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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Russian Federation

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Russian Federation, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 143.2 million (28.8 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 1,027,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18 (16 at military education institutes)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 15 February 2001
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

Boys aged 15 or 16 had to undergo basic military training in their final year at school. Some orphans and other children deprived of parental care were "adopted" by military units, lived in military barracks and received military training in school. Boys and girls studying at Military Educational Institutes from the age of 16 were regarded as being on military service. Under-18s were reportedly recruited into opposition separatist forces in the Chechen Republic and other parts of the north Caucasus.


The Russian Federation remained committed to the introduction of a non-conscript army in a revised Military Doctrine published by the Ministry of Defence in March 2007.1 However, only a fraction of recruits met medical requirements in 2006, and increasing instability in the north Caucasus led many non-conscript soldiers to cancel their contracts.2 One of the aims of a five-year Military – Patriotic Education Program announced in 2005 was to increase "patriotic awareness" and improve defence capability.3

Armed men thought to be Chechen separatists seized a school in Beslan, north Ossetia, in 2004 and scores of children died in the ensuing violence. By the end of 2006 the number of federal troops in Chechnya was cut from 80,000 to around 35,000.4 Some repairs to social infrastructure took place, but violence remained an everyday occurrence in Chechnya and elsewhere in the north Caucasus. Hostage-taking, enforced disappearances and torture continued – sometimes involving children.5 Some journalists and activists monitoring the situation were killed or suffered reprisals.6 In 2007 the number of federal troops deployed in Chechnya was said to have risen again.7

The Russian Federation was a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), established in June 2001, comprising also China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, whose goals included mutual co-operation in security matters.8


National recruitment legislation and practice

Conscription remained a universal obligation for men aged 18-27, and for women with a military proficiency qualification.9

In 2006 the government introduced an amendment to the Law on Military Obligations and Military Service to shorten the duration of military service. In 2007 the length of service was cut from 24 months to 18, and to one year for conscripts with a higher education. In 2008 all conscripts, regardless of educational background, would do one year's service. The law cancelled occupational deferrals and repealed provisions for the drafting of reservists.10

Alternative service for conscientious objectors remained at 1.75 times the length of conscription, 1.5 times for those willing to do civilian jobs in the military.

The logistics of conscription were basically unchanged. Military registers throughout the country enrolled all 17-year-olds. Under the Law on Military Obligations and Military Service, active duty for conscripts began when they were 18 (Articles 8 and 22). Conscientious objectors had to apply for alternative service at the earliest stage of the conscription process, when they were only 16 or 17.11 Later requests were inadmissible.

A new requirement was that prior to enrolment boys had to undergo training in the basics of military service in their final year at school, when they were 15 or 16 (Article 13). Sixteen-year-olds who had already left school were supposed to attend training sessions at centres in their neighbourhood.

Under the Law on Contractual Military Service, military service contracts were open to volunteers from the age of 18, including non-citizens (Article 34). Candidates had to have completed at least one year's study at a Military Educational Institute that offered professional training in military subjects to boys and girls from the age of 16. Students at these institutes were regarded as being on military service (Article 35). Each day of training counted as two days of conscription.

It was not known if conscripts or contract soldiers received training in the Russian Federation's international human rights obligations.

A large shortfall in conscription numbers was reported each year. In July 2006 the Deputy Defence Minister said in relation to the last call-up: "Instead of the traditional celebration of the military draft as an honourable constitutional duty, Russian men had to be forcibly escorted to the barracks by police".12 Several reasons were suggested for the shortfall. In the first quarter of 2006 only five per cent of recruits in Moscow met the medical requirements for call-up, according to the official newspaper of parliament (Duma). Others were reported to be barely literate.13 Yet more evaded call-up because they feared bullying from older soldiers.14

In November 2006 the UN Committee against Torture said that the Russian Federation should adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards dedovshchina (also known as hazing) in the military – the systematic physical and psychological abuse and humiliation of new recruits by longer-serving or senior soldiers which sometimes involved acts of considerable violence.15 Some Russian human rights organizations saw the new measures to improve officers' professionalism (see below) as a step towards this goal.

Reports of hazing in the armed forces were commonplace from almost every military district. The case of 19-year-old Andrey Sychev attracted bitter controversy in 2006. One of eight new recruits in Chelyabinsk who were severely beaten by senior officers, he was gang-raped for several hours and then forced to hold a crouching position for several more hours, resulting in injuries that required amputation of his genitals and legs.16 The alleged culprits were, unusually, brought to trial, and in September 2006 were sentenced to prison terms.17

Military training and military schools

Legal amendments in July 2006 were aimed at improving the professionalism of officers. They provided for the introduction of military training centres in civilian higher-education establishments and of new rules for existing military departments in such institutions. Full-time students could enlist free of charge in a military training centre but had to give a commitment to undertake a three-year military service contract on graduation. If they failed to do the service, they had to refund their tuition costs and be conscripted.18 By 2003 nearly half the 1,304 higher-education institutions were private, following the ending of the state monopoly of education.19 The government was the only body entitled to establish institutions for professional military education,20 but it could teach in civilian educational institutions if it had the consent of students and parents, and at Ministry of Defence cost.21

