Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Spring Draft Highlights Class, Ethnic Divides in Russian Federation

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 2 – Moscow is now conducting its spring draft of young men for the uniformed services, one that is highlighting class and ethnic divides among the population of the Russian Federation, a greater willingness on the part of both sides of these divides to speak out, and efforts by the authorities to navigate between them.

             An article in a Penza newspaper last week pointed out what many already know: those going into the Russian military today are almost all workers and peasants rather than the children of those better placed and who through their own efforts or those of their parents can avoid service (tzpenza.com/news/prishla_bumazhka_s_voenkomata_rvata_mjata/2013-03-28-60).

            The latter both through student deferments and bribes given to doctors generally do not have to serve, and that has provoked demonstrators in that central Russian city to carry signs calling on Moscow to ensure for the first time since the war that “the children of the bureaucrats” are taken into the ranks.
            According to the paper, “the army has acquired a class character.” There are no children of the elite but only “proletarians.”  And that points to another problem, he suggests: Those being drafted now were born in 1995, a difficult year when proletarian parents generally decided not to have children. Those who could afford to aren’t allowing their offspring to be called up.

Stung by such criticism, the Russian General Staff put out the word yesterday, that university students “are ever more frequently” leaving the classroom in order to perform their patriotic duties.  But an examination of the numbers suggests this is just PR and won’t be believed (kommersant.ru/doc/2160181 and lawinrussia.ru/node/258217).

             The high command said that last year some 2500 students had taken this step, but that figure is only about one percent of the total number of young people drafted. And both student activists and experts say that there is no reason to expect that the situation has changed dramatically this spring. Indeed, it may have even gotten worse.

            At the same time, the Russian uniformed services are facing another and perhaps even more intractable problem, deciding what to do with young men from the Caucasus, many of whom want to become soldiers, but who have not been allowed to do so in recent years because of Russian opposition.

            The military said at the end of last week that it would take in more North Caucasians this time around than it has in recent draft cycles, a response both to demands from the leaders of republics there who are worried about the impact of their exclusion on attitudes there and to concerns by some Russians that they are having to pay a tax that the North Caucasians are not (nazaccent.ru/content/7284-v-armiyu-budut-bolshe-prizyvat-novobrancev.html).

            But that decision has produced an extremely negative reaction among Russian nationalists who don’t like the idea of having North Caucasians serve alongside ethnic Russians and are very uncertain about how the military should deal with them in order to reduce the likelihood of clashes within the services (nazaccent.ru/content/7318-russkie-nacionalisty-obespokoeny-massovym-prizyvom-v.html).

            Aleksandr Belov, one of the leaders of Russkiye, doesn’t want them to serve but if they must, he believes they must be kept apart from other soldiers and placed in separate units. Vladimir Tor of the National-Democratic Party, in contrast, thinks the North Caucasians should be distributed across the military in small groups so that they can be managed.        

            The Russian military has long been wrestling with this problem, offering special training courses for its officers on how to deal with men from other ethnic groups and creating a chaplaincy corps that includes imams and mullahs.  But it is unlikely that these measures alone will be sufficient to overcome this second divide that Moscow must face.

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