Vienna, April 2 – A major reason that the Russian military is having to draft so many soldiers this spring is that the uniformed services are failing to meet their quotas for recruiting professional soldiers, a shortcoming that experts say reflects both the low salaries they are now offered and the low status of the profession Moscow would like to recruit them to.
The Moscow media have been full of stories about why the spring draft is so large, with most commentators pointing to the change in the length of military service for draftees, and why this round is so filled with problems, ranging from the declining size of the draft pool to the difficulties of the current economic situation.
But in comments this week, Sergey Krivenko, the coordinator of the Social Initiative ‘The Citizen and the Army,’ argues that an even more important explanation for the size of the draft is the military is the failure of the armed services to recruit and retain professional soldiers (www.rusrep.ru/articles/2009/03/31/prizyv/).
If the armed forces had done so, he says, the number of young men needed to be drafted this round would be 264,000 rather than the 305,000 the military now seeks. The military says there are now 207,000 contract soldiers, but Krivenko’s comments suggest that even if that is the case, it is less than the military planned for.
At the end of 2007, the military rights activist says, there were 125,000 slots for such professional soldiers, but only 99,000 of them were filled, a reflection of many things but particularly the relatively low salaries that the Russian military offers the group around which it hopes to build its future.
At present, according to the general staff, professional soldiers in the army receive from 11,300 to 16,000 rubles (300 to 450 US dollars) a month while professional sailors receive only slightly more, 16,000 to 18,000 (450 to 550 US dollars), amounts that are unlikely to attract many even during the current economic crisis.
In addition to the low salaries, Krivenko adds, “conditions of service are [so] poor” that “contract soldiers simply are running away. And as a result, units that had been scheduled to be staffed entirely by professional soldiers are now being shifted back to a mixture of professionals and draftees, a composition that can prove combustible.
Krivenko’s comments are likely to add to the anger of many Russians about the current draft. After all, if the military cannot do what its commanders have promised to do in recruiting and retaining professionals, then why should the government expect young men confronted by the draft will be happy with their fate.
But in its report on Krivenko’s observations, Rusrep.ru calls attention to another source of anger that may prove even more explosive: For at least the last three draft cycles, the Russian military has sought to draft a higher percentage of young men in predominantly ethnic Russian areas than in non-Russian ones in order to retain the Slavic face of the country’s military.
And there is evidence that the high command is doing the same thing again. Tatyana Kuznetsova, the head of the all-Russian Soldiers’ Mothers Movement, says that the authorities plan to draft 8782 young men this spring, “almost four times more than were called during the course of all of 2008” and a number that could reflect a Russians-first policy.
However that may be – and the numbers for many districts around the country are not yet available – Russians seem to be ever less willing to serve in the country’s military either as compulsory draftees or poorly paid professionals. And some are even calling for the elimination of the draft or at least its suspension for the time being.
Ella Polyakova, Kuznetsova’s counterpart in St. Petersburg, is among the latter. She says that the entire spring draft should be suspended now because of the current economic crisis. “As tax payers,” she says, “we cannot allow the loss of young people for a year” in the military because in many cases, that eliminates the breadwinners of their families.