Moscow moves toward ending the military draft for North Caucasians . . . Decision to end drafting of non-Russians threatens future of the North Caucasus

Russia Begins to Fear Conscripts from the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 13 Issue: 14
July 6, 2012
By: Mairbek Vatchagaev

The Russian military does not want to deal with military conscripts from the North Caucasus region and has placed them outside the constitution of the Russian Federation. By applying these exclusionary practices to the North Caucasians, the Russian government is taking yet another step toward rendering the North Caucasus as a region with a special status within the Russian Federation.

Multiple scandals in the Russian military forces involving North Caucasians have caused a backlash in Russian society. An ethnic-based North Caucasian diaspora was built up in the army since the Soviet period. The Dagestani, Ingush, Ossetian, Circassian and other North Caucasian conscripts usually formed ethnic-based groups within their military units and also shared an overarching identity as North Caucasians ( The North Caucasian mountaineers invariably included ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus in their informal associations, considering them their full compatriots, unlike ethnic Russians from the rest of Russia. An utter disregard for the traditional Soviet and then Russian army system of hazing has been the hallmark of the North Caucasian informal associations. Dedovshchina, the informal system of superiority of the senior conscripts over the junior ones, has been the norm throughout the military forces, first in the Soviet Union and then in Russia. Conflicts between the North Caucasians who defied dedovshchina and ethnic Russians from other Russian regions resulted in thousands of criminal cases being opened inside the army every year ( It can be safely assumed that many other hazing cases did not make it to the courts, since commanders usually try to cover them up.

Twice a year, during the summer and fall military draft periods, Russians start to have lively discussions about conscripts from the North Caucasus. After the unsuccessful attempt to draft Chechens into the army in 2000-2001, Moscow officially refused to take Chechen conscripts, although Chechens are still drafted for military service in Chechen units on the territory of the republic itself. In 2007, when Russian officials announced plans to draft Chechens into the Russian military, protests by mothers concerned about the possible persecution of their children by Russian officers who had fought in Chechnya forced Moscow to abandon its plans. This practice of not drafting Chechens to serve in parts of Russia outside of Chechnya has been going on for ten years now, although the Chechen authorities have tried to convince Moscow to draft Chechens on the same basis as all other Russian citizens. Yet, Russian authorities do not want to risk this, given that Chechens have staged riots, demanding prayer rooms, the banning of pork and so on ( Chechens account for some 7,000 potential conscripts each year and have the lowest percentage of men unfit for military service. Experts point out that refusing to draft Chechens is a political decision taken by the country’s political leadership (
The same situation now exists in Dagestan. The Chelyabinsk draft commission unintentionally revealed Moscow’s plans for the draft in Dagestan, which were apparently not supposed to be made public ( The exclusionary rules for drafting conscripts apply only to mountaineers: in Dagestan, for instance, 121 people were drafted in the spring of 2012, but they were Slavs living in the republic ( “Young men from the North Caucasus will not be recruited in 2012 because of the fight against dedovshchina and region-based hazing,” a top Russian Defense Ministry official told RIA Novosti on June 18 ( Even the Russian President’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, could not hold back his emotions and, reacting to the Defense Ministry’s decision, denigrated the North Caucasians, saying they “did not perceive themselves with shovels in their hands” ( In other words, Khloponin hinted that the Russian army had become an arena for North Caucasians to settle scores with the Russians, using the ethnicity-based groups they organize as soon as they arrive in the army.
Thus, following in Chechnya’s footsteps, Dagestan also has been excluded from the system of Russian military conscript service. In all, 156,000 conscripts should have been drafted into the Russian military in the spring of 2012, but only 132,000 were presumably conscripted ( Referring to the military draft figures, the republican leadership said that Dagestan could supply 10,000 men ( According to the preliminary plan, 3,320 people should have been drafted from Dagestan in the spring (, but instead only ethnic Russians living in Dagestan were drafted. The original Dagestani draft figures were about the same as those for the city of St. Petersburg (

Some Russian experts maintain that excluding Dagestanis from military service will be beneficial to the Russian army because the Dagestanis have been habitually rebellious, sometimes imposing control over whole regiments ( At the same time, the Russian authorities’ distrust of Dagestan has increased because of the precarious security situation and the increase in the number rebel attacks over the past several years. Today, people in Dagestan joke that, thanks to the abolition of the draft into the Russian army, the rebel Caucasus Emirate army has been able to increase its recruits ( In all likelihood there may be an element of truth to this joke. At a time when Russia’s demographic growth faces rapid decline, the manpower pool for the insurgents is increasing, and Moscow is deliberately shunning this valuable source of recruits.

