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Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Sunday Shock: Chechens Take over the Russian Army!

Paul Goble reports:

Because of an unusual combination of circumstances, Chechens could easily make up one-third of young Russian citizens to be drafted this fall, a figure that means non-Russians would easily form more than 50 percent of that draft class and one that is certain to disturb Russian commanders and politicians, according to a Moscow military analyst. In an extensive article in the current issue of “NG-Regiony,” Vladimir Mukhin calls into question official claims that the just-completed spring draft cycle was successfully fulfilled and points to even greater troubles ahead this fall in complecting the Russian Federation’s armed services. It is true, Mukhin says, that the military was able to draft the 133,200 young people in the plan and that 21.5 percent of them had higher educations, double the figure from a year earlier. It reduced the number of evaders to 6700, a quarter the rate one year earlier. But the military was able to do that only by drafting individuals whose health is at the very least questionable.

Human rights groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers committees believe that as many as half of those drafted should not have been because of poor health, and even the General Staff announced this time around that 30 percent of those it was calling to the colors should not have been. But the prospects Moscow faces this fall are even more problematic, Mukhin continued. On the one hand, the services will have to draft 200,000 young people all at once, 180 percent of the number drafted this spring, and on the other, it will have to fill simultaneously two classes who will be leaving service at the same time because of changes in the length of service required. Indeed, Mukhin argued, “such a large influx into the army as is scheduled to occur this fall has not happened before in post-Soviet Russia to their more senior commanders and the media, about whether they will be able to cope.

In this situation, Mukhin says, “it is not excluded that in order to fulfill draft quotas for the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and other Russian forces, the military commissariats will begin to draft young people from Chechnya,” a step they have not taken in recent times because of the troubles there but which could generate about 70,000 draftees this fall. Because Chechens are “more healthy and accustomed to the military way of life than are young people from other regions,” few of them would be excluded under the new and more relaxed health grounds. And if Moscow does decided to take this step, Mukhin writes, then this fall “every third new draftee could be a Chechen.” Mukhin’s article is not the only one focusing on these problems. “Gazeta” reported that the military’s draft program on “The New Face of the Armed Forces” anticipates retaining the draft until at least 2030, thus eliminating one means commanders might have to maintain Russian dominance in the army.

And an essay carried by discussing the situation argued that the desire of commanders to continue to rely on draftees not only reflects the continuing impact of what it called a Soviet-era mentality but also raised questions about what kind of conflicts Russia’s military in fact needs to be prepared for. Obviously, there are certain steps Moscow could take to address this situation – drafting a higher percentage of ethnic Russians than of others as it has done in the last two draft cycles or reducing the size of the military – but neither of those are attractive militarily or politically and consequently underscore just how many problems the Kremlin now has in filling the ranks.

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