Only 10 percent of young men are recruited
A Russian news agency and the Defense Ministry have held a conference in Moscow devoted to problems and peculiarities of spring recruitment in 2003. The main report at the conference was made by Lieutenant-Gen. Vasily Smirnov. Galina Shaldikova, the chairwoman of the Council of Servicemen's Parents, Mikhail Pogorely, the director of the Center for War and Peace Journalism and spokespeople for the State Duma and Federation Council also took an active part in the discussion.
First of all, it is a good idea to provide some statistics - facts and numbers. Spring recruitment takes place in Russia during the period of April 1-June 30, although the majority of recruited young men start serving in the army as soon as in April-May. According to the plans of the Defense Ministry and regional recruiting committees, 175 thousand young men are supposed to be recruited this spring. Lieutenant-Gen. Vasily Smirnov said that one of the major peculiarities of recent years is the fact that the number of recruits is growing smaller and smaller.
Smirnov said that "We will recruit everyone we can according to the law. Yet, the total number of recruited young men will make up approximately 10 percent of the whole number of people of draft age." Russian defense officials in charge of the operational readiness of the Russian army have every reason to be concerned about the issue.
Military specialists said that about 80 percent of young men who were recruited in autumn had various restrictions on account of their state of health. No positive changes are expected to happen in spring. Therefore, the Russian army's special troops - airborne troops, spetsnaz (special forces), submarine crewmen - will have to face certain difficulties regarding number of available personnel. About half of recruits have never held a job before the army, and a quarter of them did not finish secondary school.
Of course, such problems can not be settled by the army. It is a problem of Russian society as a whole. Only 4 percent of people join the army after they graduate from a higher institute of learning, and they serve very well. New regulations pertaining to medical examinations are expected to come into effect soon that will extend the list of contraindications for the military service. There have been a lot of facts - and rumors - heard about this issue recently.
The matter concerns things that are simple - but important. Modern weapons can be entrusted only to healthy people, not to drug or alcohol addicts. No one is going to try to recruit young men who cannot serve in the army on account of poor health. The explicitly humanitarian direction of the new medical regulations can be seen in the fact that almost 500 illnesses are considered to be an obstacle to military service.
The conference touched upon ways out of the situation in the Russian armed forces. The most viable of these seems to be recruiting soldiers and sergeants on a contractual basis. Vasily Smirnov said that the defense minister has ordered raising money allowances for the servicemen of the experimental Pskov airborne division - now, a serviceman earns 5,200 rubles (which is a bit less than $200) a month. Taking into consideration that average wages are 3,000 rubles in many Russian regions, such a measure should increase the prestige of voluntary military service.
Smirnov also said that the army command is now exclusively sending volunteers to hotspots. It is expected that volunteers will, in the very near future, make up the permanent-alertness troops. The draft will be preserved in coming years, although the duration of the service for a fixed period will be cut to 18 months.
The Defense Ministry also suggested another measure to encourage young men to join the Armed Forces - to return to the use of the system in which people who have served in the army have an opportunity get priority entrance to higher institutions of learning.
Spokespeople for the Russian parliament set out interesting ideas as well. For example, a member of the Federation Council's committee for defense and security, Valery Bykov, believes that the law pertaining to army service deferrals must be reconsidered: "If the sons and grandsons of all the people who are gathered here today would join the army and serve there for two years, it would be a perfect example to everyone else." Bykov believes that Russia has the army that it has created for itself.
All males are supposed to serve in the army in a normal country. One may definitely hope for alternative or contractual systems of service, although many strong armies of the world (the Israeli and German armies, for example) are formed on a draft basis. Bykov is certain that army service is part of the school of life that will come in handy to any man.