Monday, October 8, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Demographic Decline Complicates Military Draft

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 8 – Declines in the size of the Russian Federation’s draft pool because of ultra-low birthrates at the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s and because of the poor physical and mental condition of many young men in this cohort are making it ever more difficult for the Russian military to meet its draft quotas.
And these problems have been exacerbated during this fall’s effort because of the changeover from a two-year term of service in the past to 18 months for those called this fall to only 12 months for those who will be drafted in 2008 and in future years, according to Moscow commentaries on the situation in the Russian military today.
This fall, the Russian military is seeking to draft 132,000 young men, 1,000 fewer than a year ago but far more than the country will be able to draft in the future unless the authorities move to improve the health and well-being of the young, further restrict deferments, or rely ever more heavily on professional soldiers.
Indeed, according to Sergei Pakhmutov, by 2010, if current trends continue unabated, the Russian Federation armed services will be able to draft only 66,000 in each cycle, half the number now and even a smaller share of earlier levies, and could have to rely on expensive “contract” soldiers (
This year poses special challenges, he continues. Most immediately, the number of soldiers being demobilized is especially large: some 133,000 after 18 months of service who were drafted in 2006 and another 120,000 after 24 months of service who were called to the colors earlier.
The services thus have to make up for their departures quickly, something that has prompted the military to put pressure on medical commissions to pass for service those who might have been rejected in the past and to force the judicial authorities to come down hard on those hoping to evade service.
This last group may be especially large during the current cycle because those who are able to put off their service for just one more round of the draft – the Russian military drafts twice a year – can count on serving six months less than those who go in now (
Given that only about 10 percent of those in the prime draft age cohort actually serve, the Russian military would seem to have ample room to increase the pool by ending deferments and tightening up on the enforcement of the law. But there are three reasons why that is not the case, Moscow officials say.
First, the percentages of young Russians who are underweight or ill are so great that many of them could not perform well in the military. Unless the country’s social support network improves, that alone will block any significant increase in the number of draftees.
Second, there are economic and demographic problems involved with drafting more young men: Those in the army are not working in the economy, and they are not marrying as young and having as many children as the Russian government would like to see them do.
And third, even if Moscow is able to develop a professional non-commissioned officer class, it will be difficult in the near term to have a sufficient cadre of such people to provide training if the overall demographic and health numbers remain at their current levels over the next decade as most experts assume.
These difficulties in turn make it somewhat difficult to understand a report in today’s “Nezavimaya gazeta – Kur’er” that next year Moscow will make it far more difficult for former Soviet citizens living abroad to acquire Russian Federation citizenship as of next year (
Konstantin Romodanovskiy, the head of the Federal Migration Service, told the paper that “the peak of obtaining citizenship has already passed” and that he personally saw no reason to extend yet again the simplified procedures that had allowed residents of the other former Soviet republics to get citizenship within a year of arrival in Russia.
That means, he said, that it could take those arriving as of next year or the roughly one million people now living in the Russian Federation without formal paperwork but who have been identified as wanting to obtain Russian citizenship as much as seven years to get it and thus fully integrate into Russian society.
Because of widespread antipathy among Russians toward immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, few politicians are currently willing to speak out on behalf of measures designed to make it easier for the new arrivals to remain in the Russian Federation.
But the manpower problems now plaguing the Russian military show what that country will face if it does not get more people from somewhere – a change in demographic, social, or immigration trends – and consequently may force the Russian armed forces perhaps unexpectedly for some to back more immigration rather than less.

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