Recruit crisis in Russian military

February 10, 1995

The Russian Defence Ministry wants to abolish deferment of military service for students because of a 25 per cent shortfall in recruitment.

Lieutenant-General Vyacheslav Zherebtsov, head of the general staff's mobilisation department, believes it would be one of the best ways of filling the gaps.

A formal proposal was submitted to the state duma, the lower house of parliament, at the end of last month. The general told the RIA Novosti agency that "it is no longer acceptable that manning levels in the armed forces are only 75 per cent of the required figure".

Student call-up became increasingly common in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and early 1980s under Leonid Brezhnev and his successors. Eventually only students attending one of a few prestige universities - or those with relatives high in the Communist Party establishment - could escape it.

Senior officials in the defence ministry now want a return to the situation before Gennady Yagodin's liberal-minded state committee for higher education supported the ban on military service for students in 1989.

Apart from the physical risks inherent in military service, academics argued that students returned disoriented, many could not settle down again at university, and others had their intellectual "edge" blunted by military routine.

Eventually the student call-up was abolished, less through the pressure from the academic community than to produce an instant reduction in the size of the Soviet armed forces for the then arms reduction talks.

Today defence officials argue that the army is having difficulty turning out specialists. Lt.Gen Zherebtsov wants the length of service extended so that servicemen are not demobilised just as they are on the point of becoming well-trained specialists.

The Chechnia fiasco, although attributable to other factors, is felt to add weight to these arguments.

Part of the shortfall has been attributed either to poor health among potential recruits or to a recent bill permitting conscientious objection to military service. But the military lobby in the duma has also voiced concern about the negative effect many new private universities and colleges are having on call-up figures.

The ministry claims the institutions are prepared to enrol the children of wealthy parents who have failed to gain a place in state universities and colleges.

Providing that the fees are paid their students are also exempt from the draft. As a result mainly the children of workers and peasants are having to serve in the forces.

Most students want the call-up army to be replaced by a professional army, a view most recruits interviewed by the Russian media on the battlefields of Chechnia have also voiced.

More than 800 students from Chechnia have been found places in alternative universities and colleges across Russia since the hostilities began.

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