27 March 2020
Sergei Krivenko, coordinator of the Citizen and Army human rights initiative, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, spoke on Radio Russia. The programme was presented by Anna Volokhina and Vyacheslav Konovalov
The spring military draft in Russia will be carried out on schedule – from 1 April to 15 June. The disease that has gripped the world has not yet forced our generals to adjust the usual practice of recruiting conscripts.
All ministries are somehow adapting to the current situation with coronavirus in Russia. But the Ministry of Defence is not changing the terms of the draft. What can be said about this?
Sergei Krivenko: The Ministry of Defence is probably slower-moving than others, which is why it is behaving this way. In general there are problems with conscription due to coronavirus. Although conscription in Russia is not that substantial these days, the plan is to call up just under 150,000 new recruits, the same number as in 2019. Moreover, the army is switching to a contract-based system, and every year the draft becomes a little smaller and there are ever more contract service personnel. But during the draft process the number of young men summoned to the military recruitment office is an order of magnitude larger than the number actually called up. This is down to the draft procedure, which is fixed in law. That is, military recruitment offices must by law summon all the fit young men, and students who are subject to draft. To get an exemption, you have to undergo a medical examination. But experience suggests that just over a million young men will now pass through the military commissariats.
The draft will begin right in the quarantine week.
Sergei Krivenko: Of course, the draft is a somewhat protracted affair. All the young men will go to the recruiting office where, if there is infection, they can catch the virus, and if 150,000 people are sent to the army, the remaining 900,000 will return home. And if the minister of defence assures us that those who are called up will be tested and quarantined, that’s all possible. We hope it will all happen that way. That is, the draft will protect the army from infection; but the lads who undergo a medical examination at the recruitment office and return home after receiving an exemption will, if they are infected, bring the virus with them – to their parents, grandmothers and grandfathers, and society in general. And this is a great danger.
The main point of the draft, when the period of service was reduced to a year, was as a means of selecting people who could then switch to working under contract. They look at a young man when he enters the army, over the course of a few months of training and attaining a military specialism, and he is offered a contract to sign after three or four months. Those who sign remain in the army and serve for real. And those who don’t, receive their military specialism, serve out their time and go back to being civilians. Nowadays the conscript does not go to defend the Fatherland, he goes to acquire a specialism in the army.
Translated by Anna Bowles