VOLGOGRAD, Russia—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.
Yuri Kozyrev for the Wall Street JournalSergei Fetisov quit the army as soon as his commitment ended.
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.