Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Declining Numbers of Draft-Age Russians Prompting Moscow to Consider Allowing More Foreigners to Serve in Russian Military

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – The United Nations projects that the number of draft-age Russians will fall from 14.25 million to 11.23 million over the next decade and that if Moscow wants to maintain its armed forces at the current level of one million effectives, it will have to increase the share of this age group it takes from 6.31 percent to 8.01 percent.

            Because of this demographic bind, Versiya commentator Aleksandr Stepanov says, ever more Russian military analysts are suggesting that the defense ministry should consider making use of foreigners and even creating what some are already calling “guestworker legions” (versia.ru/demograficheskij-krizis-vynuzhdaet-zvat-na-sluzhbu-inostrancev).

            That is all the more so, he continues, because the military already is suffering from a shortfall in the number of men in uniform of approximately 100,000 men, a figure that will grow rapidly over the next ten years given the declining number of draft-age men and competition for them from other parts of the economy. 

            At present, this shortfall is being partially called by “a system of pseudo-contract soldiers,” that is by draftees who are encouraged to extend their time in the ranks from one year to two. “But this method,” Stepanov says, “is becoming ever less effective, especially when the number of draftees is rapidly contracting.”

            Immigrant workers would like to be able to serve in the military. Seven years ago, the Federation of Migrants of Russia called for allowing them to do so; and this idea is gaining ever more supporters in Moscow, who point to the experience other countries have had with such arrangements.

            Russian law has allowed for foreigners to serve in the military, and there are today several hundred doing so. They do not take the standard oath but rather agree to observe the Russian constitution so as to “fulfill in a worthy fashion their military duties” and ‘obey the orders of commanders.” Such people serve on contract for five years.

            Many foreigners have been taken into the Russian military in Transdniestria, where Russia maintains a peacekeeping presence, and in Tajikistan, where Moscow has a military base. And the Duma has considered allowing those foreigners born in Russia to serve and then receive Russian citizenship at the end of their time in uniform.

            Many officers, however, are opposed to the use of foreigners as soldiers because they fear that in the event of a military conflict, conflicts of interest would arise that would undermine the coherence and effectiveness of their units, Stepanov says.

            Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow Center for Military Prediction, says that demography is now forcing Moscow to choose between shifting the military entirely to contract soldiers, something that would be very expensive, or making use of foreign citizens in the ranks, something less expensive but problematic.

            He reminds that the Russian military already has problems with soldiers from the Caucasus and that having additional numbers of culturally distinct soldiers from foreign countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus could intensify conflicts between ethnic Russians and the rest.


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