Not Your Father’s Army

The fact that Russia needs to reform of, if not wholly ditch, military conscription is a no brainer. If the data presented by Major General Valery Kulikov is anything close to accurate, it is likely that the poor health of conscripts might hasten its demise. According to Kulikov, more than 614,000 out of 1.8 million young men received postponement waivers due to poor health in 2006. That is about 30% of all eligible men who took a medical exam for military service. Of that number, 200,000 got exemptions for lo body weight due to malnutrition, 109,000 suffered from scoliosis and flat feet, and over 100,000 were exempted for mental disorders.

From this data, Nezavisimaya gazeta concluded:

If this trend continues, considering that for the last five years Russia has experienced a “demographic gap,” the number of all conscripts in 2012 will stand at around 660,000 people. Of them only slightly more than 400,000 will be suitable for service. This is exactly what is the number of conscript soldiers presently in the army. In order for this figure to remain unchanged, the state will have to abolish the right to postpone service entirely or increase the number of contract soldiers.

Given this prospect, what did the Russian government do? Kulikov states that a plan to improve the health of potential conscripts was planned and approved by the Defense Military, but “at the very last moment, the Finance Ministry and the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry spoke against implementation of this program, which would definitely have a harmful impact on the fitness of conscripts for military service.” The reasons given was that these measures were already apart of the State’s programs focusing on the patriotic upbringing of young people.

Not mentioned in the article, however, was how many of these exemptions were due to bribes. For example, last week Novye Izvestiia reported that those seeking to avoid army service were the most likely to purchase fake dissertations. “When a youth buys a dissertation, he kills two birds with one stone,” Ruslan Greenberg told Novye Izvestiia. “First he becomes a “scholar.” Second, he is completely legally exempt from conscription. It is well known that the Russian army doesn’t take PhD candidates.”

In regard to bribing your way to a medical exemption, Valentina Melnikova, who heads Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, reported potential conscripts saying the following:

“One guy I know bought his way out of service by bringing money to the recruiting office…as far as I understand about $4000. He was supposed to be conscripted but he didn’t have to go…”

“….a bribe gets it done a little faster…you pay a bribe and he’s obligated to help. so if you can’t get it done legally, pay the money and it gets it done. That’s my opinion.…”

“….I would think about that if it came to it. ..I have a lot of friends gone that route.. With the money you can earn in two years in Moscow it pays for itself…”