By Paul Goble
The number of draft evaders is now so large in Russia, officials say, that “the militia is powerless to struggle with them,” and MVD leaders argue that “if the army needs soldiers, let the military itself search for them,” testimony to just how serious the problem is and a step that threatens to make the issue even more explosive.
In “Svobodnaya pressa”, Sergey Ishchenko reports that the Russian militia, which as of March 1 will be the police “in the course of a year intends to remove from its responsibilities one of the most difficult tasks it now faces – the search for young people who are evading military service” (svpressa.ru/society/article/38982/).
Sergey Bulavin, a deputy minister of internal affairs, says that the task of tracking down evaders and forcing them to show up at draft boards should be undertaken by “the Ministry of Defense itself” and that in order to fulfill that mission, the Russian armed forces “should as quickly as possible create a military police.”
From Ishchenko’s perspective, “it is possible in principle to understand the position of the MVD.” Such searches are difficult, lead to controversies between the MVD and the defense ministry, and are increasingly necessary given the rapid growth in the number of young Russians who are seeking to avoid service.
Eight years ago, there were only about 30,000 evaders, but this year, Ishchenko reports, their number had risen to be “in practice comparable to the number of those” who were inducted. Sergey Fridinsky, the chief military prosecutor, said that some 200,000 men who had been called did not show up during the fall draft alone and that the MVD had failed to find most of them.
But if the MVD wants to hand over this responsibility to the defense ministry, the latter is hardly “burning with a desire” to take up that task. Military commanders believe that if punishments were increased and extended from fines to imprisonment of up to two years, the problem would be solved.
There seems to be little stomach among officials for imprisoning large number of young people or even for bringing many of them to trial. “Of the total number of citizens resisting the draft, only 3.8 percent” – about one in 30 – were even convicted and required to pay a fine. As a result, many young men are prepared to take the risk of not showing up.
One way young men avoid the draft is to change their residence at the time of the call up and then claim they have not received notice. “According to the calculations of the eneral Staff, about 100,000 young citizens of draft age temporarily change their place of residence with the goal of avoiding service in the army.”
Col.Gen. Vasily Smirnov, the chief of the Main Organizational-Mobilizational Administration of the General Staff, says that “we do not know where they hide themselves, in the Sorbonne or at grandmother’s in the village, but we give all the lists of such citizens to the organs of internal affairs, who are charged with finding and bringing them to induction centers.”
What the general staff wants is the introduction of a system where “every young person upon reaching 18 must appear before a draft commission” or face criminal penalties and where he will be able to get a ticket for an airplane, train or automobile journey only after showing he has permission from the military committee.
Such an extension of military power would face many opponents, including members of the senior elite who “also have sons.” And even the less intrusive idea of having a newly-formed military police round up evaders would be opposed by many, including members of the establishment.
“Up to now, the very idea of forming a military police in the Russian Armed Forces was connected chiefly with the need to maintain order in the barracks, to struggle with ‘dedovshchina’ and theft of military property, including arms and bullets, and the patrolling and protection of particular sites,” Ishchenko says.
Moreover, the military has not made plans for a large number of military police. In 2006, the defense ministry proposed 5,000, and last year, officials suggested 20,000. But there would need to be far more in that service if the military were given the broader responsibilities that the MVD hopes to levy on them.
Konstantin Sivkov, the vice president of the Moscow Academy of Geopolitical Problems, pointed to other problems as well if Russia establishes a military police or seeks to use it outside military facilities. Given the lack of an ideological basis for service, he said, the country needs a military police but with very specific functions.
While evasion is a problem for the military, the MVD’s proposal that the army enter into civilian life and find evaders creates problems. In that event, the army “would be taking on itself part of the obligations for the support of order in civil society. It is one thing to support order in the garrisons and quite another to exercise control beyond their boundaries.”
“The role of military personnel in Russia is sharply growing. No everyone wants this. [Indeed,] many are concerned about this turn of events,” and they are certain to oppose the MVD proposal. And the military will oppose it as well because they would need up to 50,000 officers and men for the new service alone, something that would exacerbate the army’s problems too.