The official decision came late last week, when Defense Ministry officials announced that cadet faculties will be closed in 226 universities by 2009. These departments will have to stop recruiting students as soon as the new academic year kicks off in September.
Cadet faculties were an opportunity for many young men to receive the rank of reserve officers and thereby avoid a compulsory two years in the army.
Young men are increasingly reluctant to serve in the Russian Army, an institution associated with low pay, corruption, and vicious hazing that pushes hundreds to suicide every year. The brutal war in Chechnya also acts as a strong deterrent.
Explaining the decision to reduce the number of cadet faculties, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the army was wasting money training so many reserve officers.
“One hundred and seventy thousand potential officers -- most of whom, as you can guess, are reserve officers who will never go to the army -- study in cadet faculties. Fifty two thousand graduate from these faculties every year. And I am not even talking about the quality of the training there. Out of these 52,000 officers, we call up 6,000 every year for two years. What is the government spending money on, budget money, taxpayers’ money?” Ivanov said.
He said some cadet faculties will remain open and pledged all students would be able to complete their studies.
“This does not mean that all cadet faculties will be closed immediately. We are planning to leave 30, 35 cadet faculties open in the future. The other faculties will finish training the students as reserve officers, after which they will be closed around 2008 or 2009,” Ivanov said.
The decision to close these faculties is widely seen as an attempt to increase draft turnout. It has met strong rebuke from universities and human rights groups.
Vitaly Prokopev is the deputy rector for education at the State University of Yekaterinburg, in the Urals. He rejects Ivanov’s suggestion of a mediocre quality of education being provided in military faculties.
“Our cadet faculty is very popular, not only young men but also young women are eager to enter it. We have a unit where young women study to become army psychologists. This specialty isn’t taught anywhere else in the Urals,” Prokopev said.
The announcement has not yet sparked any protests from students, who are now on summer recess. But the move is likely to make thousands more young men eligible for military service during next winter’s draft period.
Young men might have different reasons to sign up for cadet faculties. But avoiding military service is often an important drive.
A student at a cadet faculty in the Siberian city of Tomsk told RFE/RL’s Russian Service he had no intention of joining the army once he graduates: “To the army? No, not to the army. Something tells me that conditions there are not quite acceptable for service. I think people go to cadet faculties to receive firstly extra knowledge, and secondly the officer’s shoulder-strap. Even if you get called up to the army, it is easier to serve two years as an officer than as a soldier.”
The cash-strapped Russian Army has lost much of its prestige since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, human rights groups regularly denounce the humiliation and vicious hazing first-year conscripts suffer at the hands of elder servicemen.
In May, Russia’s chief military prosecutor said 246 soldiers had taken their lives in 2004 after being abused. Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, a human rights group that protects the rights or conscript-aged men, however puts this figure at 1,050. Hundreds more are beaten to death every year at the hands of other soldiers.