NGO Prints Advice For Army Recruits
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
When what is supposed to be a standard process of drafting army conscripts becomes a nocturnal raid or semi-criminal ensnarement, a new book compiled by the local NGO Soldiers’ Mothers may come in handy.
The Russian army has for many years been notorious for its hazing, high suicide rates and severely ill young men being drafted in a desperate effort by the military authorities to fill the minimum quotas for recruits.
It is an open secret that the military is one of the most corrupt spheres of life in the country, and with brutal hazing rampant in the armed forces, many young men are willing to bribe their way out of performing their compulsory national service.
Yury Khromov, head of the civilian enquiries department of the city’s military commission, said that this year in the Leningrad Oblast alone, 8,000 young men are officially listed as draft evaders. Khromov was speaking at the presentation of the Soldiers’ Mothers book, titled “Defending the rights of conscripts and recruits,” at the Regional Press Institute on Tuesday.
Men are listed as draft dodgers if they sign to confirm that they have received a summons and then fail to appear at a given time. Many young men go to great lengths to avoid confirming that they have received the summons, discarding them from their postboxes and pretending not to have received anything, so the local military officials have developed illegal schemes to track down potential recruits. Tactics documented by Soldiers’ Mothers include raiding apartments at night, seizing young men from public places and arranging a spontaneous fast-track medical examination and immediate departure to an assigned military base.
“It is done so quickly that within a matter of several hours, a young man can be grabbed on the street, examined, declared fit for service and promptly sent away,” said Oksana Paramonova, an activist with Soldiers’ Mothers, which exists to protect the rights of army recruits and their families.
“One of the crucial things for potential conscripts and their loved ones to remember is never to switch off their cell phones: It is illegal for the military commission to say that a conscript cannot get in touch with a family member or a lawyer. If young men are detained, they should insist that an official report be compiled.”
According to estimates by Soldiers’ Mothers, there are tens of thousands of deserters in Russia at any given time.
Helping frightened young men evade the draft, it appears, is a booming business in Russia. Leaflets and advertisements for scores of dodgy firms can be found pasted on the walls of metro stations, bus stops and apartment buildings across the country.
Such services are not cheap, with costs amounting to up to several thousand euros. And, even at the high prices charged, there are no guarantees.
“It is not a complicated scheme: What happens is that a lawyer in these draft-dodging firms handles the negotiations with military commissions,” said Ella Polyakova, chairman of Soldier’s Mothers. “If something goes wrong, naturally, no refund is given.”
All Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve in the armed forces. The Kremlin has long promised reform, but has refused to abandon conscription. Every year, thousands avoid service by bribing officials or faking medical ailments.
At the same time, Polyakova said, vast numbers of men with genuine health complaints get drafted, which can result in their condition becoming exacerbated, or even lead to their death during military service.
“It often starts at the draft center,” she said. “I cannot count the number of times we have arranged for an ambulance to be sent to draft centers. Very often, civilian doctors cannot even get access to the patient — which is also illegal — so the situation desperately lacks transparency and requires investigation.”
Human rights advocates insist that the current risks of being in the Russian army are so high that a moratorium on compulsory military service must be considered unless a less dangerous and more transparent system is created.
The Defense Ministry estimates that between 500 and 1,000 recruits die from non-combat-related causes every year in Russia. But human rights groups contest official statistics and claim the actual number is as high as 3,000.
Non governmental organizations stress that it is extremely difficult for them to provide civil monitoring of the investigations of army deaths, including suicides. Although in theory, human rights organizations are not only permitted but officially invited to participate in the work of military conscript commissions, when it comes to actually giving seats to the representatives of NGOs, the authorities tend to avoid pressure groups that provide tangible civil monitoring, rather than providing a nominal presence on the board.
Polyakova’s Soldiers’ Mothers group has been denied a place on the grounds that the NGO, which challenges the authorities by publicizing and providing legal representation for cases of human rights abuses is “a destructive organization that effectively discredits the Russian army.”