They are 18 years old. At the time of a new season of military conscription in Russia, some say they are ready, even if they have to fight in Ukraine, while others are relieved to have a reprieve or will do everything to obtain one.
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“I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to try to cheat,” said Yevgeny Ptitsyn, a student interviewed by AFP in Saint Petersburg.
In Russia, more than 250,000 men between the ages of 18 and 27 complete their compulsory one-year military service each year. The army conducts two call periods, one in the spring/summer and the other in the fall.
For this spring 2022 appeal, which begins on Friday, President Vladimir Putin has set the goal of sending 134,500 young people to the barracks. The first assignments in units should take place at the end of May.
But military service is relatively unpopular in Russia in the face of fear of violent hazing and the prospect of boring or laborious work.
Many young Russians, often actively helped by their parents, multiply the strategies to escape it by paying bribes to officials, or by obtaining medical exemptions or thanks to their studies.
This year, the anxiety is increased tenfold over the possibility, real or imagined, of being sent to the Ukrainian front.
” I do not want ”
On March 9, the Ministry of Defense admitted that conscripts were fighting in Ukraine and that some had been taken prisoner. But the Russian army assured that these had been sent to the front by mistake and repatriated since.
The Kremlin claims that only professional soldiers and officers, having signed a contract, are currently fighting in Ukraine. “The conscripts are not sent and are not encouraged to participate in the operation,” said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the presidency, on Friday.
But several independent media reported cases of conscripts having been coerced or very strongly encouraged to sign a contract and then sent to the Ukrainian front.
“I don’t want to go to war,” says Vasily Kravtsov, 18, who works in the high-tech sector in Moscow.
The Russian government last week granted a reprieve from military service for employees in this sector, to prevent the brain drain caused by the offensive. A decision that made “very happy” Vassili Kravtsov.
Konstantin Zaikin, 17, has an exemption for health reasons. And anyway, he doesn’t want to “serve in the Russian army and be used by officers for gardening.”
“But I would serve well in the Israeli army, they have real professionals,” continues this young Muscovite.
Even if the Russian troops have become highly professional since the mid-2000s, conscription persists for budgetary reasons, but also cultural in a country that has long cultivated the cult of the army and patriotism.
And in a Russia where criticism of the military offensive in Ukraine is now repressed, presented as a defensive conflict against the Ukrainian “Nazis”, several young Russians met by AFP approve of the Kremlin’s discourse and say they are ready to fight.
“I don’t want to take part in military operations, but if I have to, then I’ll go. We are in a situation where we need people, we are withdrawing at the moment around Kyiv, ”says Semion Petrov, 18, in reference to the withdrawal observed in recent days by Russian forces around the Ukrainian capital.
“I wouldn’t like to do my service but I would be ready to go to war. For ours! “, Launches Sergei Bojenov, 18, while specifying that he is not “callable” for health reasons.
Nikolai Smirnov, 17, does not hesitate for a second. “I want to serve and do my duty. Military operations at the moment do not worry me, I am ready to defend my country. »