April 1, 2008
Conscripts Face Only a Year in Spring Call-Up
By Alexander Osipovich and Natalya Krainova
As the military kicks off its spring call-up campaign Wednesday, conscripts can look forward to just one year of compulsory service, a reduction from the two years that have been standard in Russia for most of the past four decades.
At the same time, however, authorities have eliminated several types of deferments that previously allowed young men to avoid army duty and promised to step up measures against those trying to dodge service.
The one-year term will make military service more attractive, Colonel General Vasily Smirnov told reporters last week.
"We hope this term will encourage citizens to be more conscientious about going to recruitment stations and preparing for service," said Smirnov, who is responsible for military mobilization, Interfax reported.
Officials argue that the reform will help fix the problem of dedovshchina, the hazing of new recruits by older soldiers. But a leading soldiers' rights advocate said Monday that the one-year term would do nothing to improve safety.
"It is not always soldiers who beat each other," Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, a nongovernmental organization that monitors soldiers' rights, said by telephone. "Half the time it is officers and sergeants."
Others have warned that this spring's batch of recruits may face an additional risk of hazing from resentful older soldiers, enlisted before the change took effect.
Two-year compulsory military service dates back to a 1967 Soviet law and was later established under Russian law in 1993. Last year, in a transitional step, the term of service was reduced to 18 months.
Activists have also criticized the elimination of several kinds of deferments.
Under the same 2006 law that reduced the term of compulsory service, deferments are no longer being given to fathers of children younger than 3, to husbands of women pregnant for longer than 26 weeks or to sons of pensioners and disabled people, unless they can submit proof that their parents need constant care.
"The decision to cancel these socially oriented deferments is simply criminal," Melnikova said.
Doctors and teachers working in rural areas, men employed in the defense industry and students at vocational schools above the age of 20 can also be called up for duty now.
Smirnov said last week that eliminating the deferments would increase the pool of potential conscripts by 100,000. The military plans to call up 133,000 young men this spring, and the number for the fall campaign will rise to 200,000, he said.
Officials have also promised to step up enforcement against those illegally avoiding service. In Moscow, businesses will be inspected to make sure that their male employees have legitimate deferments, Major General Andrei Glushchenko, the city's top conscription official, said in an interview published Friday in Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Outside a recruitment office near Belorusskaya metro station on Monday afternoon, several young men criticized the cancellation of the deferments.
Alexander Yeliseyev, 23, a cook, said it was unfair to make students at vocational schools serve in the army. "I believe a guy should get an education before the army, because after his service he forgets most of what he learned at school, and it becomes harder to pass the entrance exams at institutions of higher education," he said.
Leonid Kalyadin, 18, who was getting a deferment because he was enrolled at the Moscow Aviation Institute, said the new one-year term did not make serving in the army seem any more attractive. "One year is still a long period," he said.
Danila Romanov, 21, said conscription should be eliminated altogether and replaced with voluntary service in a professional army. "I regret that I went to serve," said Romanov, a former conscript who had come to get his demobilization papers. "I consider it a waste of time, and I wouldn't recommend that anyone join the army."