Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Demographic Realities Forcing Moscow to Boost Draft Intake from North Caucasus

Paul Goble

Staunton, April 26 – Even as some Moscow officials suggest the Russian army would be better off with fewer North Caucasian soldiers or even none at all, the demographic decline among the ethnic Russians at a time of continued growth in many Muslim nationalities has forced the military to dramatically boost draft calls in the North Caucasus.

The current issue of the Daghestani weekly “Nastoyashcheye vremya” reported that Moscow had increased the draft quota from an initial 420 people to 5980 and, adding insult to injury, noted that draft officials in that North Caucasus republic say that they could easily send “up to 20,000” if that were required (gazeta-nv.ru/content/view/5919/109/).

Three weeks ago, the Daghestani weekly noted, “in a number of Russia media outlets appeared the declaration of the military commissary of Chelyabink oblast Nikolay Zakharov to the effect that residents of the Caucasus would not be called into the army because as the media put it, ‘the growth of ethnic tensions’” caused by their appearance in military units.

In the North Caucasus, such assertions “have generated anger both among draftees and also among the higher military command.” In the Daghestan military commissariat, the weekly said, officers said that they “consider such assessments to be an attempt at exacerbating inter-ethnic hostility” and that the courts should take up the matter.

And they noted that the draft quota for Daghestan had been increased from an initial 420 to the final 5980 after Makhachkala asked Moscow to increase it because so many young people from that republic want to serve. But even that number, Yavnus Dzhambalayev, who oversees the draft in Daghestan, said “is not the limit” for his republic.

Today, he continued, there are 27,000 people in the prime draft cohort in Daghestan, “and in fact we could send 20,000 draftees” to the armed forces. “We have many who want to serve and those 7,000 which wer called in by the commission have already passed through the process without any excesses.”

As to where the Daghestani draftees will serve, he said, they will be in units in the Central, Southern, Eastern and Western districts. They won’t serve in their home republic, however; there “only professional soldiers” are used, at least according to the existing rules of the Russian defense ministry.

What makes this Makhachkala report so striking is that in many predominantly ethnic Russian regions around the country, military commissariats are facing a difficult time in meeting much lower draft quotas because the current prime draft cohort, men born 18 to 20 year ago, is so small.

As a result, commissariats there are being forced to go after students in university and to round up people whose health or criminal backgrounds make them poor candidates for military service, a pattern that is likely to intensify if the current demographic trends continue as scholars now predict.

Many military officers would prefer to have fewer people from the Caucasus in their units believing that such people either cause or trigger ethnic conflicts with soldiers of other ethnic groups and thus reduce unit cohesion and military effectiveness. But they face serious opposition in taking the steps necessary to make that happen.

On the one hand, many Russian parents actively resent the idea that their children should be at greater risk of being called to military service than the parents of Muslim nationality youth. And on the other, the Russian government cannot easily avoid draft Muslim youth unless it is willing to have a smaller army or to accept serious consequences for the economy,

Moreover, and this may be the most powerful argument against reducing draft quotas in Muslim areas in general and in the North Caucasus in particular. If the Russian military does not take Muslim draftees in ever greater numbers, unemployment and discontent in the North Caucasus will only increase, with some of those not drafted likely choosing to fight another way.

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