Mikhail Lukanin wrote in Trud this week about the Defense Ministry’s unending manpower woes.
He concluded that the first two months of this spring’s draft campaign showed there’ll be almost no way to avoid conscription. Experts he talked to believe the Defense Ministry’s conscription plan is unrealistically high, and the armed forces will turn to inducting every student.
The callup is supposed to run 1 April to 15 July, and take in 270,000 new soldiers. Voyenkomaty have already sent 100,000 men—mostly from the Volga-Ural region and Siberia—to their units. One-third of callup-aged men were screened out due to health problems, most of which were diagnosed initially when the men appeared before the military-medical commission.
Experts consider the early part of the draft campaign the easy part. Voyenkomaty have been dealing with young men not in school who go pretty willingly to the army, according to human rights advocate Sergey Krivenko.
But he says in the last weeks of the draft the voyenkomaty have to meet their quotas mainly with VUZ graduates who don’t have any desire to serve. Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee says:
“Mass roundups in student dormitories have already begun. They traditionally conduct them mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
In the fall, 43,000 university and institute graduates found themselves in the army—that’s 15 percent of all conscripts.
Demographers indicate that the number of 18-year-old men will fall, and not exceed 600,000 for the next two years. That number equals the number of places available in higher education institutions. Independent military-economic analyst Vitaliy Tsymbal concludes:
“The Defense Ministry can fully meet its draft plan only by means of total conscription of students.”
And it has done little to hide its appetite for students, according to Lukanin.
GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov already talked to the Federation Council about drafting students after one or two years in a VUZ, and the Education Ministry reportedly didn’t object. The extension of the current draft until 31 August means that those finishing school at 18 can now fall directly into the army, rather than taking their VUZ entrance exams. Similarly, the ‘nonstop draft’ means VUZ graduates hoping to start their graduate studies will now fall subject to the draft.
Of course, Smirnov has also raised cutting sharply the number of VUZy that can provide students a draft deferment. He talks about a 50 percent cut, expanded later to a 70 percent cut in qualified VUZy. Trud has been told all nongovernmental institutions will lose the right to provide deferments.
Sergey Krivenko believes in every draft about 130,000-150,000 conscripts are ready to serve [his number may be high since it wasn’t so long ago that 133,000 were drafted every six months, and surely not every one of them was happy to go]. If, according to Krivenko, the Defense Ministry stuck with this number, it wouldn’t have any problem with conscription [it would certainly have fewer problems]. He continues:
“However, the whole point is that beginning with spring 2009 the plan jumped to almost 300,000 in one callup. Troop commanders themselves say that half of this number is simply ballast for the army. Mainly these are guys in poor health, with a low level of education, and also inveterate hooligans.”
Lukanin had a second article reviewing data from a survey of 7,800 conscripts in the SibVO. Every third conscript considers serving a burden. Only 40 percent had a secondary school (high school) or initial professional (post-secondary technical training) education; 4.5 percent had a complete higher education. A third of the men grew up without fathers. One in ten admitted either misusing alcohol, trying narcotics, or having a run-in with the police before coming to the army.
More than 30 percent said they came to the army just to avoid trouble with the authorities. Two percent said they have a negative attitude toward the army [this represents the small number of young men willing to tell the army’s pollsters what they really think to their faces].
Experts tell Lukanin the poll results will change as conscripts from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities begin to arrive. A figure of 15 percent with negative attitudes toward the army is about the norm.
Ten percent of the conscripts have health problems. Three percent are underweight.
The medical condition of conscripts may be worsening. Official data say half of conscripts have health-related restrictions on their service. And army commanders confirm that it’s hard to find draftees without some kind of defect. ‘Ideal’ soldiers (from a physical and social standpoint) are found only in honor guards. The deputy commander of the Moscow honor guard battalion said last fall he traveled all over Kostroma Oblast and, of 1,000 candidates presented by local voyenkomaty, he accepted only 30.
Finally, one last story of draft-related problems . . . Nezavisimaya gazeta ran an editorial this week describing how some conscripts finishing their year of service in the DVO, Pacific Fleet, and SibVO are not being demobbed on time. According to this report, they are being held because the DVO doesn’t have trained soldiers to take their places and participate in the operational-strategic Vostok-2010 exercise starting at the end of June. The editorial concludes that the spring conscripts don’t even know how to handle their weapons yet, much less find a target on radar. NG calls it a symptom of the fact that the Russian Army never has, and never has had, enough specialists. The editors could hark back to the need for a professional army, but instead they recommend a better system of reserve mobilization.