Russian Military Decreases Number of Conscripts from the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 3

On January 26, the Russian general staff reported the results of the fall 2011 draft. The deputy chief of the general staff, Vasily Smirnov, said that 135,800 young people across the Russian Federation had been drafted, and that none of them came from Chechnya. Smirnov explained that the proper infrastructure was not in place in Chechnya to allow the military to draft conscripts from the republic. Earlier, in September 2011, Smirnov had promised that Chechnya would be included in the fall draft, but this proposal apparently never materialized. Experts suggested that the decision was political (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/01/26/3975461.shtml, January 26).
 
The last time Chechnya was included in the Russian military draft was before the first Russian-Chechen war of 1994-1996. When Moscow proposed to restart drafting Chechen youth in 2007, opposition from the republican government forced the federal government to abandon those plans. The outspoken human rights ombudsman of Chechnya, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, who is widely assumed to put forward the views of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, declared that it would be “stupid” to draft Chechens, who had witnessed two wars when they were children, and make them serve alongside the officers who had participated in those wars (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/01/26/3975461.shtml, January 26).

As the case of Dagestan’s conscripts shows, it was probably not only opposition from the republican government in Chechnya but also opposition from the Russian military that caused the plans for drafting Chechen youth to be dropped. The military planned to draft 3,320 young men from Dagestan in the fall of 2011, but ended up drafting only 121 people of “predominantly Slavic ethnicity.” Even the ethnic Slavic draftees are serving in irregular Cossack units. The rest of the Dagestani conscripts remained in “reserve.” This is an entirely new concept of reserve that was not normally used in the Russian army. The Dagestanis were not drafted despite the fact that, according to experts, the Russian army is experiencing a 15 percent manpower deficit. An estimated 200,000 young people systematically evade military service in Russia, and 35 percent of those who are drafted are not suitable for military service on medical grounds while another 35 percent are not suitable for critical military detachments. These young people are still drafted, because the army has large shortages of manpower (http://www.ng.ru/nvo/2011-12-28/1_dagestan.html, December 28, 2011).

In 2011, Russian officials started to talk about ethnic issues in the Russian military openly. First, Russia’s military prosecutor general, Sergei Fridinsky, pointed out that discipline in the Russian army was failing partly due to ethnic conflicts. “Ethnic gangs of conscripts from the North Caucasus, uniting into clan structures even while they are on their way to the military units, set out to establish their own rules,” Fridinsky said. A Russian military official in the Chelyabinsk region, Nikolai Zakharov, even stated that there are plans to stop drafting conscripts from all North Caucasus republics completely, particularly those from Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. There were numerous and recurring hazing scandals, with conscripts from the North Caucasus involved in fistfights and the like with ethnic Russians. However, another reason why the Russian military does not want to draft youth from the North Caucasus is a belief that the conscripts may later use their military skills against law enforcement and the army in the North Caucasus (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/01/26/3975461.shtml, January 26).

Comparing the situation in the North Caucasus to Afghanistan, the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta earlier this month noted the casualty statistics for 2011. Over 700 people were killed in the North Caucasus in 2011, including government forces, insurgents and civilians (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/198756/, January 12). In Afghanistan, the total number of fatalities in 2011 was 2,500, including US-led coalition forces. The paper concludes that the difference between the officially “peaceful” North Caucasus and Afghanistan, which is in state of war, is not large (http://www.ng.ru/regions/2011-12-30/5_kavkaz.html, December 30, 2011). However, if we compare Afghanistan’s population of 30 million to the North Caucasus’s population of 6.5 million, it appears that, in relative terms, the “peaceful” North Caucasus suffered proportionally more casualties in 2011 than Afghanistan.

Much of the pressure that the North Caucasian conscripts appear to put on the Russian military is linked to their relative large numbers. In 2009, only three federal districts of the Russian Federation had a natural surplus of population. The Siberian Federal District had a surplus of 1,200, the Ural Federal District had a surplus of 8,700 and the North Caucasus Federal District had a surplus of 75,600 people in 2009. All other federal districts had a negative population surplus. The greatest negative surplus was in central Russia – 173,900 people. Within the North Caucasus, Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria appeared to have led the high population growth in the region (Russian state statistical service, gks.ru, accessed on January 31).

While Moscow’s initially stated plan for the North Caucasus youth was to spread conscription to Chechnya to emphasize that it had been reconquered, it paradoxically appears that the tide went in the opposite direction. So not only are the Chechens now excluded from being drafted into the Russian army, but also the Dagestanis, and rumors persist that other North Caucasian republics might follow the Chechen lead. This clearly shows how the paths of the North Caucasus and the rest of Russia are diverging. Apart from other considerations on the part of the Russian military, it may be expecting the insurgency in the North Caucasus to spread. So excluding North Caucasians from service in the Russian military may signify not only a post-conflict arrangement, as in Chechnya, but also a preparatory measure for upcoming conflicts throughout the region.