Vienna, March 22 – Russia’s uniformed services will seek to draft more than twice as many men in April than they did a year ago even as they discharge an equally large number of those completing their year of service into the economy, creating at both ends of the process a situation that threatens to exacerbate existing social tensions in that country.
Col. Gen. Vasily Smirnov, the deputy chief of Russia’s general staff, announced on Thursday that “the spring draft will be the largest in terms of numbers [in many years] – with 305,000 young Russians being sent into the army, fleet and other forces,” up from 219,000 last fall and from only 133,200 a year ago (gazeta.ru/social/2009/03/19/2960830.shtml).
At the same time, more than 300,000 soldiers will be released from service, an exchange that reflects the reduction in the length of service to only one year but one that means these young people will be looking for work at precisely a time when unemployment, especially among the young, is rising.
And these problems in turn will be intensified at both ends by a simultaneous reduction in the number of more than 10,000 officers and the shifting of many responsibilities in the defense are to civilians, as a result of the beginning of the much-debated and within the officer corps fiercely resisted military reform program.
Vladimir Yevseyev, an expert on military affairs at the Moscow Institute of World Economy and International Relations, told “Gazeta” that it is going to be very difficult for the military to reach its draft quotas given the declining number of 18 year olds, increasing problems with their health, and the rising number with criminal backgrounds.
Moreover, this new higher draft may lead to an increase in problems that were already on the rise last year: According to the defense ministry’s information service, the number of crimes involving bribes offered to get deferments and avoid service doubled between 2007 and 2008 (www.kontury.info/news/2009-03-20-922).
Moscow could have responded to this situation by increasing the length of service, thus delaying the impact of these trends, but instead, it elected to keep the period of service short and to draft those, like students in religious schools, who were earlier deferred from having to serve.
Senior commanders know they are going to have problems with reaching their goals, but the bigger problems, Yevseyev suggested, may be at the other end: “When a young man is taken out of ordinary life for a year, it is complicated for him to take care of his aging parents or to keep a good job.”
If after having served their country in uniform, many of these young men return to discover that there are few jobs for them, they are certain to be anger, and at least some of them are thus likely to take part in protests or even join groups calling for more radical forms of political action to address the situation.
Given the tendency of protest organizers to add ever new items in their list of demands to the government – see for example the laundry list of complaints demonstrators offered at a protest in Irkutsk yesterday (news.babr.ru/?IDE=51927) – it is likely that at least some of them will add a military plank as well.
And given the anger in the officer corps over the cutbacks in their ranks as a result of the government’s military reform program, it is not unthinkable that angry officers, angry former soldiers now unemployed, and angry potential draftees could link up, a combination that would present serious new challenges to the government.