Russia aims to tighten military draft law
A new bill would cancel a third of all legal reasons for draft deferments.
Until this week, Denis Glotov believed he was exempt from Russia's compulsory military service due to a rare neurological problem identified in his childhood and confirmed by recent tests in a state hospital. But on Wednesday, his local recruitment office simply set aside the medical record and ordered Denis to report immediately for basic training.Skip to next paragraph
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"We're going to fight this, but the chances are not good once he's been inducted into the Army," says Denis's father, Viktor, who is a lawyer. "The problem is that the military recruiters are under so much pressure to provide warm bodies that they're just grabbing anyone they can lay their hands on, and figure they'll sort out the legalities later."
Due to falling birthrates over the past two decades, Russia's pool of young men available for military service is shrinking rapidly, triggering what Mr. Glotov and others describe as frantic efforts by recruiters to keep the 1.3- million strong armed forces flush with manpower. At the same time, public opposition to the country's universal conscription system is rising. A poll conducted this month by the state-run VTsIOM polling agency found that 50 percent of Russians now want a US-style all-volunteer force, up from 39 percent two years ago.
A new bill passed this week by the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, aims to square that circle by reducing the obligatory term of service from two years to one, while canceling about a third of all legal reasons for draft deferments, beginning in 2008.
Some experts say the new measures will solve little, and could hamper serious efforts to reform and professionalize the Soviet-era military behemoth. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin pledged to abolish the draft by 2000, but his successor, Vladimir Putin, has lately dropped his early talk of evolving toward a system of paid volunteers by 2010.
"Right now, the official position is that Russia will have conscription forever," says Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent defense expert. "But canceling deferments will increase social tensions, while one-year terms of service are simply not workable from the military's point of view. Many people believe that's just a carrot that will be taken away later."
While students at major academic institutions will still not be drafted until graduation, deferments will be ended for most in vocational and technical schools. Men with pregnant wives, small children, or dependent parents will also be called up. Most controversially here in culturally conscious Russia, thousands of artists, dancers, and musicians who currently enjoy exemptions will see them lifted. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov personally lobbied for that change, saying he saw no reason why balalaiyeshniki – which translates roughly as "banjo-strummers" – shouldn't have to serve.