–WHILE FEWER THAN EVER ARE WILLING TO SERVE…
As in other recent years, this spring’s Russian military call-up is seeing massive draft evasion. According to a report broadcast on Radio Netherlands last week filed by its Moscow correspondent, Geert Groot Koerkamp, only 5,000 young men from the huge Moscow region will actually end up in the army this year. “Ever-larger numbers of young Russians [are] trying to evade military service, or at least postpone it,” said Koerkamp. A major reason for this, of course, is the desire to avoid serving in the hell of today’s Chechnya.
— …DEFENSE MINISTER STRESSES THE DRAFT WILL NOT END
The most recent statements from the Putin administration make it clear that the Kremlin has no intention of ending military conscription, charged the noted independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer in a June 7 commentary for Novaya Gazeta. Felgenhauer cited a recent press conference in St. Petersburg, in which minister of defense Sergei Ivanov stated that nobody has ordered the armed forces to switch to an all-volunteer basis. Ivanov added that if the term of enlistment required of draftees is reduced to one year (from the current two years), it would be desirable to increase the number of draftees. “In other words,” wrote Felgenhauer, “there would be no more deferments for students.”
Felgenhauer also reported figures about military personnel that he said were from government sources outside the uniformed military. These data contradict the military’s claim that only 10 percent of Russia’s young men actually experience military service. The true nationwide figure, according to Felgenhauer’s sources, is more than 30 percent—with about 40 percent of those exempted for health reasons.
— “THEY STILL KEEP BOMBING AND KILLING”
“An intelligence plane flies over the area every day. They can see everything from the cabin, the children, the cattle, the linen hanging over the clothes lines. They know very well that people live here. And still they go on bombing. They bomb here and there and everywhere. And the thing is, with the referendum, with the presidential election, with the federal-level parliamentary election held in Chechnya, they kept promising peace and stability. But they still keep bombing and killing. They do not give a damn about us dying. They really don’t care. They don’t even care when their own people die.” — from the testimony of Apti Khazhimuradov, an eyewitness to the Russian Air Force’s April 8 bombing of Rigakhoi in which a Chechen mother and five of her children were killed (see Chechnya Weekly, April 21), published last month as part of a report by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
— SEVEN RUSSIAN SOLDIERS DIE OVER 24-HOUR PERIOD
Six Russian soldiers died in firefights with rebel guerrillas during a 24-hour period ending on June 5, an official in Chechnya’s pro-Moscow administration told the Associated Press. A seventh federal serviceman was killed by a mine explosion in Grozny.
During that same period, said the official, security sweeps detained at least 200 people said to be suspected of supporting the rebels.
— COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF ANTI-WAR ACTIVISTS
Despite the broad trend toward authoritarianism in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, one can continue to find exceptions and reversals. The courts, for example, while not fully independent are also not totally controlled by the executive branch. Sometimes they decide in favor of dissidents and against the executive authorities, which of course would have been inconceivable during the Soviet years.
Last week a district court in Moscow granted a motion by the veteran human-rights activist Lev Ponomarev to declare illegal the actions of Moscow municipal authorities who dispersed an anti-war demonstration in February. Ponomarev’s “For Human Rights” movement will now demand the annulment of the fines that the authorities imposed on the demonstration’s organizers.
— FOR SOME CHECHENS, RUBBLE IS ALL THAT’S LEFT
An evocative article by Seth Mydans which implies many larger things about life in today’s Grozny—all of them sad—appeared in the June 1 issue of the New York Times. Mydans found that one of the last ways for the elderly and the very young to make a living in the shattered city is to sell the rubble of their own apartment buildings. An intact brick goes for one ruble (about three U.S. cents), so “nine bricks will buy a loaf of bread.” Children scour the ground for pieces of salvageable metal. But local criminals have also learned the value of rubble, and they steal bricks at night—sometimes by force. “By truckload and wheelbarrow,” wrote Mydans, “the ruined building where this group lives is growing smaller.”