It should be mentioned that abolishing the military draft is not meant to encompass all of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasus at the moment, but only Chechens and Dagestanis. However, there appear to be plans to drop drafting men from all North Caucasian indigenous groups ( Undoubtedly Russian authorities will eventually stop drafting all North Caucasians because the North Caucasian mountaineers simply cause too many problems in the Russian army. There is an element of a cultural clash that exists between Russian recruits from remote parts of Russia and the North Caucasians – what is an ordinary feature of life for a resident of central Russia is unusual or at times even offensive to a resident of the North Caucasus. Thus, the number of military conscripts from North Ossetia also experienced a significant decline in the last several years, plunging from 2,700 persons in 2009 to only 700 in 2011 ( Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea are also among the regions with decreasing military draft figures. The combination of all these factors has led to a situation in which solely Russian conscripts are again being sent to serve in the conflict areas in the country – namely, the North Caucasus (


Ending of Draft in North Caucasus Threatens Moscow’s Control of Russian Federation

By: Paul Goble

The Kremlin’s decision to stop drafting young non-Russian men from the republics of the North Caucasus threatens Moscow’s control both of that region and of the Russian Federation as a whole (see EDM June 27; RIA Novosti, June 25). This move simultaneously highlights and exacerbates the demographic situation of the current ethnic Russian majority and the costly consequences of the imperial nature of Vladimir Putin’s approach to governance. As a result, this latest action, which has so far has attracted relatively little attention in the West, may prove as fateful as were Nicholas II’s decision to end the draft exemption for Central Asians in 1916 or Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s imposition of an ethnic Russian in place of an ethnic Kazakh in Kazakhstan in December 1986.

This possibility – that radical change may come from what at first glance appears to be a relatively small step – becomes clearer if one considers the wider impact of this decision: first in the North Caucasus itself, then in the other republics and regions of the Russian Federation, and finally, and perhaps most importantly, among ethnic Russians and the leaders of predominantly ethnic Russian opposition groups in Moscow.

In the North Caucasus, this decision will not win Moscow more friends. The elimination of the draft there may prevent the radicalization of North Caucasians in the Russian military through dedovshchina (systemic hazing of junior recruits by senior ones). But much more significantly, this step will also highlight the anti-Caucasus attitudes of the Moscow elite and the imperial nature of the Russian state and its force structures. And what may prove most important of all, it will convince many in the republics of the North Caucasus that Moscow is now on the defensive and will make even more concessions if nationalists, both in the local republic governments and in the mountains, continue to resist.

Among non-Russians elsewhere in the Russian Federation, Moscow’s latest decision sends exactly the opposite message the center clearly hopes. Non-Russians in other republics are certain to ask why their sons should be drafted when their coequals from the North Caucasus are not. And such questioning will only intensify if, as seems likely, the ethnic fault line of dedovshchina clashes in the military changes. Up to now, those intra-service clashes have often been between ethnic Russians and non-Russians from the North Caucasus. In the future and in the absence of the latter groups, such violence is likely to involve ethnic Russians fighting with other non-Russians. This will be increasingly likely because the, all too public, use of ethnicity as the basis of the draft will encourage ethnic Russians in the force structures to assume that it is their right to be predominant. Both factors will re-ignite nationalist groups in many places.

But the greatest and most explosive impact of this decision about the draft in the North Caucasus is certain to be on the Russian Federation’s ethnic Russian majority. The relative share of ethnic Russians in the population has been falling – and far more than the falsified censuses of 2002 and 2010 show. Therefore, for at least three years now, Moscow has been drafting a greater share of young men in predominantly ethnic Russian regions than in largely non-Russian regions in order to keep the percentage of ethnic Russians in the force structures higher. By eliminating the draft in the non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus, Moscow will have even more difficulty meeting draft quotas than it has in the past and will have to draft far more heavily in predominantly ethnic Russian regions than it has in the past.

Just how much more heavily, of course, remains uncertain given the lack of reliable census data. But because predominantly Russian regions will have to make up an estimated 20,000 draftees from the North Caucasus (see EDM July 6), the increase in draft quotas there next year is likely to approach 20 percent. Ever more Russians are going to object to paying this all too human “tax,” especially if non-Russians of the North Caucasus do not have to. Furthermore, Moscow is already sending far more per capita aid to buy the loyalty of that restive region than it is providing to other hard-pressed ethnic Russian regions. Such attitudes have informed the slogans of the political opposition to the Putin regime. And this decision to drop the draft for non-Russian North Caucasians will fuel the energy and urgency of suggestions that Russia would be better off if it let the North Caucasus go (see EDM January 23).

Given all this, one might expect Putin to reverse course and to restore the draft in the North Caucasus sometime soon. But there are three reasons why that reasonable step is unlikely. First, any re-imposition of the draft there in the future could lead to explosion in the North Caucasus. Second, ethnic conflicts in the military would intensify, military efficiency decline, and the Russian generals would be furious with Putin. And third, all of Putin’s past history suggests he would view such as reversal as a manifestation of weakness. Consequently, the Russian President is likely to redouble his bets, continuing his authoritarian agenda and promoting a statist Russian nationalism. But instead of solving the problems that Moscow now faces, such an approach will ultimately propel the Putin regime into a spiral from which it is as unlikely as its Tsarist and Soviet predecessors to escape unscathed.


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