernizing the Country’s Armed Forces

Putin delivers a speech at the opening of the Army-2015 international military forum in Kubinka, outside Moscow, Russia, June 2015.  Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

Russia is in the middle of an extraordinarily ambitious military modernization project. By 2020, the country plans to upgrade a significant percentage of its weaponry. Among the new equipment Russia’s armed forces will acquire: 600 aircraft; 1,100 helicopters; some 100 ships (including 24 submarines); 2,300 tanks; and 2,000 artillery pieces. The modernization will cost taxpayers an estimated 19 trillion rubles, or $283 billion. Russia’s military largesse, which accounted for 4.5 percent of Russian GDP last year, puts the country in third place in global defense expenditures, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (the United States and China rank first and second, respectively.)

The modernization project is impressive, but the Russian military has more to worry about than upgrading its equipment. Whereas the Soviet Union boasted an armed force of more than five million soldiers, Russia is now having trouble filling the ranks of an army one-fifth as big. It is not that Russia doesn’t have

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