Baku, March 26 – The Russian Duma has approved on second reading amendments to that country’s military obligation legislation that, if ultimately passed and signed into law, will force all men between the ages of 18 and 27 to register will a local military commissariat if they are absent from their homes for more than 15 days.
The measure, which the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees are already describing as unconstitutional, is the latest indication of the ways in which the demographic decline of the Russian Federation is affecting Moscow’s ability to fill the ranks of an institution as important to it as the military (http://www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/03/25/society/345194/).
If the proposed changes go into effect, local military commissariats will be responsible not only for the registration and draft of those living permanently in a particular region but also of any “guests” who stay there more than three months, but such visitors will have to register within 15 days or face administrative punishments.
Initially, the pro-Kremlin officials proposing this change spoke only about the three month period, something that did not seem too draconian and would not in any event affect that many young men. But before the second reading, they mentioned the 15 day registration period, a requirement that would affect a far larger number.
As the Duma debates about the provision have shown, young men are not the only people who will be affected. Officials in the military commissariats in the major cities or in resort areas where young people go for two to three weeks in the summer will see their work loads significantly increased and their reporting problems dramatically expanded.
Not surprisingly, however, the most outspoken opponents of the measure have been members of the Soldiers’ Mothers Commttee. One of their number, Valentina Mel’nikova, told the press this week that the Kremlin-backed measure was “completely senseless.”
“Neither for the draft itself, nor for military record keeping is such a measure needed,” she said. Moreover, “it contradicts the constitutional right of freedom of movement.” Draft-age men will always have to worry about securing registration when they move about the country, Mel’nikova added, lest they run afoul of the authorities.
It is virtually certain that the Russian government decided to take this step because of the demographic problems Moscow now faces. The number of draft-age males has been falling for the last decade and will reach a level next year that will not permit Moscow to fill the ranks unless it changes existing draft rules.
But Mel’nikova made one comment that suggests another possible explanation for what the Kremlin appears to be trying to do: It clearly represents an end run around the constitution and could be an effort by the government to test the waters for the re-imposition of greater controls over the registration and movement of the population.
If that possibility is in fact part of the Kremlin’s calculation, then, debates about this measure are about far more than just ensuring that the Russian Federation can field an army: they are about whether the Russian government will be able to impose even more restrictions on its population than Moscow has done so far.