Escaping Conscription in Russia

Alistair Gee has a report on the time-honored Russian tradition of dodging the Army draft, which brings to mind the recently forced conscription of the activist Oleg Kozlovsky.

The lengths that Russians go to avoid the Army hint at other problems–notably dedovshchina, or rule of the grandfathers, an informal and widespread discipline system in which draftees can be subject to degrading, sometimes violent hazing by their seniors.

In a famous case, conscript Andrei Sychyov had his legs and genitals amputated after being beaten by senior officers on New Year’s Day 2005. Another conscript, at the Plesetsk cosmodrome near the Arctic city of Arkhangelsk, was beaten by drunk officers, locked in a dog cage, and died later. More recently, investigators in Novosibirsk said a private slit his wrists in March after suffering abuse.

Draft dodgers in turn fuel corruption, as they bribe officials to give them deferments and certificates saying they served, which they need when applying for jobs.

“It’s a giant, corrupt system that includes workers in the conscription offices, medical institutions, and institutions of higher education; because a lot of institutions only exist to give out draft deferments, they don’t teach anything,” says Golts. In 2005, Georgiy Satarov, a researcher at Indem, a Moscow nonprofit group that tracks corruption, reported that there were around $350 million in bribes related to the draft annually. An Army spokesman was not available for comment.