Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Nearly Half of Russia’s Draft-Age Cohort Need Medical Checks, Defense Ministry Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 25 – The Russian defense ministry said yesterday that almost half of those who have passed through the draft commissions will be subject to additional medical screening because of health problems, but soldiers’ rights activists say the real number is even higher and that many too sick to serve will nonetheless be drafted in order to meet government quotas.
Moreover, these activists say, the ministry’s proposed solution to this problem – extending the age of exposure to the draft to 30 – will lead to other problems, including greater corruption because older potential inductees will be more settled, have more funds, and be more inclined to offer bribes to avoid service, a possibility some in the ministry may be counting on.
In an article in today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Nadezhda Krasilova reports that the defense ministry has announced that approximately 71,000 young people called up in the spring draft have been inducted but that Moscow hopes to draft an additional 270,000 during this half-year cycle (www.newizv.ru/news/2010-05-25/126944/).
Of the 155,000 young people the draft commissions have talked to so far, some 67,000 – or “almost half of the contingent,” Krasilova points out – have been send for medical examination because of concerns about the state of their health, examinations that may lead some of them to being deferred and the size of the real draft pool thus reduced.
A major reason the defense ministry is concerned is that during 2009, “only 68 percent of the citizens who appeared before draft commissions were considered to be fit for military service without limitations or with [only] insignificant limitations.” And another is that “more than half of those already called up have various health limitations.”
The poor state of health of these young Russians means that the ministry cannot send them to military units where the physical requirements of service are higher. Among those are the air force, the forces of the interior ministry, and the like. And Krasilova adds, doctors sent 86,400 subject to the draft to medical facilities for observation and treatment.
Many of these soldiers needed such a serious course of treatment that it could not be completed in the course of one draft cycle. In the fall of 2009, for example, there were 2,219 such people, up from 1,184 the year before. And in the majority of cases, the young people involved were being seen by medical experts for the first time ever.
Valentina Melnikova, a leader of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia, told the Moscow newspaper that “in fact, the number of ill young people was much larger” than the defense ministry reports, adding that “in reality” officials should have sent all the draftees for such testing if there was any question about their medical histories.
She said that the defense ministry in order to fulfill “the plan” might very well take in even those individuals whom medical examination had identified as unfit for service, and she suggested that defense officials will make promises that these individuals will receive medical treatment once in the military, promises that may not in fact be kept.
These failures, first at the time of the draft itself and then in the first stages of military life, help to explain, Melnikova continued, why the health problems of draftees are often exacerbated rather than cured by commanders, health problems that may result in permanent disability or even death.
Melnikova also pointed to the difficulties the draft presents to young people, especially those from rural areas, who if they “leave a job, lose it forever,” something that makes them reluctant to take the steps, including those that would protect their own health and well-being, that would in fact make them fit to go into the army and do just that.
The “Novyye izvestiya” article also quoted Vitaly Tsymbal, the head of the military economic section of the Moscow Institute of the Economics of the Transitional Period about the defense ministry’s plan to draft people as old as 30 in order to ensure that the draft quotas are in fact met.
Tsymbal points out that “unlike a school graduate, by the age of 30, people as a rule have a stable place of work and a satisfactory wage or salary. Such people will be able to buy their way out of service.” And thus, behind the desire to meet quotas, some in the ministry may see this step as creating new opportunities for corrupt officials to enrich themselves.

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