Paul Goble reports:
Faced with a declining number of men in the prime draft age group and increasing resistance even among them, the Russian defense ministry is calling for extending the length of time during which the spring draft will take place, drafting men as old as 30, reducing the number of deferments and bringing to justice those who illegally avoid service.
If these measures are adopted, the Russian military might be able to fill its draft quota this time around but only at the cost of increasing disruptions in the economy and especially in the lives of young men and of worsening public attitudes toward the military, activists and experts warn.
Russia’s spring draft began on April 1 and was slated to last until July 15, but the problems the military has been having with securing enough draftees this time around have been so severe that the General Staff this week offered a series of proposals so that it can reach its quota.
First, Col. Gen. Vasily Smirnov, the Staff’s deputy head, called for extending the draft to August 31 to give the system a chance to round up more people. He said that last year, 100,000 individuals refused to serve and that now “10,000 [potential] draftees do not want to receive” draft notices. “At the same time,” “Stoletiye” reported, Army General Nikolay Makarov, the chief of the General Staff said that approximately 200,000 people are seeking to avoid service and that the military wants to force prosecutors to bring those who are refusing to fulfill their military obligation to justice.
Second, the defense ministry announced that it wants to increase the upper age limit for draftees from 27 to 30, thereby increasing the size of the draft pool, at least this time around.
And third, the ministry “proposed reducing by 70 percent the number of higher educational institutions of Russia whose students are deferred from service.”
All these measures would require parliamentary action. Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defense and security committee of the Federation Council, said that he supported some but not all of these proposals. And Anatoly Kucherena, a member of the Social Chamber, said that the proposals should be subject to the widest possible public discussion. But if these two are at least willing to consider the military’s proposals, others, especially in the activist community, are appalled by what the General Staff has suggested. Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, said she was shocked by what commanders want.
In an interview with Svobodnaya Pressa, Melnikova said that the proposals represented “a putsch by the generals” and even recalls “August 1991.” That is because, she continued, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov had met with her group only nine days ago and told its members that he had no plans of this kind. Serdyukov was either dishonest, something she doesn’t believe, or he didn’t know what his generals were planning, Melnikova added. If he is in charge, she suggested, the defense minister needs to impose order and dismiss those generals who are acting on their own. If he isn’t, of course, there is a bigger problem than the arrangements of the current draft cycle.