It is not yet clear what the purpose of the “experiment” is and whether it heralds a reversal of the dramatic decline in recent years in the number of Daghestanis serving in the Russian armed forces.
Daghestan has the largest population, and one of the highest birthrates, in the North Caucasus.
Every year some 25,000 students graduate from high school. The number of young men eligible for military service this fall was estimated at 40,000, but only some 180 were accepted.
All of them without exception will serve in either the Interior Ministry Internal Troops or the Emergency Situations Ministry Forces, not the Russian Army.
According to Zulfia Magomedova, who heads the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Daghestan, until 2008 some 15,000-20,000 young men from the Caucasus republic were inducted into the armed forces every year. Since then, however, the number has plummeted.
The weekly “Chernovik” reported that in 2011 only 1,010 young Daghestanis were accepted to serve in the Interior Ministry's troops.
At least three different explanations have been offered for that steady decline, none of them mutually exclusive.
Magomedova attributed it primarily to disciplinary problems arising from cultural differences. Even Republic of Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov admitted in an interview he gave to “Izvestia” earlier this month that young Daghestani servicemen are notorious for refusing -- on the grounds that it is “women’s work” -- to comply with orders from their commanding officers to wash the floors of the barracks.
“Chernovik” quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry official as saying that desertion among the Daghestani contingent, especially those stationed in the Russian Far East, is among the highest for any ethnic group.
The Daghestani government official in charge of the draft, Yavnus Djambalayev, cited the reorganization of the army launched in 2008 as a possible reason for the changing situation. Among other things, this restructuring enhanced the role of the "kontraktniki" (professional soldiers) vis-a-vis draftees.
A third factor is that Daghestanis are widely regarded as ideologically unreliable. “Chernovik” quoted an unnamed military official as saying that the top brass are extremely concerned that recruits from Daghestan have recently begun propagating religious extremism among their fellow servicemen. He said that creates a threat to national security.
The paper claims to be in possession of a memorandum banning the induction into the Russian Army of any “citizens of North Caucasian nationalities” -- not just young men from Daghestan. Failure to comply with that directive, the paper said, has led to the dismissal of some senior officers from the Southern Military District.
Despite that purported ban, Regnum reported last month that 18,000 young men from the North Caucasus and Southern Russia Federal Districts would be drafted this fall, compared with 24,000 in the spring draft.
More than 700 of them are from Karachayevo-Cherkessia. That is the North Caucasus republic where the Islamic insurgency is least active, which lends credence to the suggestion by “Chernovik's” unnamed informant that fear of Islamic extremism is one of the factors behind the decision to reduce to a minimum the number of conscripts from Daghestan.
Negative Social Repercussions
In addition to artificially increasing the level of unemployment among high school graduates, barring young Daghestani men from military service has other negative social repercussions.
Magomedova noted that some parents would refuse to allow their daughter to marry a young man who had not performed his military service. “Chernovik” points out that only young men who have served in the armed forces are considered qualified for employment with the Interior Ministry.
President Magomedov told “Izvestia” he had personally asked (the now former) Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to consider raising the quota of draftees from Daghestan from a couple of hundred to 3,000-5,000, but Serdyukov refused.
Magomedov said he hopes Serdyukov’s successor, Sergei Shoigu, will reconsider that refusal. Shoigu is himself a member of an ethnic minority and, as a former longstanding minister of emergency services, he might approve the idea of Daghestanis serving in that ministry’s troops.
The decision to create the special Daghestani Battalion appears, however, to be the result of brainstorming within the upper echelons of the Interior Ministry. According to the weekly “Novoe delo,” Daghestan’s military commissariat was not informed of the decision.
Thousands of Russian Interior Ministry Internal Troops are currently deployed in Daghestan, where they spearhead operations against the Islamic insurgency, incurring casualties at a rate of five to six per week.
The creation of the Daghestani Battalion could herald the future extension to Daghestan of the “Chechenization” strategy applied to Chechnya in the early 2000s.
That strategy entailed transferring responsibility for neutralizing the Chechen forces commanded by Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Aslan Maskhadov from the Russian military to pro-Moscow Chechen units such as the infamous Vostok battalion headed by Hero of Russia Sulim Yamadayev and various security forces loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov.
In other words, it is conceivable that the envisioned experimental Daghestani battalion will be deployed against the insurgency in Daghestan.
While that might make sense militarily, it would only exacerbate the rifts within Daghestani society and thus undermine President Magomedov’s efforts to promote religious and interethnic accord.