Why Does the Military Draft Still Exist in Countries of the Former Soviet Union?

Every spring, thousands of new recruits join the ranks of the armed forces of independent states that were once part of the USSR, despite the fact that the population pools of young men are small and limited.

Every spring, thousands of new recruits join the ranks of the armed forces of independent states that were once part of the USSR, despite the fact that the population pools of young men are small and limited. At the same time, many former Soviet allies in Europe have transformed their armies, doing away with the draft and turning their armed forces into fully professional forces.

However, most of the former Soviet republics have been unable to completely dismantle the compulsory military service. We analyzed the experiences of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Estonia and found seven reasons why the appeal for a draft-based military exists to this day.

1. Economic feasibility, cheap conscription

Officials say that it is more expensive for the state to pay professionals than it is to train conscripts to handle weapons and then to replace them with others. But these ‘cheap’ soldiers do not make for a real army. For example,

in Georgia,

it is only about every fourth rookie that continues on into the professional military, afterwhich he is likely to work as a guard for about 75 lari ($30) per month. For those who stay on, professional military members earn about 400 dollars a month. At least a military career is considered


in Georgia.

It costs the Georgian government $88 per year to maintain a 37,000 person-strong army per Georgian citizen, according to estimates of the

Stockholm Peace Research Institute.

In comparison, Serbia spends $101 for a similarly-sized army, but the military is fully professional.

2. Expenses for modernization

But it is not merely a question of raising soldiers’ salaries. The State would have to invest in modernizing weapons, more efficiently managing money and, finally, reduce the number of armed forces and then solve the related social problems that would arise as a result. It seems that countries with unstable and volatile economies are simple unable to afford any of this.

So they said in Poland. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the Polish army numbered 450,000 men. Over a quarter of a century, Poland reduced the number of military servicemen fourfold and, by 2010, completely abandoned the draft. At the time of the transition to a professional military, Poland was spending just 1.95% of GDP on its army, but half of the funds,

as media then reported

, went for the maintenance of staff and the payment of pensions. Poland was spending the same amount up until 2014.

On the result of postponing reforms and ineffective management Ziarul de Garda writes in the article

“The Army of Moldova: shady figures and state secrets”

. Moldova is one of the least militarized countries in the region (it spends just 0.4% of GDP for defense – like Luxembourg, according to the World Bank), despite its proximity to the unrecognized Transnistria where a Russian military contingent is located. But the expenditures of the military department are poorly controlled, the fighting capacity of the Moldovan army is declining and people are leaving it.

3. External threat

In the event of a threat from a stronger enemy, a professional army may not be enough to protect the country.

For example, by the beginning of the August War in 2008 in Georgia, the Russian armed forces numbered 1.2 million, while the Georgian armed forces numbered slightly more than 30,000.

Ukraine was also guided by the same arguments. In 2013, she suspended the draft, but in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, returned to this practice and even announced the mobilization of reservists. But although active military operations are taking place on the territory of Ukraine, draftees are not considered to be the backbone of the Ukrainian army.

As Gromadskoye writes in the article

“Three Whales of the Ukrainian Army,”

the General Staff considers the main task of the emergency service to create an efficient reserve and give young people an idea of ​​the army in order to convince them to become professional military men.

The Russian threat in general caused the countries of the region to take a fresh look at the problem. This year, Sweden partially decided to return the draft, which it had priorly ended seven years ago. Lithuania, a member of NATO, did so in 2015. In Latvia, the idea of ​​renewing compulsory military service is also popular, but so far the military service in Latvia remains voluntary, Novaya Gazeta-Baltia writes in a review of the state of the armies of the Baltic states,

“In one rank, stand!”

Nevertheless, a large army does not mean an effective one. The push for military reform in Russia was given by the Georgian campaign of 2008: according to its results, the Russian magazine Vlast writes with reference to the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, it was discovered that of the entire army, only 17% were considered ready.

As a result, Russia accelerated the transition to a professional army and in 2015 the share of contractors for the first time exceeded the number of recruits.

4. Corruption in the army

If the law obliges the entire male population of the country to spend at least a year on “repaying one’s debt to the motherland”, this can not but create ground for abuse.

“Otkos” (desert) from the military service generates corruption mechanisms in the army system, and individuals appear who are financially interested in maintaining this system: the conscript and his parents become a source of bribes for members of the military and medical commissions.

For example, last year a scandal broke out in Russia: a large-scale corruption scheme for evading conscription was revealed at the city level in St. Petersburg.

In an interview with Novaya Gazeta

, Sergei Strilchenko, an expert on the Human Rights Council under President of Russia, said that on average, bribes for false diagnoses amount to 150,000 rubles ($2.6 thousand). In general, “for every appeal the price is new – depending on the dollar rate.”

5. Inertia of the system

The army, like other closed state systems, is generally difficult to reform and resists external control.

This also applies to the professional army: remember the scandal with the American military prison Abu Ghraib in Iraq, which in 2004 became public due to the press.

But in Eastern Europe, public control institutions are not as well developed, the state does not always stand on the side of society. The result? Hazing in the army, the death of soldiers. Tragic cases fall into the statistics of non-combat losses.

The “Caucasian Knot” cites the figures of the Institute of Caspian Military Studies CDSI

: in 2016, when the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh worsened, Azerbaijan lost 147 people, 38 of them in non-combat conditions, Armenia – 165 military (53 non-combat casualties).

Meydan TV in

“The Father of a Soldier”

tells the tragic story of an Azerbaijani conscript who shot commanders and committed suicide. His family does not believe the official version and claims that their son was mocked and humiliated while in the army. An open investigation has yet to be opened for the seventh year in a row.

6. A draft with a “human face”

The pacifist movement of the 1960s and 1970s achieved the appearance of a variant of service in the army for those whose values ​​do not allow them to fight with weapons in their hands.

The alternative gradually became familiar. For example, Germany retained a mandatory draft until 2011, but in recent decades, two-thirds of recruits have opted for alternative service – nurses in hospitals and nursing homes, workers in rescue services. In other words, the government filled the “social” vacancies with soldiers – about 80 thousand a year.

In the post-Soviet space, the “alternative” has still not been easily adopted. In Belarus, the first fifty alternatives appeared only this winter.


became acquainted with one of them – Vyacheslav worked in the hospital, for 10 hours, five days a week. And many people say that it would be better to dig trenches!

7. Flexibility

Even such an out-of-date institution as the draft army is forced to adapt to the challenges of the times.

The daft as the only way to form armed forces is disappearing: even where military conscription works, the armed forces as a whole are formed in a mixed way.

One example from Estonia is interesting: having restored independence in 1991, society agreed that the only way to ensure the security of a small country was to build a defense system involving the majority of citizens, and not just a narrow layer of professional military personnel.

But the military department,

Novaya Gazeta-Baltia writes

, choosing new recruits, takes into account many factors –from the physical form to the personal desire of the future soldier. Each potential draftee can apply to the department of defense resources and say what kind of service and at what age he wants to go.

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