Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 185

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree on September 30 launching the start of the Russian military’s annual fall conscription campaign. In accordance with the decree, the call-up this year will last from October 1 until December 31. Just over 190,000 young men are to be inducted, the same number called up earlier this year during the annual spring conscription drive. Putin’s decree simultaneously releases from military service soldiers whose two-year period of service is now concluding (Itar-Tass, September 30).

Russia’s annual call-ups reflect the fact that, despite a decade of so-called military reform and the institution of contract military service, the country’s armed forces (and the military components of Russia’s various security structures) still depend on the military draft for a large portion of their personnel. If during the Soviet period the annual call-ups were a time for official celebration, however, they are anything but that now. Draft evasion has been rampant since the early 1990s, and the broad-based desire to avoid military service has been institutionalized in legislation that now legally frees roughly 85 percent of all Russian draft-age men from service. The reasons for avoiding military service in Russia have been well publicized: brutality in the barracks, often abysmal living conditions, shortages of food and sometimes the basic necessities of life, and the conduct of two bloody wars by Russian authorities in the North Caucasus. The result is an army now manned in large part by the most disenfranchised of Russia’s under class and an available draft pool with inferior rates of education–but with higher-than-average rates of health problems and criminality.

In recent days all of these deficiencies were highlighted yet again by the man who oversees mobilization issues for the Russian armed forces, Colonel General Vladislav Putilin of the Russian General Staff. According to Putilin, the variety of legal deferments now available to potential Russian draftees mean that only 13 percent of men aged 18-27 are currently eligible to be drafted into the armed forces. Of those who were subject to induction this past spring, moreover, some 37 percent were said to be unfit for service on account of health problems while, for the same reason, 55 percent were ruled fit for service only with some restrictions. Among those drafted, roughly 38 percent reportedly had never studied or worked anywhere prior to conscription; thirty percent were said to have had alcohol or drug problems, and about 13 percent (roughly 24,000 draftees) to have had criminal records. According to Putilin, there were 32,000 draft evaders registered during last fall’s conscription campaign–about 17 percent of the total number of men drafted. According to a Russian newspaper report, while the number of draft evaders has varied in recent years, it has never fallen below 20,000 (Vremya MN, Segodnya, Komsomolskaya pravda, September 29; Izvestia, October 3).

The inequities and other disorders wracking the military conscription system are especially evident in Moscow. According to the Moscow district’s military commissar, the city will produce only 5,000 draftees this fall, despite having a population of some 10 million people. Of those drafted, 30 percent are said to be from single-parent families, and almost half to have never studied or had any work experience. A large number of conscripts from Moscow are said to be illiterate. For Moscow’s elite, on the other hand, the city’s forty-two universities and institutes with military departments (faculties that offer military courses) provide considerable opportunity for avoiding the draft Some 52 percent of the city’s draft age population is reportedly eligible for education deferments of one sort or another (Kommersant daily, September 16; Trud-7; September 28).

One of the more interesting features of the current fall draft campaign is that it comes amid plans by the government to cut military manpower in the armed forces by approximately 350,000 over the next several years. Logic would seem to dictate that the looming reductions would decrease pressure on the draft and might even lead the Defense Ministry to cut the number of young men it is planning to conscript. This would seem to be particularly true if, as one Russian daily reported last month, the armed forces are in fact currently manned by some 200,000 over their statutory strength of 1.2 million, and must therefore cut even more personnel than expected in order to reach planned manpower targets (Segodnya, September 16).

According to Putilin, however, the situation is quite different. He told reporters last week that the armed forces will in fact be manned at only 80 percent of their statutory strength following the completion of this fall’s draft. Putilin also provided some numbers describing the situation with respect to broader manning levels in all of Russia’s armed formations combined–that is, the regular army plus the military units attached to the country’s various security agencies. He claimed that no actual cuts will in fact be required to meet the Kremlin’s force reduction plans because the current levels of undermanning will permit the military leadership simply to eliminate the unfilled slots (Segodnya, September 29). And that, presumably, means that the Defense Ministry plans to maintain draft requirements at their current levels in the years to come, despite the plans to downsize the army.

In the Urals Military District, meanwhile, Russian defense authorities are apparently hoping to activate another element of the military mobilization system, one that has largely fallen dormant in recent years. According to the AVN military news agency, General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin will be overseeing an exercise by which some 5,000 Russian reservists are to be called into service for training that will last up to sixty days. The drill, which will be launched this month, is described as the largest of its kind ever to be held in Russia. AVN reported earlier this week, moreover, that the General Staff for the Moscow Military District has also scheduled a similar call up for reservists–possibly involving even greater numbers (AVN, September 28, October 2). Previous attempts by the Russian Defense Ministry to mobilize reservists for retraining have reportedly not gone very well. It remains to be seen whether these apparently more ambitious efforts will fare any better.