Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Russian Foreign Legion?

Army looks abroad as Russia's youth defy draft

Now why didn't I think of this? Perhaps it was the potential beatings. But I see that no price is too high to pay, for a chance to become a Russian citizen ...
The Russian Army is creating a foreign legion in an attempt to attract overseas recruits to a force that is widely hated and avoided by young Russians. Perhaps the top brass is hoping to evoke something of the romance of the French Foreign Legion, but recruits are coming from former Soviet republics where unemployment is high and poverty rife.

NTV carried footage of two legionnaires, one from Ukraine and one from Central Asia, showing off the neat two-bed room they shared and demonstrating their marksmanship. They seemed happy with the opportunities the army offered compared with life as guest workers in Moscow, where migrants do the dirtiest and riskiest jobs. And there was the promise of Russian citizenship for their service.
By contrast, the army is facing a wave of reluctance and even defiance from Russian youths ahead of the spring draft. Some young men and their families still regard military service as an honour and a mark of manhood but many see conscription as tantamount to a two-year prison sentence. When their sons are only in kindergarten, many Russian mothers are already worrying about how to keep them out of the army when they reach age 18. Rich families pay bribes to get exemptions for their boys while poorer youths dodge the draft as best they can.
Showing some concern for the 124,000 lads who will go into the army this spring, Colonel-General Vasily Smirnov, deputy chief of the General Staff, said that only 54 conscripts, rather than 80 as in the past, would be packed into each of the third-class train wagons which take them to their postings. He added that they would be accompanied by army doctors and they and their families would be allowed to know in advance where they were going. It remains to be seen whether this will win hearts and minds.

"I was upset when my son got his girlfriend pregnant," said one mother, "but then I saw the bright side of the situation." She was referring to the fact that young fathers are exempt from conscription.

"I go everywhere in my car," said one youth, "because I am afraid of being press-ganged on the street."


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