The authorities in Moscow have made their own attempt to resolve the problem of providing alternative service to those who refuse to be drafted into Russia’s armed forces. Vladimir Pronin, who was recently named head of the Interior Ministry’s Moscow branch–in essence, Moscow’s police chief–has suggested that draftees be given the choice of serving either two years in the armed forces or three years in police service (Russian agencies, September 5). The problem facing alternative service is that though the Russian constitution allows for it, there is no pertinent federal law. This gives the Russian military a pretext for refusing to honor inductees’ constitutional right to alternative service and even for criminally prosecuting those who demand it. The military has blocked passage of an alternative service law in the State Duma, seeking to ensure that any such law would punish opponents of military service. Some regions have passed their own laws. Tatarstan, for example, recently passed one that, experts say, is in rigorous accord with democratic standards of jurisprudence.
The “Moscow version” of alternative service is distinctive, in that police service in Russia is not exactly civilian service. In any case, Pronin said the Moscow police would be ready next year to accept 2,500 inductees who have requested alternative service. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov supports Pronin’s initiative and has asked President Vladimir Putin to do likewise. Pronin’s initiative has also won support from Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov and Moscow’s military commissar, Mikhail Sorokin. Only Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has yet to react (Radio Ekho Moskvy, September 5).
It is unclear whether the Moscow model for alternative service will set a precedent for other regions. Some regional officials have expressed skepticism toward it, among them officials in the Sverdlovsk Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry, who noted that current federal law allows the military to draft those who have already served three years in the police. These same officials, however, said they liked the thrust of Pronin’s initiative, given the serious shortage of personnel in law enforcement agencies throughout Russia (Polit.ru, September 7). Were Putin to support the Moscow model, it might facilitate the spread of alternative service to other regions. The president’s desire to restrict the independence of the regions, however, combined with his close relationship with the military, makes this unlikely.