Russia Begins to Fear Conscripts from the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 14

The Russian military does not want to deal with military conscripts from the North Caucasus region and has placed them outside the constitution of the Russian Federation. By applying these exclusionary practices to the North Caucasians, the Russian government is taking yet another step toward rendering the North Caucasus as a region with a special status within the Russian Federation.

Multiple scandals in the Russian military forces involving North Caucasians have caused a backlash in Russian society. An ethnic-based North Caucasian diaspora was built up in the army since the Soviet period. The Dagestani, Ingush, Ossetian, Circassian and other North Caucasian conscripts usually formed ethnic-based groups within their military units and also shared an overarching identity as North Caucasians (http://kavpolit.com/gde-vsya-dagestanskaya-rat/?print). The North Caucasian mountaineers invariably included ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus in their informal associations, considering them their full compatriots, unlike ethnic Russians from the rest of Russia. An utter disregard for the traditional Soviet and then Russian army system of hazing has been the hallmark of the North Caucasian informal associations. Dedovshchina, the informal system of superiority of the senior conscripts over the junior ones, has been the norm throughout the military forces, first in the Soviet Union and then in Russia. Conflicts between the North Caucasians who defied dedovshchina and ethnic Russians from other Russian regions resulted in thousands of criminal cases being opened inside the army every year (http://svpressa.ru/society/news/22850/). It can be safely assumed that many other hazing cases did not make it to the courts, since commanders usually try to cover them up.

Twice a year, during the summer and fall military draft periods, Russians start to have lively discussions about conscripts from the North Caucasus. After the unsuccessful attempt to draft Chechens into the army in 2000-2001, Moscow officially refused to take Chechen conscripts, although Chechens are still drafted for military service in Chechen units on the territory of the republic itself. In 2007, when Russian officials announced plans to draft Chechens into the Russian military, protests by mothers concerned about the possible persecution of their children by Russian officers who had fought in Chechnya forced Moscow to abandon its plans. This practice of not drafting Chechens to serve in parts of Russia outside of Chechnya has been going on for ten years now, although the Chechen authorities have tried to convince Moscow to draft Chechens on the same basis as all other Russian citizens. Yet, Russian authorities do not want to risk this, given that Chechens have staged riots, demanding prayer rooms, the banning of pork and so on (www.mk.ru/politics/article/2011/07/21/607793-v-armiyu-ne-prizvali-ni-odnogo-chechentsa.html). Chechens account for some 7,000 potential conscripts each year and have the lowest percentage of men unfit for military service. Experts point out that refusing to draft Chechens is a political decision taken by the country’s political leadership (www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/01/26/3975461.shtml).

The same situation now exists in Dagestan. The Chelyabinsk draft commission unintentionally revealed Moscow’s plans for the draft in Dagestan, which were apparently not supposed to be made public (http://milpress.ru/archives/3010). The exclusionary rules for drafting conscripts apply only to mountaineers: in Dagestan, for instance, 121 people were drafted in the spring of 2012, but they were Slavs living in the republic (http://www.chernovik.net/print.php?new=13720). “Young men from the North Caucasus will not be recruited in 2012 because of the fight against dedovshchina and region-based hazing,” a top Russian Defense Ministry official told RIA Novosti on June 18 (http://vz.ru/news/2012/6/18/584241.html). Even the Russian President’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, could not hold back his emotions and, reacting to the Defense Ministry’s decision, denigrated the North Caucasians, saying they “did not perceive themselves with shovels in their hands” (http://ria.ru/society/20120618/675902719.html). In other words, Khloponin hinted that the Russian army had become an arena for North Caucasians to settle scores with the Russians, using the ethnicity-based groups they organize as soon as they arrive in the army.

Thus, following in Chechnya’s footsteps, Dagestan also has been excluded from the system of Russian military conscript service. In all, 156,000 conscripts should have been drafted into the Russian military in the spring of 2012, but only 132,000 were presumably conscripted (http://svpressa.ru/society/article/52135/). Referring to the military draft figures, the republican leadership said that Dagestan could supply 10,000 men (www.newsru.com/russia/22apr2011/dages.html). According to the preliminary plan, 3,320 people should have been drafted from Dagestan in the spring (www.chernovik.net/print.php?new=13720), but instead only ethnic Russians living in Dagestan were drafted. The original Dagestani draft figures were about the same as those for the city of St. Petersburg (www.rosbalt.ru/piter/2012/04/16/970175.html).

Some Russian experts maintain that excluding Dagestanis from military service will be beneficial to the Russian army because the Dagestanis have been habitually rebellious, sometimes imposing control over whole regiments (www.moskva.fm/news/quoted/40822). At the same time, the Russian authorities’ distrust of Dagestan has increased because of the precarious security situation and the increase in the number rebel attacks over the past several years. Today, people in Dagestan joke that, thanks to the abolition of the draft into the Russian army, the rebel Caucasus Emirate army has been able to increase its recruits (http://gereev.blogspot.fr/2012/01/blog-post_31.html). In all likelihood there may be an element of truth to this joke. At a time when Russia’s demographic growth faces rapid decline, the manpower pool for the insurgents is increasing, and Moscow is deliberately shunning this valuable source of recruits.

It should be mentioned that abolishing the military draft is not meant to encompass all of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus at the moment, but only Chechens and Dagestanis. However, there appear to be plans to drop drafting men from all North Caucasian indigenous groups (www.islamnews.ru/news-110431.html). Undoubtedly Russian authorities will eventually stop drafting all North Caucasians because the North Caucasian mountaineers simply cause too many problems in the Russian army. There is an element of a cultural clash that exists between Russian recruits from remote parts of Russia and the North Caucasians – what is an ordinary feature of life for a resident of central Russia is unusual or at times even offensive to a resident of the North Caucasus. Thus, the number of military conscripts from North Ossetia also experienced a significant decline in the last several years, plunging from 2,700 persons in 2009 to only 700 in 2011 (http://region15.ru/articles/3293/). Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea are also among the regions with decreasing military draft figures. The combination of all these factors has led to a situation in which solely Russian conscripts are again being sent to serve in the conflict areas in the country – namely, the North Caucasus (http://www.reporter-dz.ru/obschestvo/srochniki-uxodyat-na-kavkaz.html).