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Conscription inane

Russia is creating an integrated database of all people liable for military service. However, corrupt draft officers will make it non-operational

Georgy Aleksandrov, exclusively for Novaya Gazeta. Europe

Photo: Stringer / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Vladimir Putin recently signed a decree which aims to create a state register containing and updating data on military service records of all Russia’s citizens. Simply put, Putin has ordered to create a database of all Russians registered with military authorities, listing all available information on each individual. 

The database is to be jointly created by the country’s Ministries of Defence and Digital Development, as well as the Federal Tax Service. Moreover, the list of agencies required to provide information on people includes the Interior Ministry, Healthcare Ministry, Emergency Ministry, Education Ministry, Ministry of Science and Higher Education, Sports Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Federal Bailiffs Service, the Central Election Commission, the Pension Fund, the National Guard, and other authorities. 

Novaya-Europe’s sources believe that such a decision is long overdue, but there is doubt whether it will actually be implemented.

“Conscription offices are one of the few things that lacked any reform in the past 20 or 30 years,” Sergey Krivenko, the chairman of a human rights group called Citizen. Army. Law tells Novaya-Europe. “All personal records of conscripts are still on paper only. There are some disjointed lists and fragmentary databases which have not been updated for years. The mobilisation has shown that this domain is a complete mess. So, the bosses reacted to it and ordered that all data should be compiled into a single database. Besides, should there be a major war against NATO, they would need to have complete info on everyone who can be mobilised.”

Krivenko believes that the Defence Ministry officials simply did not need an integrated database of this kind in the past as nobody thought such a mobilisation would ever be declared until recently.

A turn to a major war happened not so long ago, and a pretty broad selection of young men was available during each conscription window before.

“Doing shady business is much more beneficial from a corrupt point of view,” the human rights activist explains. “You can take bribes both from those willing to be conscripted and those who are not. The management procedures are downright terrible in draft offices; they lack workers. It’s not enough to simply create an integrated database as it needs to be regularly updated. There are computers in those offices, but they need to be connected via networks, have necessary programmes designed, have access granted to workers, and so on.”

Creating such a resource will, of course, slightly improve the mobilisation system and help the authorities search people liable for military service more easily, but such an improvement will not make this system automatic.

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Even if a database of this kind is created and brought into operation, corruption will still remain, Krivenko believes, as there will always be tricks and ways to cheat the system.

“The bribe thing is still being discussed, so to say. The military prosecution has failed to bust the bribe takers, although there were numerous campaigns against certain draft officers. I suppose that the introduction of the new strict measures will simply result in bribe amounts increasing. This looks more like yet another bluster. They will create a lame system of some sort and keep catching people out in the street as they always do.”

Other people we’ve spoken to also believe that a record-management of the people liable for military service is mostly not a real thing.

“The military records of conscripts and mobilised people are empty these days. Those actually need to contain all info on each given individual,” Valentina Melnikova, a secretary for the Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia organisation tells Novaya-Europe. “This is why people with severe conditions are being conscripted in our country. There are no papers on diseases in military records. It would be a right thing to create a profile on the Defence Ministry website for each person liable for military service where everyone could attach the necessary documents. The mobilisation department of the Defence Ministry considers people a flock of sheep. There is zero chance they would care about some sort of personal records. Corruption was thriving during conscription windows before, and now there’s mobilisation.”

Since 1990, the committees of soldiers’ mothers have demanded that a computerised military records database be set up, Melnikova says. Yevgeny Burdinsky, the head of the Main Mobilisation Department at the General Staff promised last year that a database in question would be created.

“But it’s disadvantageous for them,” Melnikova says. “If a draft officer doesn’t fulfil a quota, he won’t get a salary bonus. Why were there no medical examinations during the mobilisation? It’s as simple as that: if you don’t want to serve, pay some money, and your papers will be given consideration.

This is how things are, how they were, and it seems like it’s going to stay this way, which is why I doubt that a database will actually work. They will use other methods just like the always do, such as raids.”

Mobilisation requires selection using various filters, such as military specialty, age, and other parameters, Melniklova says. An integrated register would allow for such selection. For instance, ten times more people liable for military service are being called up for medical examinations during conscription spells than required these days. In theory, by the next conscription window, the draft officers will be obliged to create lists of individuals and work personally with each of them. However, it’s the number of people that really matters.

“They will keep drafting people the old-fashioned way,” Melnikova says with certainty. “There will be no complete register, I believe. I bet it, actually. At least all mobilisation department employees will fight to death against such a database.”

Military people also doubt that Putin’s decree can actually be implemented. The decree says that the highest officials of all Russia’s regions, as well as those of the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Digital Development must ensure that all military records be transferred into digital format by 30 December 2022.

“It’s almost impossible to do this,” an officer for the Defence Ministry explains to Novaya-Europe on condition of anonymity. “There is no equipment, no employees, and no time: the conscription spell started right after the mobilisation ended. We’re certainly not going to make it on time. It is most likely that a lot of money allocated to create the database will be stolen, and the rest of the money would be enough to create some kind of a database that could be demonstrated to the top brass. The bosses are bad at computers anyway. So, they will be content.”

The database that is being created will not contain data on many of the Russians anyway, the officer believes. Dozens of millions of Russian men live away from the addresses they are registered with and are formally unemployed. Mobilising those would be the most difficult challenge possible. So, the military will draft people the same old way: in underground stations and city squares.

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