ROAR: Liberal Democrats fight corruption with new bill for conscripts

The Liberal Democratic Party, headed by flamboyant politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, wants to allow young men to pay money instead of performing military service.

The party, which is represented in Russian parliament, submitted the draft bill to the parliament’s lower house – the State Duma. The Liberal Democrats believe that one million roubles (approximately $31,500) will be enough for a young man to officially dodge the draft.

Deputies from the party’s faction say that their proposals will help fight corruption, as many conscripts offer bribes to local conscription officers.

Money paid by conscripts may help to attract and support people who will serve on army contracts, said Maksim Rokhmistrov, first deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s faction in the State Duma and one of the authors of the bill. In any event, it is difficult to teach a conscript to work on complicated equipment in a year of service, he told Vesti FM radio.

Instead of the current system of bribe-taking, money will be spent on people “who want to serve in the armed forces and to be paid for it,” the deputy said.

The sum mentioned in the draft bill may be good for representatives of Russia’s middle class, said Igor Korotchenko, editor-in-chief of National Defense magazine. “But for the rest of people it is a serious sum, even if paid in installments,” he told the radio.

“That means that the status of the armed forces as a place for lower classes will be fixed officially, and it must be done in no circumstances,” Korotchenko said. “This amazing initiative may be compared to one that would make prostitution legal,” he stressed. “It will seriously harm the prestige of armed forces, which will in this case ultimately become a place for workers and peasants. The rich will simply ignore service by paying this considerable sum.”

“As for all those conversations about fighting corruption by such methods, we will not avoid it because only the well-to-do will pay such money,” he noted. “All the rest will have to serve or hide or again try to offer bribes to conscription officials".

Some analysts consider the sum proposed by the deputies “adequate,” Trud daily said. If one counts all the money offered by some conscripts as bribes, the total sum may reach one million roubles, the paper quoted Kirill Kabanov, head of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, as saying.

However, if the law is adopted at all, Kabanov suggested that the money should be paid in installments during ten years.

The controversial draft law has provoked new debate in the media over military service. Some warn that the reform of the armed forces will be hindered. But the main problem is social differentiation.

Now the duty of a Russian young man is “to become a millionaire,” Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said. The LDPR members stressed that a number of those who dodge the service has been on the rise in recent years, and they solve this problem by bribing military commission officials.

Several countries already use the practice, the Liberal Democrats say, mentioning Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Mongolia, Greece and Albania. According to the paper, the cheapest legal way of avoiding military service is in Kyrgyzstan where people may pay $262. In Uzbekistan, this costs $537; in Mongolia – $690; and in Turkey – $6122.

“Deputies believe that if their amendments are approved, the army will not consist of poor people only because even some of the parliamentarians are not going to pay for their sons,” the daily noted.

However, some of the deputies believe that if the law is adopted in the first reading, the sum should be less than one million roubles. A soldier serving according on a contract costs 300,000-350,000 and people may pay approximately the same money to avoid service, one of the deputies said.

“Other parties described the draft bill proposed by the LDPR as “absurd” and linked the initiative to the usual extravagance of the party members,” the paper said. “And they are certain that the initiative will be put aside and will not even be discussed during parliament hearings,” it added.

Many analysts also doubt that the draft bill will get the green light. Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, believes the bill is harmful. He described it as “anti-national and directed at the commercialization of the armed forces and their breakup.”

These proposals “essentially change the meaning of service,” Ivashov told Moskovsky Komsomolets. “The supporters of the idea say that this may help to strengthen the armed forces, improve them technically, but you cannot expect then the best people to enter the army in this case,” he noted.

They will be mostly those young men who failed to find good positions in civil life, those from lower social groups without good education, he believes. “As a result of this social differentiation, the armed forces will turn into an institute for the poor and uneducated individuals,” he stressed.

Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees, believes that the proposals may support corruption rather than fight it. This order will still provoke conscript officials to demand money.

Such proposals have already been discussed for many times, Melnikova said, adding that they are unconstitutional because the law on military service exists.

Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, agrees. “Committees of the State Duma will not discuss the Liberal Democrats’ proposals,” he was quoted by Vesti FM as saying. “Military service is a constitutional norm and special amendments are needed,” he noted. “But nobody will try to do it,” he stressed.

“Other parties have said that the bill will not even reach the state of reading in the Duma,” Noviye Izvestia daily said. “Representatives from United Russia have made it clear that the parliament has procedures that allow it to avoid ‘populist spam’,” it added.

Trud, another newspaper, quoted anonymous sources in the Ministry of Defense saying the military would not support the idea either because it would lead to bigger differentiation in society.

The system of paying money instead of performing military service exists only in the armed forces of the countries with weak economies and tense social relations in society, believes Anatoly Khramchikhin, deputy head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. For example, in Georgia such a system was introduced back in 2000, he told the daily.

In that country, those avoiding service had to pay $100 at first, and since 2005 – ten times that amount, the analyst noted. “However, the Georgian servicemen failed to create a reliable professional army, which was demonstrated during the August 2008 events,” he noted.

The experiment conducted in Kyrgyzstan was even worse than in Georgia, and that country “actually has no army now,” Khramchikhin said.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review