Russian Military Pay: Does Size Matter?


In a modern world where military conscription has all but been abolished except in obsolete authoritarian regimes, a glaring example is Russia’s one-year military service requirement, reduced by two years in 2008 for 18-27 year olds. Like Angola and Afghanistan, the rich and better connected mostly escape current selections.

Along with poor conditions of service, postings to remote locations with extreme weather conditions, and pay that is only a fraction of regular or contract soldiers, Russian conscripts have also had to deal with the recurring decimal of hazing often with deadly consequences like an incident in 2019 when a Russian conscript killed eight other soldiers. Reported incidents of abuse of authority against junior staff number nearly three a day.

Ruslan Shaveddinov, a staunch supporter of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested and assigned to a remote Arctic outpost in the winter of 2019 where he was tasked with keeping polar bears away from the camp. Camp conditions themselves were grim, including carrying water a mile into bear country and isolation, except for monthly resupply.

Conscripts receive a stipend of 2,000 rubles ($30) compared to the base salary of 62,000 ($900) for regular or contract soldiers. These young conscripts, many of whom are the subject of political appeals, receive 3,000% less pay than their Russian compatriots in the regular army who earn almost 200% less than their American counterparts. This trend follows the chain of command with increasingly extreme disparities at the highest salary levels for the most senior officers. Senior Russian officers often receive a pension of one-third of their service pay while their American counterparts see little reduction in retirement.

Conscripts are in fact glorified laborers who free up the regular army for the most urgent tasks of keeping Putin’s regime in power and enable Russia’s expanded industry of private military contractors, made up of former Russian military personnel. Russia and Russia, to earn more and die in foreign lands.

The Russian military does not have the constraints of democracy and recruiting goals are easily achieved due to forced enlistment. Foreign armed forces, notably European and American, are now facing a hangover from Afghanistan, once a good source of recruitment with the tragedy of 9/11. Salary and benefits will still be attractive and perhaps even more so with the repercussions of the pandemic, aided by the illusion that wars abroad are over.

The Soviet army after World War II carried water with baskets for decades and did its duty to the motherland without complaining. Like their Cuban compatriots after Angola, the veterans were denied the spoils or the crumbs of war.

The KGB and their successors having never faced a battlefield, ambush or missile strike in the Panjshir Valley now roam Moscow in their armored SUV, reaping the benefits of the post gold rush – Putin refused to all except the inner circle.

Every Russian Afghan War veteran had to embrace abstinence while caviar and champagne flowed at Pushkin. Mothers and fathers are dead, leaving no one to mourn the graves at Mytishchinsky Cemetery, conveniently out of sight as more dachas spring up for the new oligarchy, raising the question: are all Soviet heroes dead in Afghanistan?


  1. Gil Barndollar, Best or worst of both worlds? Russia’s Mixed Military Manpower SystemCSIS, September 23, 2020
  2. The Kremlin raises military pay, russiandefpolicy.comJanuary 3, 2018
  3. Robyn Dixon, Polar bears and arctic isolation: Russian opposition activist describes military service as ‘political exile’The Washington Post, January 2, 2021


Peter Polack is a former Cayman Islands criminal lawyer for several decades. His books are The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War: South Africa vs. Cuba in the Angolan Civil War (2013), Jamaica, the country of cinema (2017) and Guerrilla Warfare: Kings of the Revolution (2019). He contributed to War Encyclopedia (2013). Polack worked as a part-time reporter for Reuters News Agency in the Cayman Islands from 2014-16. His post Syria: the revolution of evolution was published in the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center magazine in June 2014.

In October 2018, Defense Procurement International published an article about the book Guerrilla Warfare titled What do today’s jihadists have in common with famous guerrilla fighters of the past? Defense Procurement International Winter 2018 magazine published its article Brief history of MRAPVehicles. In September 2019, an excerpt from the George Washington chapter of Guerrilla Warfare Kings of Revolution was published in the American Intelligence Journal, Vol 36, No.1.

His most recent article Soviet Spymasters: The Limits of Democracy and Navalny was published in Foreign Policy News on March 7, 2021. McFarland Publishing has acquired his latest book titled Soviet spies around the world: country by country, 1940-1988 . The book is a compendium of Russian espionage activities with nearly five hundred Soviet spies expelled from nearly 100 countries around the world. he just finished Only the young will die with Jack McCain USNR on raising the age of military enlistment and is currently researching a curated collection titled The war in pictures of nearly 1,000 images across several conflicts over several centuries.

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