The war in Ukraine fuels fear among Russian youth of the draft age

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu promised at a meeting of the military brass this week that new recruits would not be sent to the front line or “hot spot”.

But the statement met with skepticism from many in Russia who recall the separatist war in the southern republic of Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s, when thousands of poorly trained young men were killed.

“I do not trust them when they say they will not send personnel to the war. They lie all the time, “said Vladislav, a 22-year-old man who is finishing his studies and fears he may face the draft soon after graduation. He pleaded not to use his last name for fear of retaliation.

All Russian men aged 18-27 must serve in the military for one year, but a large number avoid drafts for health reasons or for delays granted to university students. The proportion of men who avoided the draft is large, especially in Moscow and other large cities.

Even President Vladimir Putin and his officials say many of the detainees appear to have been detained in the early days of what Russian officials called “special military operations in Ukraine.” Videos of Russian captives from Ukraine have surfaced, some have been shown calling their parents and posted on social media.

The mother of one of the detainees said she recognized her 20-year-old draft son in a video even though he was shown blindfolded.

“I recognized her by her lips, by her chin. You know, I could recognize her by her fingers,” said the woman, who for security reasons only identified her by her first name, Leubov. “I breast-fed her.” I raised him. “

The Defense Ministry was forced to back down from its statement, acknowledging that some personnel had been “accidentally” sent to Ukraine and detained while serving with a supply unit far from the front.

There are allegations that before the attack, some personnel were forced to sign military contracts that allowed them to go to war – a duty usually reserved for volunteers in the military. Some captive soldiers said their commanding officers said they were going to a military exercise but suddenly saw them fighting in Ukraine.

In early March, Lyudmila Narusova, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, spoke of a company of 100 men who were forced to sign such an agreement and sent to the war zone – and only four survived. Military officials did not comment on the allegations.

St. Petersburg Human Rights Commissioner Svetlana Agapitova said Wednesday that relatives of the seven soldiers had written to her alleging that the men had been forced to sign the treaty and sent to Ukraine against their will. He said two of them had already been repatriated to Russia.

In recent years, the Kremlin’s volunteer agreement has focused on increasing troop numbers as it seeks to modernize the military and improve its readiness. The 1 million force now has 400,000 contract troops, including 147,000 infantry. If the war continues, these numbers may be insufficient to sustain the operation.

The Kremlin may eventually face a choice: continue fighting with a limited number of troops and visit offensive stalls, or try to replenish ranks with a broad draft and create the risk of public outrage that could increase anti-draft sentiment and destabilize the political situation. One such incident occurred during the war in Chechnya.

Dimitri, a 25-year-old IT specialist, has given a moratorium that should keep him out of the draft due to treatment. But he is still as nervous as many others, fearing that the authorities may abruptly waive some delays in order to strengthen the military.

“I hate war. I think it’s a complete disaster, “said Dmitry, who asked not to be identified by last name for fear of retaliation.” I fear the government may change the rules and I may face a draft. If not, then why should I believe what they say about the draft?

The proposed law would simplify the draft by allowing military recruiters to make concept calls more easily, but the bill is currently on hold.

Nevertheless, it has raised public concern.

Alexei Tabalov, a lawyer who advises hiring, said the medical panel at the hiring office often admits young people who should be fired because of their illness. Now, he adds, their attitudes could be tougher.

“It’s very likely that doctors would close their eyes to their illness and declare them fit for military service,” Tabalov said.

In addition to lowering the standard of treatment for drafts, there are fears that the government may try to impose some martial law that would bar Russian men from leaving the country and force them to fight, as in Ukraine.

“We’ve got a lot of calls from people who are afraid to gather,” Tabalov said. “People are afraid of everything in this situation. No one has ever thought of the need to analyze the organizing law. ”

The Kremlin has vehemently rejected any such plan, and military officials have insisted that the army has enough contracted troops to serve in Ukraine. Still, many Russians are skeptical of officials’ denials based on their track record.

“What kind of belief could there be if Putin one day says that the concept will not be sent there … and then the Ministry of Defense admits that they were there?” Tabalov asked.

An existing law allows 21 months of alternative civil service in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities for those who consider military responsibility to be consistent with their beliefs, but military recruitment offices often largely ignore such service requests.

Since the war began, Tabalov said his team has seen a huge increase in inquiries into alternative service laws, which are vaguely phrased and allow military officers to easily reject applications.

“We are concerned that in the current military climate, military recruitment offices may take a tougher stance and reject applications for alternative civil services,” he said.

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