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MOSCOW, November 21 (Itar-Tass) — Russia is trying to raise the prestige of the military service and reduce the number of draft dodgers. The latest proposal is barring draft dodgers from the civil service and granting wider education preferences to those who have diligently soldiered their term from beginning to end. Experts doubt, though, that such a measure alone will be enough to make military service popular. For enhancing the prestige of army service it must be made safe for the health of conscripts first and foremost, they say.
The State Duma on Tuesday unanimously voted in the first reading for the government bill on raising the prestige and attractiveness of the military service for conscripts. Those who have not served in the army without any legal reasons will be barred from taking civil service jobs, the bill says. As for those who upon graduation from colleges and universities agree to be recruited at first notice will enjoy a number of privileges, for instance, priority in getting additional education at Russian institutions of higher learning and at foreign ones – under programs financed from the federal budget.
An annual 200,000 young men dodge conscription in Russia, the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Vasily Smirnov, said recently. According to the official, 166,104 men shirked military service in the spring of 2012, and 135,000 of them avoided getting the mandatory summons.
As Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Alexander Nikitin has said, in the first half of 2012 more than 600 men were indicted for shirking army service, and more than 100,000 ones got administrative punishment.
Draft dodging, fuelled by the fear of bullying and hazing in the barracks, has reached the scale of an epidemic. Many potential conscripts would have nothing against serving their country in the army, but they fear humiliation by the old-timers. The officers and commanders have failed to do away with this ill to this day. The mass media have long referred to military service as a “tax on poverty”, because children from wealthy families can afford to give a bribe of several thousand dollars for not being drafted.
While the bill was in the discussion phase, the deputy chief of the State Duma’s defense committee, Franz Klintsevich, said that dodgers enjoyed very lax treatment. He called for making the document harsher by the second reading. “Why shouldn’t we deny them the right to take not only certain civil service jobs, but also to be members of government, legislative bodies of power, senators, prosecutors, etc,?” Klintsevich asked.
One should adopt such rules to ensure “the one who did not serve in the army, although was expected to should have no chance of getting higher education or any other social prospects,” Communist faction member, film director Vladimir Bortko said.
At present, under the law on conscription and military service there exists criminal and administrative punishment for draft dodgers. Evading military service by those who lack the sufficient reasons is punishable with a fine of up to 200,000 rubles, an arrest for three to six months, or imprisonment for up to two years. Most frequently criminal punishment is used against deserters who in many cases escape from the barracks with their weapons.
Far from all believe that the ban on giving draft dodgers civil service jobs in combination with a priority right to get extra education for those who have served in the army and graduated from colleges and universities will “enhance the prestige of conscription service.”
Theoretically the measures the government has proposed may benefit the armed forces, specialists say, but in practice the situation looks pretty odd, says the chief of the analysis department at the Institute of Military and Political Analysis Alexander Khramchikhin. “Benefits should be established for attracting contract servicemen, and not conscripts,” Izvestia quotes Khramchikhin as saying. “In the United States these incentives are established for those who serve on contract. In our country conscripts are obliged to go and serve in the army because it is their duty, and not because this spells benefits.”
During the autumn military draft no less than 6,000 cases of abuse were registered, said a member of the Public Council at the Defense Ministry, Executive Secretary of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, Valentina Melnikova. In other words, one in twenty young men was drafted in violation of the law.
Many young people not fit for military service are forced to go into the army. Partially this is confirmed by the General Staff, which agreed that 35 percent of conscripts failed to meet the established requirements. As many are conditionally fit (in other words, they cannot be sent to serve in crack units – the Marines, the commando forces or the paratroops).
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quotes specialists as saying that within several months to come the Russian army will encounter manning problems, which would cause an unfavorable effect on its combat readiness. The personnel shortage will be as big as 30 percent. In a situation like this troops can be considered combat ready only with great reservations.
The former chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Makarov, just recently acknowledged there was practically nobody ready to go to serve in the army and protect the country.
“There have been ever more exemptions, and the group of conscripts to choose from is getting ever smaller,” Makarov complained. “We can draft a tiny 11.7 percent of all young men. Sixty percent of these drop out for health reasons. We are confronted with a situation where there are practically no potential conscripts to go around.”