Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 93

Mothers’ groups seeking to protect Russia’s conscript soldiers have become a fixture of Russian military life over the past decade as public attention has been focused on the deplorable–and all too often deadly–conditions endured by many of the country’s youngest conscript soldiers. According to one report, some fifty servicemen were shot in 1997 by fellow soldiers. Moreover, the number of such incidents, and other forms of “non-combat deaths,” is said to be rising. The same report said that 1,017 servicemen died in accidents or took their own lives in 1995. The figure rose to 1,046 in 1996 and 1,103 last year, the reports said. Under such conditions, draft evasion and desertion have also remained widespread. More than 50,000 young men were said to have evaded last year’s draft, while the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee reports that more than 12,000 conscripts went AWOL rather than endure barracks life. (Argumenty i Fakty, No. 6, February)

Such figures underscore both the continuing deterioration of Russia’s armed forces and the failure thus far of military reform efforts to improve living conditions for many of the country’s soldiers. As a result, respect for military service is understandably low among young Russians. This complex of problems, which includes the army’s chronic underfunding and equally chronic corruption among senior officers, has been one reason why many believe that Russia must transition to an all-volunteer force. But the country’s professional soldiers, hired on a contract basis, have, in general, proved a disappointment to the military leadership. Funding shortages, moreover, have made it difficult to attract better recruits to the armed forces. During Russia’s last presidential election, President Boris Yeltsin pledged to end conscription by the year 2000. But there is little in today’s Russian army to suggest that the country will meet that deadline.