Staunton, October 26 – Residents of Chelyabinsk Oblast are circulating a petition calling on Governor Mikhail Yuryevich to suspend this fall’s military draft until an investigation is carried out concerning the deaths of seven draftees from the southern Urals in the North Caucasus since the beginning of 2013.
Aleksey Tabalov, head of the Legal Mission Foundation for the Support of Civil Feredoms and the author of the petition, says that on Thursday, one of these draftees Aleksey Gorza was buried in Chelyabinsk. “According to the official version,” he died in a car accident in Daghestan, but his relatives say his body had wounds like those inflicted in a fight.
The petition, including a list of those who have already signed it and links for those who may wish to add their signatures, is at itself, see tabalow.livejournal.com/397096.html. For a discussion of this “Ultimatum to the Supreme Command, see Svetlana Gomzikov’s article with that title in “Svobodnaya pressa” at svpressa.ru/society/article/76447/.
Gorza’s relatives “suspect,” Gomzikova says, that he was killed by an act of violence and are “insisting” on an independent medical examination; but so far, she continues, “the military procuracy has refuse them.”
Tabalov says and the petition demands that “the governor must deliver an ultimaturm to the Supreme Commander and Ministry of Defense to stop the draft of residents of the oblast for military service until all the cases of the losses of our boys in peacetime in the Russian army are honestly and dispassionately investigated.”
Since the beginning of 2013, he continues, he and his colleagues are aware of seven such cases, but he “supposes that we simply do not know” the real figures. “We cannot throw away every year dozens of lives of young people.” That is especially true because “neither the state, nor officials in the defense ministry nor generals and colonels are being held responsible.”
(Irina Korneyeva, deputy head of the Soldiers’ Mothers Movement, confirms that the defense ministry is not releasing the necessary information. “Already for many years, [officials there] have not given data about [even] the number of those dying. We ask but they simply don’t answer.”)
Chelyabinsk’s governor under existing Russian law cannot in fact suspend the draft, Tabalov acknowledges, but he adds that “personally as a taxpayer and citizen,” the current situation is insupportable and the governor must take a position. Oblast-level officials have been “silent” and are apparently prepared to allow this situation to continue, “but I don’t consider” that correct.
The appeal, Tabalov continues, is designed to force the governor to “give some kind of assessment of all these facts.” He must “resolve this problem because by law he is also the chairman of the oblast draft commission” and he is thus involved in decisions which send these young men to their “senseless end.”
Without being willing to give any details, the military says that all the cases have been investigated. But this is only “formally,” the legal activist says, adding that he “is not inclined to believe these results” because the officials are engaged in an effort to protect themselves and their bureaucracies.
With the change in the defense minister, there have been some “cosmetic” changes in the military, but “it is still too early to speak about any systemic changes.” Commanders remain “irresponsible” and that is “the main cause of these tragic events: no one [in the Russian military] is ever held responsible.”
According to Tabalov, the situation has gotten worse over the last year because the oblast is now supposed to send 4,000 young men or “even a few more” to military service, 500 more than were required in the past. That means that the draft commissions are taking people who would have been deferred earlier.
Tabalov does not discuss why the quotas in a Russian area like Chelyabinsk have been increased, but there are at least two reasons. On the one hand, Moscow is seeking to increase the size of its armed forces given internal threats and a desire to project power abroad. And on the other, the Russian military is not drafting significant numbers of young North Caucasians.
In the North Caucasus, thousands of young men are not only of draft age but very desirous of serving in the military in order to get jobs. But Russian commanders fear that they would be disruptive and have so far kept draft quotas in that region at zero or at least two orders of magnitude smaller than in Russian regions.
That arrangement has long angered people and officials in the North Caucasus who have pressed for higher quotas, but now it is beginning to affect attitudes in predominantly ethnic Russian areas because ethnic Russians are being forced to pay a tax up to and including their lives that Moscow is not imposing on people in the North Caucasus to pay.