Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Draft dodgers face new crackdown

Alexei fears he is about to lose a year of his life to the army.
Soon this skinny kid with dyed black hair and dark clothes will swap concert halls for the parade ground as the army steps up its conscription campaign. Like most young adults from the big cities he doesn't want to leave his life and be sent to some far-flung region, but it appears he has little choice.
"I don't really want to go in the army because I have everything here - friends, family, work and two bands," Alexei said.
The army's autumn recruitment drive is now in full swing as 271,000 Russians fresh out of school get brought into the military machine.
An increasing number of recruits are now skipping town to avoid the draft, with 5,849 going missing in spring 2008 and 8,195 disappearing in the same period this year.
But now the army's big shots are saying they will find the deserters and clamp down on them.
"We don't know where they disappear, in the Sorbonne or at grandmother's dacha in the village," the military's head of organisation and mobilisation, Vasily Smirnov, told RIA Novosti. "But we will send lists of these citizens to law-enforcement agencies whose duties include searching and driving them into draft commissions."
Prosecutions of runaways remain rare, with only 115 convictions last year and 127 in 2007, but authorities hope to use the full weight of the law behind their clampdown.
"If people have broken the law, and knew precisely what they were doing, then it will inevitably be followed with the corresponding punishment," added Smirnov.
Reports abound of mistreatment, bullying and abuse of human rights in the army. In June, two recruits committed suicide and others deserted in the Leningrad region. Now the Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg have appealed for help dealing with the situation, Radio Free Europe reports.
The military's main prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, claimed that violent crimes in the forces have fallen in recent years, and generally aren't present in most units, RIA Novosti reported. Some 15 per cent of crimes are committed against young recruits, with unauthorised mutual relations the most common.
Alexei has no plans to try to get out of the draft and spent two days last week going through extensive medical checks. He has, however, had his call-up delayed for six months following his medical exams but seems resigned to joining up next year.
Although no reason was given for the wait, a reported 30 per cent of recruits are unsuitable to the military due to ill health, while the army has said they do not need unfit soldiers.
"Let them be treated and then come and we will take them with pleasure," said Smirnov.
Poor health appears to be many people's ticket out of the forces, and many young Russians with cash to spare buy medical certificates which make them ineligible.
"I did not serve in army because I bought an ‘identity card' for 120,000 roubles," said Andrei, a 25-year-old Muscovite.
Andrei was eligible for the draft after being kicked out of university.
Some 59 military personnel are being investigated for receiving bribes from recruits this year, Alexander Nikitkin from the military prosecutor's office said on Thursday. He estimated that 12,800 people were involved in avoiding service.
"The diagnosis was put in at a military registration and enlistment office," said Andrei. "All is put though officially."
The exorbitant cost of a certificate makes this prohibitive for many, particularly those living outside Moscow.
"It is possible that I will try something [to get out of serving], but that costs money which I don't have," said Alexei.

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