Vienna, October 15 – Confronted with what commanders see as a disastrous demographic situation, the Russian defense ministry has been manipulating this fall’s draft in an effort to secure a more ethnically Russian and less culturally Muslim military, according to an analysis published in a Moscow newspaper today.
The declining number of men in the prime draft-age cohort in Russia and the rising share that members of Muslim nationalities form among their number has confronted the Russian military with several unattractive options, according to Vladimir Mukhin in NG-Regiony (http://www.ng.ru/ngregions/2007-10-15/13_prizyv.html).
If the armed services rely more heavily on professional soldiers rather than draftees, that will put additional strains on the Russian military budget. If the army drafts more ethnic Russians, it will likely harm the economy by removing from the workforce some of the most qualified professionals.
But if the army drafts men in equal proportions across the Russian Federation, Mukhin writes, then the military will increasingly consist of men from historically Muslim nationalities, something that commanders fear could undermine discipline among those in uniform.
According to Mukhin, are convinced that “a large stratum of Orthodox Slavs in the army guarantees stability, excludes the threat of terrorist actions and other extremist phenomena, and also reduces the probability of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional conflicts among the soldiery.”
Consequently, although they are loathe to say anything about it given the sensitivity of ethnic relations, officials responsible for drafting men into the military and other security agencies are carefully but quietly reducing draft quotas for what they call “socially unfavorable regions” like Daghestan Chechnya and Ingushetia.
But because it is precisely these historically Islamic regions have relatively larger pools of potential draftees, this effort has the effect of allowing more “ethnic Muslims” to escape military service while forcing a higher percentage of ethnic Russians to don a uniform.
In the past, officials responsible for the draft did not need to do this. While Muslim nationalities were growing faster than the ethnic Russians, the difference in numbers was not so great that, after members of the former were rejected on medical grounds, that this difference had a major effect.
But now, not only are young Russians now more likely to be medically unfit than they were earlier, as numerous articles attest, but the difference between historically Russian regions and historically Islamic ones as a source of draftees in the Russian military is staggering and potentially explosive.
Mukhin notes that this year, the draft age cohort in Chechnya is approximately equal to that of all the predominantly ethnic Russian federation subjects in the Leningrad military district. But no one in the Russian military would be pleased were the two areas to yield the same number of draftees.
Consequently, the “NG-Regiony” journalist continues, the Russian Federation General Staff has “artificially carried out draft measures which increase” the number of ethnic Russian draftees relative to the number of ethnic Muslim ones by expanding quotas in areas where the former predominate and reducing them where the latter live.
So far, the military’s tilt to ethnic Russians against ethnic Muslims has not been the subject of much discussion in the media, but some ethnic Russians -- including activists in groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees -- are beginning to notice that their sons have a greater chance of being called up than do the sons of Muslims.
In the future, this trend could become even more pronounced, if current demographic trends continue and if the Russian military continues its current set of preferences. The first is virtually a certainty, and the second is almost as likely given the statements of many senior commanders and their links to the Russian Orthodox Church.
According to Kommersant-Vlast’, today, declines in the number of men in the draft age cohort and the simultaneous increase in the share ethnic Muslims form within it are set to increase over the next decade of more, further reducing Moscow’s options and sparking new tensions (http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=814617).
The article notes that Russian statistics show that the numbers of people in the workforce in Russia for the first time began to fall this year after gradually rising even during the difficult years of the 1990s because of the Russian Federation’s complicated age structure.
But this year, the decline was only a miniscule 300,000. Next year, according to an estimate prepared by the Moscow Center of Demography and Human Ecology, the decline will be more than twice that, and by 2010, it will exceed 1.2 million each year, a figure that will continue until at least 2020.
This trend, the article suggests, “cannot but have an impact on the Russian economy” and on the Russian military but is one that current Russian policymakers, however much they try and talk, can do little or nothing about because those involved have already been born.
And officials cannot soon have much effect on the changing ethnic mix, given the higher birthrates among Muslims than among ethnic Russians. As the article notes, the ten regions with the highest birthrates per 1,000 are all non-Russian, with most being Muslim, while nine of the ten with the lowest are predominantly ethnic Russian.
Neither ethnic Russians nor ethnic Muslims are likely to remain entirely comfortable with a situation in which Moscow keeps the Russian Federation’s military and security services ethnically Russian just as demographic forces make that country’s population ever less so.