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#9 - JRL 7133
April 7, 2003
Defence minister set to bring back Soviet army
By Lera Arsenina

Russia's Defence Ministry is drafting amendments to the law On the status of the military serviceman, permitting citizens from other former-Soviet states - members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - to serve in the Russian army. State Duma deputies believe that the new bill, if enacted, could help improve the demographic situation in the country and at the same time increase the workload for the security services.

Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov has said that his agency is working on a bill to permit CIS residents to serve in the Russian army. Ivanov made his statement in Minsk where he was taking part in the joint session of the Defence Ministries of Russia and Belarus.

''We are proposing that the State Duma pass a law permitting not only Russians but also other CIS citizens to serve in the Russian armed forces,'' Ivanov noted.

According to the minister, his agency's initiative is connected, first and foremost, with the plans of switching from conscription to a professional army on a contract basis. ''As of 2004 we plan to man separate military units with volunteers on a contract basis,'' Ivanov explained.

At the same time, Ivanov specified that ''a foreign legion will not be set up'' - there will be no separate units manned with non-Russians. Yet, in an interview granted to Komsomolskaya Pravda several days earlier the minister pointed out that in order to avoid inter-ethnic conflicts, volunteers from different nations might be distributed among different units.

The Defence Ministry plans to submit its proposals to the lower house shortly, in the form of a bill envisaging amendments to the legislation on the status of military servicemen. The changes envisage introducing contract-based military service for CIS residents, provided they join the Russian army voluntarily and meet certain criteria.

According to Ivanov, selection of volunteers will be ''very strict''. At the same time such volunteers would be granted Russian citizenship after three years of flawless service, while under the current law on citizenship other applicants are required to have lived on Russian territory for five years to be granted citizenship.

According to the RIA-Novosti news agency, lately, the Defence Ministry has been actively working on the legal provisions, though the Ministry's press-service told Gazeta.Ru that the work on the draft had not yet been completed.

The State Duma will most likely back Ivanov's initiative, hoping that it may pave the way to a solution of Russia's demographic crisis. In the opinion of the State Duma security committee member Gennady Gudkov, recruiting young, capable CIS residents may help legally make up for the steep population decline of recent years.

''It is necessary to attract foreigners to Russia through military service, so that upon completing their service, they will stay in the country. In terms of the migration processes this initiative is quite justified, though it is obvious that recruiting citizens for the Russian army would not leave the security services idle, either,'' he told Gazeta.Ru

At the same time, Gudkov suggests that the state will be hard pressed to pay such volunteers. ''The experiment in the Pskov [76th Airborne] Division has shown that so far it is impossible to transfer even one military unit to the contract basis,'' he noted.

It is clear, that the transfer to the contact-based principle of recruitment is being hampered not only by a lack of finances, but also by the lack of legislation. Therefore, an amendment, permitting CIS residents to serve in the Russian army may be considered the first step.

According to the Defence Ministry's plan, by the end of this year a federal target-oriented programme will be elaborated, containing the schedule for switching from conscription to voluntary recruitment for each and every military unit, and an estimate of the expenditure required.

In September, the Defence Ministry launched a pilot project to switch the Pskov Airborne Division to solely volunteer service, setting an example for the rest of the military. Ivanov said the experiment would cost about 2 billion roubles (US$64 million) a year.

During the next stage of the reform, the ministry plans to hire some 170,000 volunteers between Jan. 1, 2004 and the end of 2007 to fully staff the elite military units, Ivanov said. He said it would cost a minimum of 100 billion roubles (US$ 3.2 billion).

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