The beginning of another spring call-up was marked by remedial organizations and politicians’ complaints about the call-up system. For instance, Union of Right Forces and the Committee of mothers of soldiers organized a press conference called “Will the 2003 spring call-up become the last in Russian history?” on April 1. Duma deputy Alexander Barannikov and Valentina Melnikova, Secretary of the Union of committees of mothers of soldiers, answered this question in the negative. They announced a report on the quantity of soldiers’ parents’ complaints about the compulsory military service. The number of complaints connected with tortures of soldiers in barracks has increased in comparison with 2002. They also said that very often officers of military registration and enlistment offices call up people illegally and extort money.

Yes, the picture is not pleasant. However, it cannot be the other way. The compulsory system of recruiting will exist for a long time. Lieutenant-General Vasily Smirnov, deputy chief of the General Staff, says that the call-up will not be cancelled until 2007. As is known, only the 76th airborne division is now conducting an experiment to create professional units. A federal program aimed at recruiting contract servicemen has not been prepared yet. The Defense Ministry will show the program by the end of April, and the government is to approve this document by June 1. According to the draft of the program, the military plans to recruit 176,000 contract servicemen in 2004-07. This amounts to around 15% of the total strength of the Russian Army and other security ministries.

Smirnov says that only 10% of potential recruits can be called up to the Army. This will make around 100,000 to 120,000 servicemen because demographers forecast that the call-up resource will decrease in 2004-07 owing to “a demographic pit in Russia”.

The state does not have enough money to create a professional army. Representatives of the General Staff say that such a reform would take 300 billion rubles. This sum is equal to the Armed Forces’ annual budget (2.5% of GDP).

In these circumstances the state and the General Staff are improving the quality of activities connected with recruiting young people. A few documents confirm this. Document No. 1: presidential decree No. 377 on the call-up in April-June 2003. Document No. 2: the new provisions on military-medical examination passed by the government in February 2003.

What are the peculiarities of these documents? Firstly, the presidential decree is aimed at recruiting more people than last autumn. Secondly, the decree contains a very important provision, which will close semi-official paths to the possibility of evading military service. According to the decree, federal executive bodies must “ensure the implementation of the federal law on the universal military service and call up citizens, who are not in reserve and who work in organizations of these federal bodies”.

The General Staff said that this provision is not a coincidence. The point is that as a result of “misinterpretation” of the law on police and the fire service, the Interior Ministry and the Emergencies Ministry have been hiring recruits, who do not have legal occupational deferments, for several years. Representatives of the General Staff state that such activities conflict with the federal law on universal military service. According to this document, recruits sent to the Interior Ministry and the Emergencies Ministry can only serve in the Interior Troops and civil defense units; not in police or fire brigades. In the meantime, the Interior Ministry and the Emergencies Ministry have hired over 3,000 such people. The General Staff says that all these people will be called up to the Army in spring.

Thirdly, the state has decided to take care about recruits’ health. Major-General Valery Kulikov, chief of the central military-medical commission of the Defense Ministry, said that the Provisions on military-medical examination takes in consideration all changes in the Russian legislation and the international classification of illnesses. He said that this “steps up requirements to recruits’ health”. In particular, requirements to the psychical plight of all categories of recruits and servicemen have been toughened. Kulikov noted that “a certain progress can be observed in evaluating recruits’ medical plight”. The number of healthy young people has increased. This means that the implementation of the new provisions on military-medical examination will not make it possible to reduce the number of recruits.

So, the state is stepping up requirements to the call-up system. It intends to efficiently combat such problem as evasion of military service, improve recruits’ health, and make every effort in order to call up enough servicemen. However, this is a very difficult task, taking account the impending “demographic pit”. Lieutenant-General Vasily Smirnov said that the Army will have only 87% to 96% of soldiers it needs by July 1.

It is not ruled out that in these circumstances the state will have to cancel some occupational deferments in order to increase the number of young people whom it will be able to call up to the Army. At present the Army receives only 10% of potential recruits.