Conscription in Russia

Conscription in Russia (in Russia is known as Russian: всеобщая воинская обязанность or "universal military obligation" or "liability for military service") is a 12-month draft, mandatory for all male citizens age 18–27, with a number of exceptions. The mandatory term of service was reduced from two years in 2007-2008.[1][2] Avoiding draft is felony under Russian criminal code and punishable by up to 2 years of imprisonment.[3]


Russian Empire and earlier times

Prior to Peter I, the bulk of the military was formed from the nobility and people who owned land on condition of service. During wars additional recruiting of volunteers and ordinary citizens was common. Peter I introduced a regular army consisting of the nobility and recruits, including conscripts. The conscripts to the Imperial Russian Army were called "recruits" in Russia (not to be confused with voluntary recruitment, which did not appear until the early 20th century).[4] The system was called "recruit obligation" (Russian: рекрутская повинность).

Russian tsars before Peter maintained professional hereditary musketeer corps (streltsy in Russian) that were highly unreliable and undisciplined. In times of war the armed forces were augmented by peasants. Peter I formed the Imperial Russian Army built on the German model, but with a new aspect: officers not necessarily from nobility, as talented commoners were given promotions that eventually included a noble title at the attainment of an officer's rank. Conscription of peasants and townspeople was based on quota system, per settlement. Initially it was based on the number of households, later it was based on the population numbers.[4]

The term of service in the 18th century was for life. In 1793 it was reduced to 25 years. In 1834 it was reduced to 20 years plus 5 years in reserve and in 1855 to 12 years plus 3 years of reserve.[4]

After the Russian defeat in the Crimean War during the reign of Alexander II, the Minister of War Dmitry Milyutin introduced military reforms, with an initial draft presented in 1862. On January 1, 1874 , a statute concerning conscription was approved by the Tsar by which military service was made compulsory for all males at the age of 20. The term of actual service was reduced for the land army to 6 years followed by 9 years in the reserve. This measure created a large pool of military reservists ready to be mobilized in the event of war, while permitting the maintenance of a smaller active army during peacetime. Most naval conscripts had an obligation for 7 years service, reflecting the more extended period required for technical training.

Immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, the Imperial Government imposed compulsory service of three years for entrants to infantry and artillery regiments and four years for cavalry and engineers.[5] After completing this initial period of full-time service, conscripts passed into the first class reserves for seven years. Final obligation for compulsory service ended at age 43, after eight years in the second reserves.

The large population numbers available permitted military service ce exemptions on a larger scale than in other European armies of the period. Muslims, Finns and members of other minorities were generally exempted from conscription, as were about half of the Russian Christian population. Only sons were not normally required to serve.

Early Soviet Russia and Soviet Union

The first all-union conscription law of 1925 was tailored for the mixed cadre-militia structure of the peacetime Red Army after the Civil War. Draft-age was 21 years. Terms of service varied between one year in territorial formations and 2 to 4 years in the cadre army. Only "workers and peasants" were seen worthy to serve in combat units. Men of other social background were restricted to rear or labor services or had to pay a military tax.

The 1936 Soviet Constitution declared the military service "holy duty" of all male Soviet citizens. Any reservations regarding social or national background were dropped. 1939 service law was promulgated with a lowered call-up age of 19 years. The Red army had adopted a full-cadre structure in the course of the 1930s.

During the Great Patriotic War (World War II) all able-bodied men of ages 18–51 were subject to draft with the exception of specialists declared vitally necessary in industry, which was revamped for military/defense production.

Post-World War II demobilisation of the Soviet Armed Forces was completed in 1948. According to the 1949 service law, service terms were 3 years in ground forces and 4 years in the navy.

Late Soviet Union

The late Soviet Armed Forces were manned by mandatory draft (with some exceptions) for all able-bodied males for 2 years (3 years for seagoing parts of the Navy and Border troops), based on the 1967 Law on Universal Military Service.[6] A bi-annual call-up in spring and autumn was introduced then, replacing the annual draft in fall. The conscripts were normally sent to serve far away from their place of residence.

Men were subject to draft at the age of 18. The draft could be postponed due to continued education. Since the early 1980s Soviet Union had the mandatory student draft[7] until it was abolished in the spring of 1989.[8] Students were drafted for two or three year military service typically from the middle of the second or the third year of college.

Most universities had an obligatory Military Chair which were in charge of military training of all able-bodied male students to become reserve officers of a particular military specialty depending on the university.

Modern Russian Federation

The two-year conscription term in force since 1967 continued until in 2006, the Russian government and Duma gradually reduced the term of service to 18 months for those who will be conscripted in 2007 and to one year from 2008 and dropped some legal excuses for non-conscription from the law (such as non-conscription of rural doctors and teachers, of men who have a child younger than 3 years, etc.) from 1 January 2008. Also full-time students who graduated from civil university and had military education were free from conscription from 1 January 2008.

See also


  1. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  2. ^ Army time cut to one year Russia Today Retrieved on April 28, 2008 Archived April 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Статья 328 УК РФ. Уклонение от прохождения военной и альтернативной гражданской службы". Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  4. ^ a b c Jerome Blum (1971) "Lord and Peasant in Russia: From the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century", ISBN 0-691-00764-0, pp. 465,466
  5. ^ Cornish, Nik. The Russian Army 1914-18. p. 11. ISBN 1-84176-303-9.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-12-16. Retrieved 2018-10-31.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Steven W. Popper. "The Economic Cost of Soviet Military Manpower Requirements" (PDF). United States Air Force. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  8. ^ "Soviets halting student military draft". Retrieved 2018-12-26.

