Staunton, September 18 – Fear of military service and a desire to avoid it is leading to “feelings of hatred to the [Russian] state” among young people in the Russian Federation, and even provoking “non-conformist” attitudes among them, rights activists say, arguing that this trend is a major reason for Moscow to move toward an all-volunteer force.
Twenty-one human rights and military affairs organizations in 15 regions of the Russian Federation have sent an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev calling on him to reduce the size of the fall 2010 draft and take personal responsibility for eliminating the draft entirely in the future and moving to a professional army (www.rosbalt.ru/2010/09/17/772773.html).
The text of the appeal has been placed on several websites so that individual Russians and groups can sign it, a step the authors said they had taken because of “the unprecedented extent of the violations of the law on military service and human rights that were observed during the draft campaigns of 2009 and 2010.”
Among the most troubling of these violations, the appeal says, were decisions by doctors to approve for military service potential draftees with serious health problems that Russian law says should be the basis for deferment, decisions that reflected the difficulties the military is having getting enough soldiers given the country’s demographic difficulties.
As a result of these medical decisions, “many newly drafted individuals at the very beginning of service land in hospitals, spend more than one month there, and then are released from service because of the state of their health.” Some of them become “invalids and even die” as a result of trying to meet military standards beyond their physical capacities.
Military prosecutors have already said that the medical review of draftees during recent cycles “did not contradict the law. But both public activists and generals disagree,” noting that the current system as it currently exists has left the Russian military less than fully capable of fulfilling its responsibilities. Consequently, something must be done.
For the activists, shifting from a draft-based military to a professional one, a move that then President Boris Yeltsin promised in the early 1990s but that budgetary and strategic considerations have blocked, is the obvious move, if the Russian Federation is to have a modern and capable force.
One of the activists behind this appeal says that the situation with regard to doing away with the military draft now is “just as serious as the question about the end of serfdom in Russia in the 19th century” because continuing to use the draft “reproduces totalitarian things.” By passing through such military “slavery,” she says, young people “think differently.”
But the appeal points to other problems that the current draft-based military produces. It leads to the crimes of more senior draftees against more junior ones (“dedovshchina”), to “senseless deaths of young people,” to “the flight of talented people abroad,” and to the creation of yet another obstacle to “hopes for modernization of the country.”
The appeal’s most compelling arguments, however, are two. On the one hand, the draft “can lead to the development of feelings of hatred to the state among young people.” And on the other, a professional force will be made up of people far more committed to learning military skills and thus capable of defending the country.