Russia: draft resistance forces Russia to extend draft age

Faced with a declining number of men in the prime draft age group and increasing resistance even among them, the Russian defense ministry is calling for extending the length of time during which the spring draft will take place, drafting men as old as 30, reducing the number of deferments and bringing to justice those who illegally avoid service, Eurasia Review reported on 1 May 2010.

"In most countries, those who are well past 30 are called up, but we have proposed raising [the draft age] to 30," said Col. Gen. Vasily Smirnov, head of the Chief Organization and Mobilization Directorate according to RIA Novosti.

According to RIA Novosti, a Russian General Staff official suggested on 29 April 2010 that the draft age should be extended to 30 years and remaining deferrals scrapped.

Eurasia Review reported that First, Col. Gen. Vasily Smirnov, called for extending the draft to August 31 to give the system a chance to round up more people. He said that last year, 100,000 individuals refused to serve and that now “10,000 [potential] draftees do not want to receive” draft notices.

“At the same time,” “Stoletiye” reported, Army General Nikolay Makarov, the chief of the General Staff said that approximately 200,000 people are seeking to avoid service and that the military wants to force prosecutors to bring those who are refusing to fulfill their military obligation to justice.

In addition, the defense ministry announced that it wants to increase the upper age limit for draftees from 27 to 30, thereby increasing the size of the draft pool, at least this time around. And third, the ministry “proposed reducing by 70 percent the number of higher educational institutions of Russia whose students are deferred from service.

Valentina Melnikova, the head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, said she was shocked by what commanders want.

If these measures are adopted, the Russian military might be able to fill its draft quota this time around but only at the cost of increasing disruptions in the economy and especially in the lives of young men and of worsening public attitudes toward the military, activists and experts warn.

In an interview with “Svobodnaya pressa,” Melnikova said that the proposals represented “a putsch by the generals” and even recalls “August 1991.” That is because, she continued, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov had met with her group only nine days ago and told its members that he had no plans of this kind.

However, while there is resistance to conscription in Russia, it does not express itself in the form of conscientious objection as implemented in Russian law. Russia Today reported on 4 May that "civilian service, as an alternative to obligatory army duty, has not been very popular in Russia. Not only is it hard to secure the right to opt out of military service, the decision is often met with mockery from peers".

In Russia, the number of those who choose to serve the community rather than the army is less than 1 percent of all those recruited. Ever since the option was introduced six years ago, the number has been shrinking.

Twenty-one months of hard dirty work instead of twelve months in the military – community service is very unpopular in Russia. Many believe that looking after the elderly, or cleaning the streets, is unbecoming for a real man who wants to serve his country. This link to traditional notions of masculinity is also expressed by Vasily Smirnov, head of the main recruiting department of the Russian Armed Forces. He said, according to Russia Today: “I think every young man from his childhood wants to experience life in the military, it's probably in their blood.

Most conscientious objectors who use the legal route provided by the Russian state are from religious groups. Other objectors are more likely to resist their call-up in other ways, or avoid being drafted.

Sources: Eurasia Review: Draft Resistance Forcing Russia’s Generals To Scramble For Soldiers, 1 May 2010; RIA Novosti: Russian military looks to extend draft age, 29 April 2010; Russia Today: Civil service still not an alternative to army, 4 May 2010