Further reading

  • "Russian Military Complains About 'Low Quality' of Recruits as Spring Draft Begins." Associated Press. April 1, 2005. (Via Levis-Nexis).

External links


Conscription, sometimes called the draft, is the compulsory enlistment of people in a national service, most often a military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names. The modern system of near-universal national conscription for young men dates to the French Revolution in the 1790s, where it became the basis of a very large and powerful military. Most European nations later copied the system in peacetime, so that men at a certain age would serve 1–8 years on active duty and then transfer to the reserve force.

Conscription is controversial for a range of reasons, including conscientious objection to military engagements on religious or philosophical grounds; political objection, for example to service for a disliked government or unpopular war; and ideological objection, for example, to a perceived violation of individual rights. Those conscripted may evade service, sometimes by leaving the country, and seeking asylum in another country. Some selection systems accommodate these attitudes by providing alternative service outside combat-operations roles or even outside the military, such as 'Siviilipalvelus' (alternative civil service) in Finland, Zivildienst (compulsory community service) in Austria and Switzerland. Many post-Soviet countries conscript male soldiers not only for armed forces but also for paramilitary organizations which are dedicated to police-like domestic only service (Internal Troops) or non-combat rescue duties (Civil defence troops) – none of which is considered alternative to the military conscription.

As of the early 21st century, many states no longer conscript soldiers, relying instead upon professional militaries with volunteers enlisted to meet the demand for troops. The ability to rely on such an arrangement, however, presupposes some degree of predictability with regard to both war-fighting requirements and the scope of hostilities. Many states that have abolished conscription therefore still reserve the power to resume it during wartime or times of crisis. States involved in wars or interstate rivalries are most likely to implement conscription, whereas democracies are less likely than autocracies to implement conscription. Former British colonies are less likely to have conscription, as they are influenced by British anticonscription norms that can be traced back to the English Civil War.

Conscription in the Russian Empire

Conscription in the Russian Empire was introduced by Peter I of Russia. The system was called "conscript obligation" (Russian: рекрутская повинность).


Dedovshchina (Russian: дедовщи́на, IPA: [dʲɪdɐˈfɕːinə]; lit. reign of grandfathers) is the informal practice of initiation (hazing) and constant bullying of junior conscripts during their service, formerly to the Soviet Armed Forces and today to the Russian armed forces, Internal Troops, and (to a much lesser extent) FSB Border Guards, as well as the military forces of certain former Soviet Republics. It consists of brutalization by more senior conscripts serving their last year of compulsory military service as well as NCOs and officers.

Dedovshchina encompasses a variety of subordinating or humiliating activities undertaken by the junior ranks: from doing the chores of the senior ranks to violent and sometimes lethal physical and psychological abuse, not unlike an extremely vicious form of bullying or even torture, including sexual torture and rape (cases of forcingably sticking bottles of glass or metal objects inside of one's anus are common). When not leaving army seriously injured, conscripts can suffer serious psychopathology for their life time. It is often cited as a major source of poor morale in the ranks.

Often with the justification of maintaining authority, physical violence or psychological abuse can be used to make the “youth” do certain fatiguing duties. In many situations, hazing is in fact not the goal. Conscripts with seniority exploit their juniors to provide themselves with a more comfortable existence, and the violent aspects arise when juniors refuse to "follow traditions". There have been occasions where soldiers have been seriously injured, or, in extraordinary situations, killed.

Forestry service (Russia)

The forestry service was a form of alternative service offered to German speaking Mennonites in lieu of military service in Russia from 1881 to 1918. At its peak during World War I, 7,000 men served in forestry and agricultural pest control in Ukraine and South Russia. The program ended in the anarchy of the Russian Revolution.

Fyodor Geyden

Count Fyodor Logginovich Geyden (Russian: Фёдор Логгинович Ге́йден; Born Friedrich Moritz Reichsgrafvan Heyden; 15 September [O.S. 3] 1821 – 18 January [O.S. 6] 1900) was a Russian military commander of Dutch extraction, who served in the Imperial Russian Army. He served as the Governor-General of Finland 1881–1898. Geyden's 17-year office in the Grand Duchy of Finland encompassed the entire reign of Alexander III of Russia, who appointed him at the start of his own reign, to succeed the courtly and diplomatic Count Nikolay Adlerberg), and four first years of reign of Nicholas II of Russia.

Imperial Russian Army

The Imperial Russian Army (Russian: Ру́сская импера́торская а́рмия, tr. Rússkaya imperátorskaya ármiya) was the land armed force of the Russian Empire, active from around 1721 to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In the early 1850s, the Russian army consisted of more than 900,000 regular soldiers and nearly 250,000 irregulars (mostly Cossacks).

The last living veteran of the Russian Imperial Army was Ukrainian supercentenarian Mikhail Krichevsky, who died in 2008.

NKVD labor columns

In the Soviet Union of World War II, NKVD labor columns (Russian: рабочие колонны НКВД) were militarized labor formations created from certain categories of population, both fully rightful Soviet citizens, as well as categories of limited civil rights. They were primarily from the people of ethnicities associated with the countries that fought against the Soviet Union. The vast majority of them were ethnic Germans. In later literature these formations were informally referred to as "labor army", in an analogy with Soviet Labor armies of 1920-1921, although this term was not used in official Soviet documents in reference to 1941-1946.

Although persons of these categories were not permitted to serve in the Soviet Army, members of the labor columns were considered to be conscripted for military duty.

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