The Law on Military Obligations and Military Service provided for state-run military education establishments for boys (Article 19). Suvorov military colleges, Nakhimov naval-military colleges and musical military colleges for orchestra players provided a general education with extra military options for boys aged 7-16. They prepared pupils for entry to Military Education Institutes and a life in the military. Cadet Schools provided boys of 12-15 with vocational training for jobs in specific branches of the armed forces.22

Entry to these institutions was competitive, but automatic for applicants who were orphans or children otherwise deprived of parental care. Cadet School was regarded as beneficial for these children because it guaranteed them a social context and later a job. There appeared to be no procedure for finding out if a child genuinely wanted to attend Cadet School or for an informed adult to represent his best interests. There was also no legal means for reversing the decision to attend Cadet School or the undertaking to do vocational military work on graduation. Cadet Schools offered a very limited curriculum, hard physical drill, little relaxation and military discipline from an early age.

Monitoring of pupils' welfare was entrusted to unspecified local authorities.23 However, such authorities had an interest in cutting costs and concealing problems. The governor of Irkutsk, for example, set up a Cadet School for 12-year-old boys who wanted to become officers, on condition they were from local children's homes. A local strategic rocket base agreed to guarantee jobs for the graduates. The first year, 23 boys aged 13-15 from orphanages or shelters for the homeless joined. The local authority paid 12 per cent of Cadet Corps costs and the Ministry of Defence the rest, rejecting on financial grounds the original plan to house the children in civilian premises. The boys lived in barracks, studied Russian and mathematics six days a week, and did two hours' parade drill daily. By 2007 nearly half the military districts had Cadet Corps and publicized them on a website.24

Leningrad Military District had revived a Tsarist tradition of "adopting" as "sons of the regiment" 12 boys deprived of parental care. The boys were subject to military discipline. Punishments included working in the kitchen, sweeping the grounds and extra guard duty. For more serious infractions days off could be cancelled, and boys who failed an end-of-year exam had leave withdrawn. The boys' day began at 6.30 a.m. and ended with marching and singing. In between, according to one woman officer, they were shooting, riding, learning English and "constantly digging holes". Every child had an automatic weapon which they had to learn to clean. All day they were accompanied by an officer who at night time slept in their quarters in a separate building. One 12-year-old orphan was separated from his only living relative – his brother – and was too far away to see him at weekends after he was taken to live with the regiment of the Leningrad Military District. His brother was brought to the regiment when space became available a year later. It was not known if this was voluntary.25

Armed Groups:

The Law on Defence states: "The creation and existence of other military formations or arms and military technology, in which military service is foreseen, is not envisaged by Federal laws and is forbidden and punishable by law."26 In practice numerous armed groups continued to operate in Chechnya and the north Caucasus. They included groups closely linked to the security forces and a range of non-state groups.

Government-linked armed groups in Chechnya

By 2006 power structures in Chechnya were said to have been significantly "Chechenized", following elections in the republic and the withdrawal of many federal troops. Such structures included the republic's Ministry of Internal Affairs, which had responsibility for policing and security. In practice this meant that some armed groups controlled by separatist fighters were absorbed wholesale into the official security forces without preliminary screening or retraining. Human rights monitors said that "anti-terror operations" now resembled a vendetta between clans.27

There were credible reports that a parallel system of secret detention centres operated in the republic.28 Four of them were linked to Ramzan Kadyrov, appointed Chechen president by President Vladimir Putin in 2007. They included centres run by a regiment that guarded oil and other economic installations, "anti-terrorist centres", and two prisons in private houses. Other detention centres were run by two federal armed battalions and by special units of the Federal Security Service.29 Reports of torture at these detention centres, and the enforced disappearance of civilians arrested by armed unidentified masked men, were rife. In some cases civilians were taken hostage and executed by unidentified forces. Increasingly, these episodes spilled over into other republics of the north Caucasus, most recently Kabardino-Balkar in 2005 and Karachaevo-Cherkessk in 2006.30

Children were among the victims. In the run-up to parliamentary elections in November 2005, villagers from Noviye-Atagi told local human rights monitors that in September children aged 12, 13 and 14 had been among people detained and subjected to enforced disappearance, severe beatings and sometimes torture. The villagers believed they were being punished for not showing sufficient support for Akhmed Kadyrov, Ramzan Kadyrov's father, in the earlier presidential elections. Many people feared reprisals if they spoke about such abuses.31

Non-governmental armed groups

Non-governmental armed groups were active in many parts of the north Caucasus, and attacked federal and local government structures. Some were associated with Chechen separatists. Others were influenced by radical Islamist ideas. Sometimes the groupings overlapped. Elsewhere, small militia groups with extreme Russian nationalist views were sporadically reported to have attacked and killed foreigners, or Russians they suspected of sympathizing with Chechen nationalism.

