Harder than it looks, according to the WSJ:
Sergei Fetisov, a 23-year-old welder, signed on for one of the most ambitious projects in Vladimir Putin’s Russia: rebuilding the remains of the once-mighty Soviet Red Army.
A cornerstone of that effort was the creation of special combat-ready units staffed entirely by professional soldiers, not conscripts. Mr. Fetisov volunteered to be one of them. He enlisted for a renewable three-year stint, enticed by higher pay and the chance to learn new skills.
One of his first tasks, he recalls, was toiling past midnight shoveling snow and ice from a football-field-size parade ground. The work that followed was menial, humiliating and of little practical use, he says. Combat training consisted of two firing exercises a year, he says, and a chunk of his paycheck was routinely withheld by corrupt officers.
“When I realized that being a professional soldier was just the same as serving as a conscript, I wanted to tear up my contract and get out of there,” he says. He quit when his commitment ended in July, he says, “but we had guys who simply ran away.”
With volunteers like Mr. Fetisov leaving in droves, the Defense Ministry has abandoned the initiative altogether. The program’s failure shows the limits of Mr. Putin’s grand plan to transform the army from a cumbersome machine designed for European land war into a lithe force capable of fighting regional wars and terrorism.
There’s no question that a volunteer force is more costly to man, equip and train. But you do tend to get what you pay for, and for Russia to continue to rely on conscripts could well be false economy. This is good news of course for former vassal states, but China rises. The US, being a maritime nation, notes the emergence or anti-access and area denial weapons rolling out just as the PRC prepares an aircraft carrier of its very own and a new stealth fighter.
Russia, on the other hand, has always had a continental focus and shares a much more intimate proximity with China to go with ancient fears.