Duma moves to ban draft dodgers from state service

Recruiting station (RIA Novosti / Vitaliy Ankov)
In a bid to boost the prestige of military service the Russian Lower House has past the first reading of a bill forbidding those who illegally avoided the army draft to take up any state jobs.

The bill’s main objective, at least according to its title, is to increase the prestige and attractiveness of military service. As the document was discussed the deputy head of the parliamentary committee for defense Franz Klintsevich stressed that it is only blocking from state service those who dodged the draft illegally, not those who have legitimate reasons.

The bill also allows the Defense Ministry to offer educational grants to conscript servicemen, especially those in higher education. The grants can be used both in Russian and foreign educational establishments.

Russia has one year obligatory military service for all male citizens aged 18. The latest Fall draft is taking place from September to December this year and the military plan to summon just over 140,000 – 15,000 less than last year as the country is moving towards professional army manned by volunteer servicemen. Top military commanders say that eventually the number of conscripts will be down to 15 percent – like in some East European countries.

The problem of draft dodging remains, with about 7,000 people dodging the spring draft in 2012 and about 166,000 people changed their official place of residence without informing local draft stations. Last year about 1200 draft dodgers were tried and sentenced, as it is a criminal offense in Russia not to do military service.

The situation can be explained by the hardship of military service and poor pay for conscripts, but also to brutal hazing – a problem that has remained since Soviet times and that the military cannot solve, despite desperate efforts. Russian media regularly report cases when servicemen have been crippled and even killed by other soldiers, including the case of Private Sychov – a young man who got his legs and genitals amputated as a result of a condition he developed after spending several hours crouched on the night of New Year 2006.

Many harassed soldiers desert, and Russia has a special NGO called the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers that deals with cases of hazing and forced desertion which provides shelter and legal aid.

In other cases those bullied have turned on their tormentors and killed them. The latest incident was reported this summer in the South Russian republic of Dagestan, but the soldier who killed five people was a contract serviceman. He was shot dead by those trying to restrain him after the incident.

The Defense Ministry plans to fight such incidents by introducing a Military Police force. The agency will investigate all crimes except the most serious ones (currently this is the officers’ duty). The current draft law provides for a polygraph check on candidates to weed out potential abusers. Russian legislators planned to approve the bill before December 1 this year but recently it was postponed till 2013 due to organizational problems.