Staunton, June 7 – Because the number of draft-age men in the Russian Federation is now too small to meet draft quotas and is expected to fall even further in the future, Moscow is considering the possibility of drafting women as well, an almost unprecedented step for Russia and one that experts say could create more problems than it would solve.
Last December, Duma deputies began discussing drafting women after shortfalls in the fall 2012 draft, but the Russian defense ministry shot down the idea. But now, Aleksandr Stepanov of “Novaya versiya says, Duma members are preparing legislation on this point and the defense ministry is reviewing their ideas (versia.ru/articles/2013/jun/03/zhenskaya_dolya).
The current draft bill, Stepanov says, would allow Russian women aged 18 to 27 to subject themselves “voluntarily” to the military draft. Those who did not want to serve in the ranks would thus not have to, but they would for the first time have the right to be drafted alongside of men.
According to the “Novaya versiya” commentator, opinions about the measure vary widely. “Some consider that there is no need to attract women to service in the army because they have a different physiological purpose.” Others support the idea either because of a commitment to gender equality or out of a belief that it would ease the army’s “cadres hunger.”
When the deputies began talking about this at the end of last year, he continues, they suggested that the military could offer women special benefits such as education and could allow women soldiers if they so desired “to spend their nights at home” rather than in the usual military barracks.
But the defense ministry denounced the idea saying that it has no plans to draft women into the military and noting that only once in Russian history had women been called to the colors in this way. That was in “the very beginning” of World War II when “several hundred women” were drafted. But the Soviet authorities almost immediately stopped that program.
Many military commanders, Stepanov says, “do not consider women” capable of fulfilling the duties of soldiers and point out that when women do volunteer, they often have to be given special privileges in order to serve, an arrangement that is expensive and disrupts what they see as good military order.
But many Russian military experts, the “Novaya versiya” writer says, nonetheless believe that the military will “in the near future be forced” to take in women given that declining numbers of Russian men in the prime draft age group mean that recent drafts have fallen short by 30 percent, undercutting the ability of the army to carry out its missions.
These experts say, Stepanov continues, that “in the future,” Russia’s demographic situation in this regard will only get worse.
But at least one expert, Sergey Krivenko, who heads the Citizen.Army.Law rights group says that the draft bill now under consideration in the Duma is “completely senseless,” an act of political PR, and demonstrates “just how much the people’s representatives are cut off from reality.
First of all, he says, if the measure is adopted, it will require significant additional funding to implement. Moreover, an increased presence of women in the ranks will call attention to the high levels of dedovshchina and violence in the army. And it will also highlight the incompetence of the government.
On the one hand, he points out, the measure introduces the oxymoronic idea of “a voluntary draft,” something that does not exist anywhere in the world. And on the other, it ignores the fact that women can and do serve in the Russian army as volunteer contract soldiers. At the present time, some 46,000 women are in Russian military uniforms.
New research appears to support his contention, Stepanov adds. A recent sociological study found that most Russians oppose the idea of drafting women, voluntarily or not, and that most Russian women of draft age are “not prepared to give a year of their lives” to military service.
He notes too that few countries draft women, with the most prominent exceptions being Israel, North Korea, Malaysia Peru, Libya, Taiwan and Eritrea. But the idea may be gaining traction, he suggests, because ever more women around the world are serving in top defense ministry jobs.