Friday, July 10, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Draft Evasion by Russia’s Rich and Powerful Angers the Less Well-Placed

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 10 – The Russian military has achieved the Soviet goal of becoming a true “worker-peasant” army, the result of widespread draft evasion by the children of the rich and powerful and a trend that is infuriating those who are forced to serve and fraying what was one of the most important links between the Soviet leadership and people during World War II.
In that conflict, the sons of senior officials in the Communist Party and Soviet state – from Stalin himself on down – served in the Red Army and in many cases were captured or killed, an indication that they were not in many cases given the kind of special treatment that children of the post-Soviet elite appear to view as their due.
In an article in this week’s “Argumenty nedeli,” Nadezhda Popova not only provides examples of the current trend in which “the children of well-known parents do not want to serve in the army” but also offers some comments which suggest both rising popular anger concerning that pattern (
The journalist said she had “decided to clarify which of the sons of ‘big’ parents have served or are serving in the army” and “which of them has run away from serving.” Because this is not something the authorities have any interest in calling attention to at least at the present time, her article consists of a series of telling anecdotes and lists.
Some of the cases are truly disturbing. She recounts that the son of Bryansk Governor Nikolay Denin was called up n 2007 but got local officials to give him a deferment so that he could … get involved in private business. As a result, Popova notes, “instead of the junior Denin someone else went into the army, someone whose father (or mother) was not a governor.”
Worse in some respects, at least in terms of hypocrisy, has been the case of movie star Aleksey Chadov. Although he had a lead role in the war movie, “The 9th Company,” he did not respond to his draft notice. Military officials promised to put him in jail. But apparently his powerful friends have protected him and he is still acting in public.
Many other actors and performers also have evaded service over the last decade, the “Argumenty nedeli” journalist says. Among them was pianist Yevgeny Kisin, whose open evasion of military service prompted Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov in 2005 to denounce “balalaika players and dancers” who “do not want to serve” their country.
(Kisin avoided service, Popova points out, by the simple expedient of getting a personal order from President Boris Yeltsin. But at least in Yeltsin’s time, she suggests, “one had to be a world renowned pianist and not simply a bank employee or businessmen with a well-known last name” as seems to have become the case since that time.)
Among the sons of politicians and officials who have avoided service, she continues, are Petr and Pavel Fradkov, Vladimir and Stanislav Yastrzhemsky, Dmitry Gryzlov, Vladimir Kiriyenko, Igor Lebedev (the son of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and also both sons of former defense minister Sergey Ivanov.
But if the sons of many in the current Russian elite are avoiding service through one expedient or another, not all are. Two of the seven current presidential plenipotentiaries served in the military. Moreover, both sons of Army General Anatoly Kvashnin served, and among those who died in Chechnya, “more than 30” were sons of military commanders.
For the children of workers and peasants, on the other hand, military service remains nearly universal except for those who have serious health problems, are deferred as students, or are willing to pay bribes to officers who work in the draft offices, bribes that as Popova notes are all too often solicited.
Because the current draft cycle is taking in vastly more young people than any recent ones, the fact that some are able to avoid service while others cannot is especially sensitive in large measure because of the frequently reported horrors of Russian military life and because of a growing sense among many Russians that the entire system is tilted against them.
Indeed, ordinary Russians increasingly have concluded that the rich and powerful and their children live as it were “on another planet, very far from [everyone else],” a feeling that further undermines the kind of social cohesion that any country needs and that could explode in time of crisis.
Indeed, Popova ends her article with the question: Given the unwillingness of the sons of the rich and powerful to serve in the military and to spend their time driving Mercedes cars or “buying the next island or factory,” what will happen to Russia and her people “if tomorrow there is a war.”

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