May 01, 2008

Staffing the Army

The spring army draft is in full swing, and Russia’s young men are in for a few surprises. 

A January law reduced the length of the general draft from two years to one. Touted as a step toward an all-volunteer Russian army – referred to here as “contract service” – it also means greater effort will be required to fill army ranks. What is more, during this transitional period, there is the danger of exacerbating already catastrophic hazing conditions. This is because new, year-long draftees may serve alongside second-year enlistees not affected by the January law. “There are many cases of beatings, blackmail, and extortion in such situations,” said Maria Lebedeva of the Committee of Soldiers Mothers at a March press conference. 

Demographically speaking, this is not an auspicious year for meeting army staffing goals. Young men eligible for service this spring were born in 1991, during a period of record low birth rates in Russia – 10 births per 1000, according to UNICEF. Birthrates only began to rise toward normal levels in 2000. This spring, the draft’s “norm” (target) is 133,000 inductees, with another 250,000 in the fall, according to Yezhednevny Zhurnal. An estimated 1.5 million young men reach draft age each year. 

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