Eagles Mere, PA, October 1 – The Russian military plans to draft twice as many men this fall as it did last spring, an increase that both the government and NGOs like the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee and legal rights activists believe will spark protests by those forced to break off their educations or careers to serve in the military.
To prevent the anger of individuals from boiling over into larger public protests, Russian officials from the prosecutor’s office and the NGOs are setting up hotlines to handle what they expect will be a flood of inquiries during the draft period that extends from today through the end of the year (www.vremya.ru/2008/180/51/213729.html).
But even if they are successful this time around – and some Russian analysts have cast doubt on the likelihood of that – both the government and the NGOs are unlikely to be able to deal with the even greater problems next year, when the number of men in the draft age cohort will decline significantly, making the impact of the draft that much greater.
And that in turn will add to the already growing demands that Moscow move to an all-volunteer professional army, something that many civilians want but a change that many Russian commanders oppose and that many politicians and analysts say the Russian government cannot presently afford.
The Russian military announced last week that it will draft 219,000 people this fall, twice as many as the uniform services took in this past spring, and a figure that means for the year as a whole nearly one in every three men in the prime draft age will have been drafted this year, a higher share than at any time in recent years.
Those who receive draft notices often complain about mistreatment or medical misclassification during the draft process, but this year officials and NGOs say, the number of people likely to file complaints appears likely to skyrocket not only because of the higher share of men who will be subject to the draft but because of two things.
On the one hand, because of new rules adopted earlier this year, Russians subject to the draft can if they have sufficient funds turn to private medical practitioners for an evaluation of their fitness to serve. Such people are more likely to get medical exceptions, setting up a cascading series of complaints by others.
And on the other, because of the military’s preference for Slavic groups over Muslim ones, the fraction of men drafted in areas with high percentages of the former is certain to be larger than the fraction of men drafted in areas with large numbers of the latter. That too can be counted on to spark protests.
To deal with some of the individual appeals and thus prevent them from growing into larger collective protests, the Office of the General Procurator has announced that from day through the end of this draft cycle, it will open offices in more than 100 Russian cities as well as start a hotline to respond to any complaints.
And both the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees and the lawyers in the Citizen and Army NGO have said that they too will be opening hotlines to provide free legal and other advice to draftees over the next three months, a period that Tatyana Kuznetsova, head of the Moscow Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, says will be difficult (www.fontanka.ru/2008/09/30/026/).
But even if the Russian military has some problems this fall, its commanders are likely to remember this draft cycle as the last of the golden age. That is because the number of 18-year-olds in Russia this year is relatively high thanks to the relative improvement in conditions in 1990.
But next year, the number of 18-year-olds will be much smaller than now because far fewer people were born in 1992, the first post-Soviet year, than 1991, the last Soviet one. If Russia does not adopt a volunteer army or cut the size of its forces – both unlikely prospects in the short term – the percentage of 18-year-olds drafted will have to be much higher than now.
That in turn will almost certainly lead to more complaints, more draft resistance (after an improvement from last year – www.mk.ru/blogs/MK/2008/09/30/srochno/373530/ -- and possibly the spread of public protests against the military, something no Russian government could conceivably welcome (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48E1AF7677D99.html).