Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 163

Russian defense minister Igor Sergeev yesterday gave cautious support to a proposal that would allow conscripts to choose some sort of alternative service rather than serving in the military. Sergeev was visiting St. Petersburg, where Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev hopes to turn his city into a testing ground for such a concept. Yakovlev said that more than 2,000 St. Petersburg youths had refused conscription during the spring draft, but that 170 had said they would be willing to serve if not required to carry and use arms. Earlier this year Yakovlev had proposed the establishment of a UN-run "ecological" force in Russia for conscientious objectors.

Sergeev conditioned his approval of such an idea by saying that alternative service was "a complex issue — which must be tackled gradually." He also suggested that it must be linked with turning the military into an all-professional force, a puzzling observation given that creation of an all-professional force would seem to remove the need for both conscripted and alternative military service.

Although the right to alternative service is enshrined in Russia’s constitution, the laws and regulations to implement it have never been approved. Most high-ranking military officers have opposed the idea in the past, and proposals bearing on alternative service discussed in the parliament have been draconian. Even Yakovlev suggested that participants in his ecological force should serve for three or four years rather than the two years required of military conscripts. (Russian media, September 3; July 7)

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