The specific feature of the spring-2023 conscription campaign is the amendments in requirements for the health of conscripts. The requirements for a number of positions have been lowered, which in general should have increased the number of potential conscripts. Based on data from open sources, we tried to understand how the new requirements for the health of conscripts affected the ongoing conscription.
First, we should note that officials of the Ministry of Defense were not previously afraid to talk about problems with the recruitment of conscripts into the army. For example, in March 2019, the Ministry of Defense of Belarus stated that «during another conscription, there was a problem of insufficient number of conscripts to complete the Armed Forces, fit for military service on health grounds. The deficit of conscription resources is primarily connected with the demographic situation in the country.» In late October 2021, A. Shkirenko, the head of the main organization and mobilization directorate of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces, said that because of the low birth rate in the late 1990s, there was a shortage of conscripts: «The situation has not changed dramatically. We are still at the bottom of the demographic hole. We will only start gradually climbing upward in about 2025.»
It is notable that the main theses of propaganda, justifying the change of health requirements in 2023, were: the arrival of new samples of military equipment to the troops, too excessive requirements for admission to military educational institutions, as well as requests and appeals of citizens. Not a word about demography and the shortage of conscripts.
The shortage of conscripts is also confirmed by enlistment offices. For example, according to the military commissariat of the Pinsk district, more and more conscripts are recognized unfit for service. As a confirmation of that, they cite statistics of the fall-2022 conscription: 280 out of 500 conscripts were recognized unfit for military service. Another example is the Maladziechna district: only 300 out of 650 conscripts drafted in 2023 will be sent to the medical commission (the rest will get deferment of draft, mainly for education).
Medical examination of conscripts in Shchuchyn, March 2023
To reverse the generally negative trend, the Ministry of Defense has taken a number of steps in recent years. One of them is the revision of health requirements for conscripts. This issue is regulated by the Instruction on determining the health requirements for citizens connected with military duty, approved by a joint decree of the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Health No. 1/1 on January 3, 2020. Since its publication, the document has already been amended twice, in 2020 and in early 2023. The previous similar instruction was approved in December 2010, after which it was amended three times: in 2012, 2016, and 2017, respectively.
Another area of work to increase the number of conscripts was the revision of the procedure for granting deferments (primarily for studying). As A. Shkirenko stated in the interview mentioned above, deferments due to studying account for more than 80% of all deferments. In 2019, the procedure for receiving a one-time deferment for studying was introduced. In other words, after these changes, getting a master’s degree or PhD program after completing the first level of higher education did not grant deferment from the draft. And on April 18, 2023, a draft law was passed which canceled the deferment for students studying abroad. Now, only citizens who entered an educational institution abroad before the age of 18 can get draft deferment.
It should be noted that the Ministry of Defense of Belarus made some efforts to increase the prestige of military service. Among the measures taken — increasing the money allowance for conscripts, benefits for those who have served in the army when enrolling and studying in educational institutions, etc. Whether these measures have helped to change the situation is unclear.
How was the spring 2023 conscription campaign?
According to the Ministry of Defense of Belarus, a total of about 10,000 people are planned to be drafted during the spring conscription. In total, about 40,000 conscripts were to be summoned to the draft board. The number of those drafted for service in the reserve was not specified. In general, the number of conscripts drafted (about 10,000) has not changed for many years. In other words, the new health requirements for conscripts have not led to an increase in the number of those drafted.
And what do enlistment offices say?
For example, about 1000 people in the Minsk district are subject to summons to the enlistment office during the spring conscription campaign. About 600 of them received deferments from military service (for further study, health condition, etc.). Therefore, about 400-450 people have passed a medical examination.
«As of today [the end of March 2023 — ed.], 120 people have been declared fit to serve in the army. This is already 30% of the total number. The figure, of course, is still small, but there is a high probability of reaching 50% fitness,» the military commissar said. Another 15% of conscripts were found unfit for military service, and only 61 people were found temporarily unfit for military service. At the same time, the results of the conscription campaign are growing for the better. If earlier the percentage of unfit for military service was higher than that of the fit for military service, now the dynamics is encouraging. It should be noted that during the fall 2022 conscription, about 100 conscripts from the Minsk district were drafted.
Meeting of the draft board in Kamianiets, April 12, 2023
Every year, the military commissariat of Minsk conducts procurement of services for delivery of summonses to conscripts under personal signature / in person. A comparison of these purchases in 2022 and 2023 is shown in the table below.
As we can see, the number of expenses on notification of conscripts, as well as the number of summonses to be given, has increased more than twice. It should be noted that services to deliver summonses are purchased for the entire year (i.e., for the spring and fall conscription). And the increase in the number of summonses may be due to the call for medical re-examination of a higher number of conscripts than in 2022 because of the new health requirements.
Medical re-examination — measures periodically carried out by the medical commission to determine the category of fitness of citizens for military service in terms of health and physical development (Article 1 of the Law of November 5, 1992 «On military duty and military service»).
However, the opposite situation was also recorded (decrease in the number of conscripts). For example, if 70 people from the Asipovichy district were drafted during the fall-2022 conscription, it is planned to draft 60 people during the spring-2023 conscription. The data are based on purchases of souvenirs for the so-called «conscript days» (1, 2).
