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RFE/RL: Are Chechens Answer To Russian Army's Manpower Shortage?

posted by eagle on August, 2008 as ANALYSIS / OPINION

August 06, 2008

Are Chechens Answer To Russian Army's Manpower Shortage?

This fall, young Chechen men will once again be drafted into the ranks of the Russian armed forces after an interval of several years. But estimates of the number of potential Chechen draftees diverge considerably, and it remains unclear where in the Russian Federation the Chechen recruits are likely to be stationed.

When Chechnya gravitated out of Moscow's orbit following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the draft system fell into abeyance, and an entire generation of young men avoided compulsory military service. Only in February 2001, after then-Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a victorious end to the "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya did Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, Viktor Kazantsev, who commanded the Group of Russian Forces in the North Caucasus during the 1994-96 Chechen war, order Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to prepare the necessary paperwork to enable young Chechen males to be drafted into the Russian Army. Kazantsev specified that the Chechens were to serve as railway troops or in construction units. 

The first intake of 100 young Chechen men was duly inducted two months later, a further 500 in the fall of 2001, and a total of 1,700 in 2002. But that exercise was reportedly not a total success. "Gazeta" on March 20, 2002, reported that Russian Army Chief of General Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin had ordered the disbanding of a sports company consisting of 63 Chechen recruits attached to the 27th Motorized Infantry Brigade, based near Moscow. The reason for that decision, according to the paper, was that Russian servicemen of the brigade who had served in Chechnya were hostile to the Chechen recruits, while officers' wives expressed concern for the safety and honor of their daughters. Several months later, Kadyrov announced that in the future all Chechen draftees would serve in their home republic.

Accordingly, the few hundred Chechens called up in 2003, 2004, and 2005 performed their military service in Chechnya. In addition, between 60 and 80 young men signed up annually as contract servicemen with the Vostok and Zapad battalions, which are subordinate to the Russian Defense Ministry's 42nd Motorized Rifle Division that is permanently stationed in Chechnya.

Urgent Need Arises

Partly due to shortfalls over the past 12 months and partly because both the spring and fall contingents drafted last year will be demobilized in the coming months, no fewer than 200,000 young men must be drafted into the army and navy this fall to maintain the required troop levels. That figure is higher than at any time since the collapse of the USSR. In an article published on July 21 in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," military expert Vladimir Mukhin wrote that Chechnya could supply up to 70,000 of that total. By contrast, Moscow, with a population of 8 million, will provide only 5,000 draftees.

The figure of 70,000 Chechen draftees may seem improbably high given that the entire population of Chechnya is estimated at between 800,000 and 1 million. But at the time of the 2002 Russian census, the Chechens were the sixth-largest ethnic group in the Russian Federation, after the Russians, Tatars, Ukrainians, Bashkirs, and Chuvash. And because the birthrate among Chechens has over the past few decades been far higher than among those other nationalities, the number of Chechens of draft age is correspondingly higher than the percentage of Chechens among the Russian population as a whole.

In addition, proportionally fewer Chechens are rejected as unfit for military service than are young men from elsewhere in Russia: only 8-10 percent, according to a June 5 article by Mukhin quoting Chechnya's military commissar, Major General Said-Selim Tsuyev. By contrast, as many as one-third of ethnic-Russian draftees are rejected as unfit to serve because of chronic health deficiencies or psychological defects. Others obtain repeated deferments to continue their studies, or their parents pay bribes to have their healthy sons designated unfit.

In the same June 5 article, however, Mukhin also quoted Tsuyev as estimating the number of potential draftees from the Chechen Republic at "over 50,000," while the news agency Kavkazsky Uzel on April 7 gave the much lower figure of 10,000. One possible explanation for the discrepancy between the various estimates of the number of draft-age men in Chechnya is that in line with a directive issued by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, not only young men born in 1990 will be liable for conscription this year, but all those born between 1981 and 1990, reported on April 3. 

That assertion raises several questions: is Kadyrov seeking to round up the entire male population between 17 and 28 and ship them out of Chechnya to serve elsewhere in Russia in order to deprive the North Caucasus resistance of potential recruits? Kadyrov has on several occasions in recent months lambasted local officials for failing to halt the exodus of young men who leave home to fight under the banner of self-proclaimed imam of the North Caucasus Doku Umarov. Indeed, how many of the pool of 70,000 hypothetical draftees have jumped the gun and already joined the resistance ranks? And could the harsh conditions of army service outside Chechnya, including the hazing for which the Russian armed forces are notorious, impel more young men to make that choice?

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