Monday, June 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russian Military Now Drafting ‘Anyone who Moves,’ Rights Activists Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 29 – Caught in a bind between the largest draft quota in years – 305,000 -- and the smallest cohort of draft age men from which to fill it – those born in the difficult year of 1991 -- the Russian military, in violation of the law and its own regulations, is taking in “anyone that moves,” according to two activists who work on military manpower issues.
In a joint interview posted on the site today, Tatyana Kuznetsova of the Soldiers Mothers Movement and Ivan Samarin, a specialist at the Center of Legal and Medical Help for Draftees, described the “typical” violations in this cycle and the dangers ahead if draft legislation is passed (
In this draft cycle, Kuznetsova said, the military committees “are taking into the army all who move,” regardless of their condition. Sometimes, she says, these bodies have young people come in under “false pretenses” and then draft them. They “have carte blanche, and they operate according to the principle –the plan at any price.”
Another special feature of the draft this time around is that many of those taken are immediately sent to the Caucasus, despite promises at various times that draftees would not serve in hot spots. “Practically all young men from Moscow oblast,” she continued, “are sent there to serve” their time in the military.
Kuznetsova said that there had been violations at every stage of the draft procedure this spring – the draft began on April 1 and has been extended to July 15 – and Samarin said that the worst had involved the drafting of students who have a legal right to deferment, sometimes even staging raids on student dormitories to find candidates for the draft.
Kuznetsova provided information on an especially troubling aspect of this part of the draft. Moscow military officials, she said, have been unhappy that up until now, they could not touch students from other parts of the country studying in Moscow. But now they are taking those students, an action that is simplified because such student have no one to defend them.
The interview asked the two experts to comment on the possible impact of the adoption by the Russian government of a new draft law on the military obligations of Russian citizens that was recently prepared by and posted on the website of the country’s defense ministry (
Kuznetsova pointed out that it is “simply unconstitutional” because it takes away from those who believe they have been improperly drafted the right to have their cases heard by a court. If the new legislation is passed, then the individual would have to serve until his case was heard, a complete violation of his rights.
Samarin, for his part, said that the law was “completely insane.” Not only does it eliminate the chance for those in the draft to appeal to the courts, but the draft measure also violates the right of Russian citizens to an education by restricting their right to study at a foreign educational institution.
Under the terms of the draft legislation, those studying abroad would have to return to be drafted if the military asked that their passports not be extended. And the draft also violates the country’s labor code by requiring anyone applying for a job to show that he had performed his military service or had a legal deferment.
Tragically, the two agreed, the draft committees do not appear to care “what kind of an army” Russia will have. Their members have “only two tasks – either to take a bribe from a sick man or to send him into the army in order to fulfill the plan.” Kuznetsova added she did not understand why doctors go along so often with the committees, except for the bribes.
The Soldiers Mothers Committee leader made three other points. First, she said, the appearance of professionals in the military has not solved the problem of “dedovshchina,” the Russian term for the often brutal hazing of more junior soldiers by more senior ones. Instead, the “professionals” have simply taken over this task of imposing order.
Second, she said, it is “a myth” that most young Russians serve only a year. In fact, “they serve three and a half” because they are deceived or forced into signing up as “professionals” in order to get or not to lose somewhat better “human” conditions like “clean clothes, food,” and the like than those they are serving among.
And third, Kuznetsova remarked, if parents see that the rights of their sons are being illegally taken away by the draft process, they should “raise a storm and turn to the media.” Unfortunately, in the media environment of Russia today, there is no guarantee that such appeals will either be disseminated or lead the powers that be to change course.

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