Staunton, October 15 – Despite claims by Russian officials that all is well with the draft in Russia and that in fact fewer young men are seeking to avoid service than in the past, claims often accompanied by pointing to the problems Ukraine is having filling the ranks, the situation in the Russian Federation with regard to the draft is anything but good, experts say.
Writing in “Sovershenno Sekretno” this week, Aleksandr Kruglov says that some young Russians are worried about going into the military because of the fighting in Ukraine and that many of them are “thinking up ways to avoid service,” with some moving away from home and not registering or bribing doctors to give them a deferment (sovsekretno.ru/articles/id/4393/).
According to the defense ministry, three to six percent of those drafted have refused to serve, with equally large percentages finding other ways to avoid the draft. But “in fact,” Kruglov says, “those who do not want to serve in the army are much more numerous,” and even more would avoid service if they had “the money or connections” needed to do so.
“On social networks,” Kruglov says, “ever more potential draftees are saying that they are afraid of landing in the army lest they be sent to the zone of military actions in Ukraine and will try to avoid service in the army at any price.” He adds that it is “not accidental” that an Internet portal has reappeared giving young men advice on how they can do so.
Valentina Melnikova, the secretary of the Union of Soldiers Mothers Committees, agrees: “the situation in Ukraine,” she says, “really can affect the desire of those called to serve.” Many of them, she adds, are likely to try to get into alternative service lest their failure to serve imposes restrictions on their future careers.
Other Russian experts say, the “Sovershenno sekretno” journalist continues, that the situation with the Russian draft is “not as catastrophic as it was earlier” and note that no one has challenged General Staff figures showing that “with each year the number of draft avoiders has become less,” with the figure this time around 20 percent lower than a year ago.
But those figures, other specialists say, do not mean there are no problems with the draft. Aleksandr Perendzhiyev of the Association of Military Political Analysts says that “all the problems of the Ukrainian armed forces may arise in the Russian army as well if the military has to participating in operations of such intensity.” To date, that has not been the case.
And Melnikova says that in her view, the official figures understate the size of the problem. On the one hand, officials count as successful draftees young men who will be sent home by medical commissions. And on the other, all involved in this process make declarations that no one can independently verify, opening the way for falsification.
A major reason that the general staff can plausibly report improvements in the work of the draft, Kruglov says, is that there has been an active media campaign to present military service as a matter of patriotism and efforts to focus public attention on efforts to improve the lives of soldiers.
Conditions have indeed improved, he continues. Soldiers can call home on a regular basis, food has improved in many units, and the military is trying to move away from reliance on the draft toward a professional army. And perhaps the most important improvement: draftees are no longer being used as they were in the past for non-military construction.
At the same time, Kruglov says, Russian officials have increased the penalties for not serving including restrictions on foreign travel, organized and publicized trials of those who have sought to avoid service, and dismissed from government service young people who are found to have escaped the draft through questionable means.
There have been experiments with allowing young men to study while serving, although these have had more propaganda than military value, experts say, and the military has reduced the length of service for contract soldiers, something that has reduced the level and quality of preparation of the military.
But there is near universal agreement that the Russian military has not been able to cure itself of “dedovshchina,” the mistreatment of more recent draftees by those who have been in service six months, 12 months or 18 months later. And experts say that won’t happen until there is a real system in place that will protect soldiers from this kind of abuse.
It is clear, Kruglov concludes, that the current draft system has “exhausted itself,” and he notes that the 154,000 young men scheduled to be drafted this term is in fact only half as many as were drafted only five years ago, yet another reason why the military can put out glowing figures of success even where there is little basis for such claims.
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