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Putin Decree Enables Foreigners To Serve In Russian Military

  • RFE/RL

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree enabling foreign nationals to serve in the Russian military.

The January 2 decree allows foreigners aged 18-30 to sign up for five-year service contracts with the Russian armed forces, Interior Ministry troops, or the state firefighting service.

The foreign nationals are eligible only if they speak Russian and have no criminal record.

Military analysts said that until now, foreign nationals had to receive Russian citizenship or special documentation in order to serve in the Russian military.

Most foreign soldiers currently serve on their home territory outside of Russia.

Russia has large military bases in Armenia and Tajikistan and a military presence in other parts of the former Soviet Union, including Transdniester in Moldova and the Moscow-backed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.

The decree, however, suggests that foreign soldiers may now be sent abroad in "wartime" situations.

"Military members who are foreign citizens can participate in tasks related to military situations and also during armed conflicts," the decree reads, adding that such measures are in accordance with Russian and international law.

The decree does not appear to be directly tied to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow denies it has sent troops to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists.

Analysts say the decree is part of efforts by the Kremlin to professionalize its armed forces -- moving away from the all-conscript army of the Soviet era -- and expand its influence in Central Asia as U.S.-led forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports that hundreds of Tajiks already serve with Russian forces patrolling the country's border with Afghanistan.

The Russian military may be looking to increase the percentage of local soldiers serving in places like Tajikistan to spare the expense of sending Russian contract soldiers there.

The average monthly salary for contract soldiers is $500, a considerable sum in most regions of the former Soviet Union.

A young Tajik man speaking to RFE/RL in Dushanbe said paid service in the Russian Army was a preferable alternative to working in Russia as a labor migrant, as tens of thousands of Central Asians do each year.

Others, however, said they would only serve in their own national army.

The issue of foreign fighters has been frequently raised in Russia.

A draft decree permitting foreign soldiers was posted on the Defense Ministry website in 2010, when Dmitry Medvedev was president, but never signed.

In April 2014 -- just weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula -- the leader of Russia's Federation of Migrants asked Putin to allow labor migrants to serve in the Russian Army.

The federation head, Mohammad Amin Majumder, said some 100,000 migrants were ready "to defend Russia's interests anywhere in the world."

The move was seen as an attempt to attain Russian citizenship for migrants who live in Russia without social and legal protection.

With reporting by the BBC and