The conscription period launched in Russia on April 1, is accompanied by unprecedented statements by the military that demographic problems may occur in the future, which are likely to jeopardize fighting efficiency of the troops. On the one hand, this resembles a PR-action, while on the other – a real intention of the military to acquaint the public with the imminent demographic and other problems, which affect the quality of conscripts and, consequently, the combat readiness of the forces.

“As compared to 2005, by 2018, the number of youth of the call-up age will drop by 1 million in Russia,” Major General Valery Kulikov, chairman of the Central Military Medical Commission stated last week. He tends to explain this process with a drop in the birth rate in Russia, “which has intensified since the 1990s.” In his opinion, the source of conscripts has been reducing in number too.

“According to forecast, some 2.7 million young men of the call-up age will be on the registry of military commissariats in 2018. Their current number is about 4 million,” the general said. According to Kulikov, 364,000 persons could be on the aggregate called up during the spring and autumn conscription campaigns in 2005.

“If these trends persist, only 92,000 persons would be liable to conscription in 2018,” the general said.

What other tendencies may worsen the quality of conscripts in the future? Kulikov mentions several causes. Firstly, a multitude of deferrals from military service is still in force. A young man could be exempt or get deferrals from service under over 20 legal grounds.

Secondly, according to forecasts, the number of conscripts who are to be exempted of service or given deferrals due to health reasons will increase considerably. Kulikov stated that over 590,000 persons were exempted from military service due to health problems in 2003. This made some 30% of the conscripts who receives call-up papers and passed medical examination. Above 620,000 persons (36% of those who received call-up papers) were exempted from military service due to health problems in 2004. According to the general, the state of conscripts’ health is deteriorating, due to poorly functioning pediatric service.

“Some 2% of the unhealthy are revealed when 15-year-old boys are registered as conscripts. The share of the unhealthy grows to 4% by the age of 16. A chronic disease is discovered in 20% of conscripts by each conscription; i.e., exposure of the unhealthy is very low,” Kulikov stated.

In his opinion, another problem is linked to availability of lots of young men underweight. Kulikov said that during examination the draft boards disclose over 40,000 such young guys annually.

“The number of guys who get exemptions from military service due to underweight has been around 40,000-45,000 persons over past three years,” Kulikov mentioned. In his words, this indicator is mainly stipulated by social reasons.

“This is mainly a result of poor nutrition and the public could have offered its response to this, for instance by means of setting up special health-improving camps. This requires administrative volition, which is likely to be unavailable. They are more concerned with themselves, rather than kids,” the general noted.

“In the troops we arrange the conscripts who have low weight into special groups, give rations with increased protein content, relieve them of loads. As a result, they gain weight in a month, but the immunity is suffering for six months more,” Kulikov continued. In his words, the conscripts with weak immunity are prone to acute respiratory diseases and pneumonia more than others.

“Well-constituted guys, who had no problems with nutrition before the army, fall ill less often in the army,” Kulikov said.

Thus, unless the healthcare system is altered drastically in Russia, as well as the system of manning and conscription, our Armed Forces will face serious problems. The fact that the length of conscription service will be reduced to 12 months starting 2008, is another complication: this will demand doubling the conscription. Where can one get so many conscripts?

Accounting for public opinion, the Defense Ministry has used its leader Sergei Ivanov as a mouthpiece to state that students won’t be conscripted (almost 50% of the conscripts in Russia). Unhealthy young guys make about 30% more. They won’t be conscripted either. Who is to serve in the army? How will the problem of manning the troops fully be solved? According to warlords, two paths will be implemented in this connection. On the one hand, the number of contract servicemen will be boosted. They will make the backbone of the permanent readiness units in the troops. Their share among privates and sergeants is expected to be at least 50% by 2008. This is a good indicator, though not so comfortable as to abolish conscription. If the Russian Armed Forces have the strength of some 1.2 million and this figure doesn’t change by 2008, at least 500,000-600,000 young guys must be conscripted annually, due to curtailing the length of conscription service (some 350,000 are being called up now). Who do they like to call up?

Most likely, the Defense Ministry intends to boost the conscription at the expense of postgraduates. Many students are not conscripted now because they are officers in reserve on graduation from military faculties of institutes or universities. Under presidential decree, only 15,000 of such conscripts could be called up. The remaining 100,000-150,000 lieutenants are in reserve. Thus, the Russian Defense Ministry intends to decrease the number of unclaimed-for lieutenants, i.e. increase the human resources for conscription. According to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s statement in Yaroslavl on April 12, the Russian military officials are in favor of a drastic reduction of the number of military faculties in civil institutions of higher education. In his words, “we have more military faculties now than in the Soviet Union, given the fact that the strength of the Soviet Armed Forces was three times higher than the current strength of the Russian army.”

Some military faculties are training highly qualified future officers, but the majority give poor training, the minister said. In his words, “bribe-taking efficiency of institutions of higher education is growing along with an increase in the number of military faculties.”

“We’ll analyze the situation with military faculties and decide which of those we need. Neither the state, nor we need the rest of the military faculties, especially since the length of conscription service is to be reduced to 12 months starting 2008,” Ivanov stated.

The Defense Ministry will cut the number of military faculties soon. More conscripts will be called up at the expense of postgraduates in some 2-3 years. The question is: whether or not this will suffice to entirely solve the conscription-shortage problem in the Russian army? The evident answer is now. The public is likely to gain new gaps to avoid conscription of postgraduates. For instance, the network of commercial studying facilities for postgraduates will expand, former students will start seeking various diseases, get married, make children, etc. – i.e. officially claim to deferrals. To increase the conscription basis the state is likely to drastically curtail the number of conscription service deferrals, for graduates too. Otherwise, in some 10-15 years the army will only have 50% of the required personnel. There are other ways of solving this problem – cutbacks in the military personnel and raising the number of career servicemen in the army. However, the Russian leaders are not yet considering similar approaches.