Moscow to Draft North Caucasians without Former Restrictions

April 3, 2014

Staunton, April 3 – In a move highlighting the demographic plight of ethnic Russians, Moscow has announced that it will now draft North Caucasians without the restrictions it had imposed on them in recent years, a move some in that region are welcoming but that others, including some Russian officers and the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees fear will cause problems.

Vasily Tonkoshkruvo, head of the section of the Russian General Staff responsible for manpower, has announced that from now on, there will be “no limitations” on the number of Chechens, Ingushes and Daghestanis who may be drafted. Instead, they will be treated just like everyone else.

That represents a major shift in policy. In Chechnya, the Russian military drafted no one between 1991 and 2012 and then last year took only 620 of the 80,000 men of draft age. In Daghestan, Moscow has limited the number of draftees to about 20 percent of what the military had taken in recent years. And in Ingushetia, only 300 of some 10,000 eligible were drafted.

That pattern reflected both the unsettled conditions in the North Caucasus and the fears of Russian commanders that any draftees from there would be a source of tension and conflict within the ranks. But the policy of restricting the number of North Caucasian draftees has been counter-productive in three ways.

First, it sent a message to the North Caucasians that Russian officials, whatever they claimed, did not view the region as part of Russia or North Caucasians as fully equal to every other Russian city. This has helped the militants win recruits, especially among those who, not being able to serve in the military, have been deprived of jobs in the police and government.

Second, it infuriated many ethnic Russians who recognized that if Moscow did not draft North Caucasians, it would have to draft ethnic Russians at a higher rate to meet overall quotas, thus imposing a kind of punitive tax on ethnic Russians that non-Russians from the North Caucasus were not having to pay.

And third, the policy made it far more difficult for Moscow to meet its draft goals, a problem that is only growing both because the numbers of those in the prime draft age groups are falling because of low birthrates in the 1990s and because the Kremlin’s use of force in Crimea and possibly elsewhere effectively precludes any cut in the size of the draft.

Many Chechens, journalist Svetlana Bolotnikova says, are pleased by Moscow’s lifting of the restrictions because they see it as an expression of Moscow’s trust. But some Russian commanders and the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee say that they fear the impact of an influx of “’children of war’” on discipline and unit cohesion.

One Russian officer told Bolotnikova that soldiers drafted from the North Caucasus are a problem not only because of clannishness – they tend to form groups based on ethnicity or religion rather than fit in with the majority – but also because some of them want to “take revenge” against Russian officers who fought against their people.

Drafting more of them, as Moscow has now decided to do, he continued, will only lead to more problems for commanders and undercut the fighting capacity of the Russian military.

The Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia believes that Moscow has taken this decision not because it believes it can cope with such problems but because of “demographic shortfalls in ethnic Russian regions.” If the military is to continue to rely on draftees, the General Staff has no choice but to draw from the large draft pool in the North Caucasus.

Ida Kuklina, a member of the Union’s coordinating council, says that the military has begun to address the problems North Caucasian draftees present by grouping them in separate units and using them “above all” in the Caucasus rather than elsewhere. “This is a positive development,” she said.

But it will be “a negative one,” she continues, “if the army will cope badly with an influx of new draftees” from the Caucasus. Indeed, although she doesn’t say so, there is now a risk that North Caucasian soldiers may be emboldened by their numbers and that at least some Russians will view its increasingly non-Russian face as transforming the army into an alien force.