By the way. In March 2023 only, it was reported on 8 court verdicts against conscripts who evaded conscription activities. Most often, conscripts were fined (from $648 to $1,964), less often they were subject to restriction of liberty or imprisonment. A special training was held in the Luniniets district for district inspectors of the Luniniets police department, which dealt with the search for citizens who evaded the conscription measures (such trainings are probably held every year).
What was it like in previous years?
We analyzed statistics on conscription data for 2014-2023. We were interested in the following data: the number of conscripts summoned to draft boards, the number of conscripts drafted for active service, and the number of conscripts drafted for reserve service.
You can see the data in the chart below.
Data on conscription, 2014-2023. / Source: Ministry of Defense, state media
What should we pay attention to?
The number of conscripts summoned to the draft boards (red line on the chart).
Speaking about the number of conscripts who are summoned to the draft board, there is a steady trend that the number of potential conscripts in the fall conscription is always much higher than during the spring conscription. The reason is that graduates of educational institutions (most of them graduate in summer, in June) are drafted in fall.
As can be seen in the chart, the number of conscripts who are summoned to the draft board has decreased significantly in recent years. While in the fall-2014 conscription there were about 100,000, then in the fall-2022 conscription — already 60,000. Thus, there has been a 40% decrease in eight years.
In this case, the main reason for this is the demographic situation. The problem is shown not only in the decrease in the number of conscripts, but also in the decrease in the number of male students at all levels of education (vocational, secondary special and higher education). The following is information from the statistical collection «Education in the Republic of Belarus, 2021» by Belstat.
The number of students in vocational education institutions by gender and age
The number of students in secondary special education institutions by gender and age
We can also note a decrease in the number of conscripts summoned to the draft boards during the spring conscription: from 45,000 during the spring-2018 conscription to 40,000 during the spring-2023 conscription. However, in this case, we can’t yet speak about the decrease in the number of conscripts as a trend (unlike the fall conscription), because the chart clearly shows fluctuations of several thousand conscripts for the spring conscription.
The number of students in higher education institutions by gender and age
The number of conscripts sent for service (green line on the chart).
This is the most stable part of the chart. Over the years, an average of about 10,000 people have been sent for service during one conscription. However, as can be seen on the chart, previously there were conscriptions when 11,000 and 12,000 conscripts were sent for service.
The number of conscripts drafted for service in the reserve (turquoise line of the chart).
We can note a significant decline in the number of conscripts drafted for service in the reserve. While in the fall 2016 conscription, 2000 conscripts were sent to serve in the reserve, this figure has decreased 10 times since 2019. Now, it is often reported that 200 people per conscription are sent to serve in the reserve. We may assume that the decrease in the number of people serving in the reserve may have helped keep the average draft of 10,000 conscripts per conscription, while reducing the total number of conscripts. And the decrease in the total number of conscripts led to a decrease in the number of those serving in the reserve.
Here we should note that since 2021, a number of students of higher educational institutions of agricultural specialization have had the opportunity to serve in the reserve. It is known that about 50 students used this opportunity during the spring-2021 conscription. It is not known whether agricultural students are included in the general statistics of the Ministry of Defense on those sent to serve in the reserve.
What main conclusions can be drawn?
- The number of young men who can receive summonses decreases every year. This decrease is most evident during the fall conscription.
- The Ministry of Defense has to constantly reduce the health requirements for conscripts to maintain even the current status of the number of people drafted into the army. The amendments adopted at the beginning of 2023 are only one stage in a process that has been going on for more than 10 years.
- According to the data of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus on the number of conscripts, we can state that in quantitative terms the recent changes in the health requirements have had no effect on the conscription. As in previous years, about 10,000 people will serve in the army. We should consider that some of the draftees will serve in the internal troops and the border guard agencies. For example, during the conscription of the fall 2022, only about 7,000 out of 10,000 drafted people will serve in the Belarusian Armed Forces.
- Due to a constant reduction of health requirements (as well as reduction of the grounds for deferment from service because of studying), so far, it has been possible to ensure the usual (as in previous years) recruitment of conscripts in the range of 10,000 people per conscription. At the same time, there is no talk about the increase in the number of conscripts.
- The Ministry of Defense of Belarus uses an extensive approach to increasing the conscription resource, in which the requirements for the health of conscripts are reduced while the total number of conscripts is decreasing. However, this approach will not be able to reverse the situation in the long term, if the current demographic trends remain. Also, due to the emigration of the Belarusian population abroad.
- For this reason, the change in health requirements for conscription should not be associated with the plans for the deployment of the Southern Operational Command. At least the results of the spring-2023 conscription give reason to make such a statement.
- We note that the number of conscripts drafted under the new health requirements is only one of the evaluation criteria. Another important criterion will be the number of people discharged from the Belarusian Armed Forces and other security agencies for health reasons during the service: whether this indicator will increase or remain within the current limits. In this part, it will be possible to draw additional conclusions only with time.
- Speaking about further prospects for increasing the number of conscripts, it is possible that the Ministry of Defense may decide to increase the term of active service [currently, such a proposal is not publicly discussed — ed.], as well as to increase the age of conscripts (as it happens in Russia now). The idea of a possible return to the Soviet practice of conscription of students has already been mentioned in the information space [currently, students have a deferment and are not drafted — ed.]. At the same time, activities are already being conducted to increase the attractiveness of military service under contract (for example, the possibility of receiving rental housing free of charge). We can also expect greater involvement of women in military service (the list of specialties for training in military educational institutions is already being constantly expanded). The economic opportunities of the Lukashenko regime will also play an important role in the future of the army.