In September 2004 armed men thought to be Chechen separatists seized a secondary-school in the north Ossetian town of Beslan, taking a thousand pupils and their teachers hostage. Of at least 331 people killed in an explosion and crossfire during the rescue attempt, more than half were children. Hundreds more were wounded.32

In October 2005 several scores of young men identifying themselves as members of the Kabardino-Balkar Section of the Caucasian Front set fire to nine buildings associated with federal security forces in the republic's capital, Nalchik. The Chechen separatist commander Shamil Basayev later claimed responsibility for organizing them. The attackers were reported to be Islamists aged between 17 and 30 who were angry about the treatment of Muslims in the republic. At least 35 people were killed and over 100 – some of them student bystanders – said to have been injured in crossfire with the security forces.33 Some of the young attackers were later tortured in police detention.34

The editor of the Russian – Chechen Friendship Society bulletin in Nizhny-Novgorod was forced into hiding in 2005. A group calling itself the Patriotic Youth Front had distributed leaflets in her neighbourhood and apartment block, giving her full name and address and inciting readers to kill her as a "traitor who deserves shame and contempt".35

In September 2006 the governor of Karelia claimed that an unknown organization was inciting young people through the internet and mobile phones to attack members of the minority ethnic Chechen population or other people from the Caucasus region in the south who were living in Petrozavodsk. This followed organized violence against Chechens and Azeris by the inhabitants of neighbouring Kondopoga, orchestrated by a group calling itself the Movement against Illegal Migration.36


At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Russia and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

* Titles of non-English-language sources have been translated by the Coalition.

1 "Russia revises military doctrine to reflect global changes", RIA Novosti, 5 March 2007.

2 US Library of Congress, Country Profile: Russia, October 2006,

3 Statute of the Russian Federation Government, No. 422, 11 July 2005.

4 President of Chechnya Alu Alkhanov, press conference, 28 February 2006.

5 See Ombudsman of the Chechen Republic, Special Report on Disappearances, April 2006,

6 International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, International Federation for Human Rights, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Center "Demos", Human Rights Center "Memorial", In a Climate of Fear, 24 November 2005,; International Helsinki Federation, "A Fair Trial for Stas Dmitrievsky", 2 February 2006,; Amnesty International (AI), "Disappearance of journalist Elina Ersenoeva", 29 August 2006 (EUR 46/040/2006); "Murder of Anna Politkovskaya", AFP, 8 October 2006.

7 Tony Wood, "Diary" (account of visit to Chechnya), London Review of Books, 22 March 2007.

8 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,

9 Law on Military Obligations and Military Service, No. 53-FZ, Article 13(2).

10 Federal Law Amending Certain Legal Acts of the Russian Federation Pursuant to Shorten Duration of Military Service by Conscription, No. 104-FZ, 6 July 2006.

11 Federal Law on Alternative Civilian Service, No. 113-FZ, Article 11.

12 Quoted in Moscow Human Rights Institute, Survey No. 99, Analysis of Spring Parliamentary Legislation in the Russian State Duma, Special Issue on the Army and Citizens' Rights, 18 July 2006 .

13 "Countdown to call up", Rossiiskaya Gazeta, October 2006.

14 See, for example, Pravda, 23 February 2006; Human Rights Watch (HRW), The Wrongs of Passage, October 2004.

15 UN Committee against Torture, Consideration of fourth periodic report submitted by Russian Federation, Conclusions and Recommendations, UN Doc. CAT/C/RUS/CO/4, 6 February 2007.

16 Human Rights House Network,

17 HRW, Impact, October 2006.

18 Federal Law Amending Certain Legal Acts of the Russian Federation Concerning Defence and Military Service, No. 96-FZ, 3 July 2006.

19 Russian Federation Law on Education, 1992.

20 Ibid., Article 11(2).

21 Ibid., Article 14.

22 Statute on the Suvorov Military Colleges, the Nakhimov Naval – Military Colleges, and the Cadet (Sea Cadet) Corps, No. 696, 11 June 1996.

23 Ibid, Item 10.

24 Russian Cadet Corps library,

25 Ibid.

26 Law on Defence, No. 96-FZ, Article 1(9).

27 In a Climate of Fear, above note 6.

28 Council of Europe – Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), News Flash, May 2006,

29 International Helsinki Federation, Unofficial Places of Detention in the Chechen Republic, 12 May 2006, Appendix 2.

30 Kabardino-Balkar: Gazeta, No. 230, 5 December 2005,; HRW, "Lawyers Illegally Removed From Cases of Abused Suspects in Nalchik", 18 November 2005; Karachaevo-Cherkessk: "Security forces and rebels shoot it out in Cherkessk", Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 4 January 2007,

31 In a Climate of Fear, above note 6.

32 "Russia marks Beslan siege deaths", BBC News, 1 September 2007.

33 "Russia: Kondopoga Violence Continues Unabated", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), 6 September 2006.

34 "Former Nalchik detainee charges torture", Chechnya Weekly, 3 November 2005, Jamestown Foundation.

35 AI, "The Russian – Chechen Friendship Society under threat" (EUR 46/017/2005), 3 May 2005.

36 "Russia: Kondopoga violence continues unabated", above note 33; "Kadyrov contradicts Alkhanov in his response to the violence in Karelia", Chechnya Weekly, 8 September 2006, Jamestown Foundation; "The provocative and aggressive behavior", Kommersant, 5 September 2006,

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