Europe

Russia to hire more foreign troops in forces shake-up

  • 5 January 2015
  • From the section Europe
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Russian troops in Georgia - file pic Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of Russian troops are still deployed beyond Russia's borders

Russia is opening up its armed forces to foreign career soldiers, though Russian experts say the move is not linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree enabling foreigners to serve for at least five years in the Russian military - provided they speak Russian.

More recruits from ex-Soviet Central Asian republics are expected.

Foreign volunteers, including Russians, have been fighting in Ukraine. Russia denies sending regular troops there.

The Ukrainian government and the West say Russia has sent heavy weapons and well-trained troops to help the separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Mr Putin's decree on foreign soldiers is part of moves to professionalise the Russian armed forces, BBC defence analyst Jonathan Marcus says. But it does have diplomatic implications for Russia's relations with ex-Soviet republics, he adds.

Russian military experts Pavel Felgenhauer and Alexander Golts both told the BBC that the new decree would legalise a situation that had already existed for several years in areas where Russian troops were deployed beyond Russia's borders.

It would make it easier for Russian forces to recruit locals in parts of Central Asia, the Caucasus and in Trans-Dniester, the pro-Russian breakaway territory in Moldova, they said.

Central Asia strategy

"Previously they were required to get Russian citizenship, or a paper granting them Russian citizenship rights, but now they can serve legally without Russian citizenship," Mr Felgenhauer said.

According to Mr Golts, there are already about 300 foreigners in the Russian forces.

Mr Felgenhauer noted that thousands of Tajiks had served under Russian officers during unrest in Tajikistan in the 1990s.

In the Caucasus, Russia still operates a military base in Armenia and has troops in two breakaway parts of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Sending Russian contract soldiers to Central Asia is expensive and many stay there. So taking locals is very practical," Mr Felgenhauer said.

"The possible threats are growing in Central Asia as Nato winds down in Afghanistan. So there will be a possible expansion of Russia's military presence in Central Asia - Russian officers with local soldiers. But that does not mean mass recruitment of foreigners."

Mr Golts said Russia was not talking about creating a French-style "foreign legion". France has long used elite foreign troops to quell unrest in its former colonies in Africa, and in other hotspots.

For some the typical monthly wage of 30,000 roubles (£329; $500) would be an incentive to join the Russian army, in tough economic times, as would the prospect of getting Russian citizenship, Mr Golts added.

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