Conscription in Russia

Conscription in Russia is a 12-month draft, mandatory for all male citizens age 18–27, with a number of exceptions. The mandatory term of service was reduced from 24 months at the beginning of 2008.[1][2]


Russian Empire and earlier times

Prior to Peter I, the bulk of the military was formed from the nobility and people who owned land on condition of service. During wars additional recruiting of volunteers and ordinary citizens was common. Peter I introduced a regular army consisting of the nobility and recruits, including conscripts. The conscripts to the Imperial Russian Army were called "recruits" in Russia (not to be confused with voluntary recruitment, which did not appear until the early 20th century).[3] The system was called "recruit obligation" (Russian: рекрутская повинность).

Russian tsars before Peter maintained professional hereditary musketeer corps (streltsy in Russian) that were highly unreliable and undisciplined. In times of war the armed forces were augmented by peasants. Peter I formed the Imperial Russian Army built on the German model, but with a new aspect: officers not necessarily from nobility, as talented commoners were given promotions that eventually included a noble title at the attainment of an officer's rank. Conscription of peasants and townspeople was based on quota system, per settlement. Initially it was based on the number of households, later it was based on the population numbers.[3]

The term of service in the 18th century was for life. In 1793 it was reduced to 25 years. In 1834 it was reduced to 20 years plus 5 years in reserve and in 1855 to 12 years plus 3 years of reserve.[3]

After the Russian defeat in the Crimean War during the reign of Alexander II, the Minister of War Dmitry Milyutin introduced military reforms, with an initial draft presented in 1862. On January 1, 1874 , a statute concerning conscription was approved by the Tsar by which military service was made compulsory for all males at the age of 20. The term of actual service was reduced for the land army to 6 years followed by 9 years in the reserve. This measure created a large pool of military reservists ready to be mobilized in the event of war, while permitting the maintenance of a smaller active army during peace-time.

Immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, the Imperial Government imposed compulsory service of three years for entrants to infantry and artillery regiments and four years for cavalry and engineers.[4] After completing this initial period of full-time service, conscripts passed into the first class reserves for seven years. Final obligation for compulsory service ended at age 43, after eight years in the second reserves.

The large population numbers available permitted military service exemptions on a larger scale than in other European armies of the period. Muslims, Finns and members of other minorities were generally exempted from conscription, as were about half of the Russian Christian population. Only sons were not normally required to serve.

Early Soviet Russia and Soviet Union

The first all-union conscription law of 1925 was tailored for the mixed cadre-militia structure of the peacetime Red Army after the Civil War. Draft-age was 21 years. Terms of service varied between one year in territorial formations and 2 to 4 years in the cadre army. Only "workers and peasants" were seen worthy to serve in combat units. Men of other social background were restricted to rear or labor services or had to pay a military tax.

The 1936 Soviet Constitution declared the military service "holy duty" of all male Soviet citizens. Any reservations regarding social or national background were dropped. 1939 service law was promulgated with a lowered call-up age of 19 years. The Red army had adopted a full-cadre structure in the course of the 1930s.

During the Great Patriotic War (World War II) all able-bodied men of ages 18–51 were subject to draft with the exception of specialists declared vitally necessary in industry, which was revamped for military/defense production.

Post war demobilisation of the Soviet Armed Forces was completed in 1948. According to the 1949 service law, service terms were 3 years in ground forces and 4 years in the navy.

Late Soviet Union

The late Soviet Armed Forces were manned by mandatory draft (with some exceptions) for all able-bodied males for 2 years (3 years in the Navy), based on the 1967 Law on Universal Military Service.[5] A bi-annual call-up in spring and autumn was introduced then, replacing the annual draft in fall. The conscripts were normally sent to serve far away from their place of residence.

Men were subject to draft at the age of 18. The draft could be postponed due to continued education.

Most universities had an obligatory Military Chair which were in charge of military training of all able-bodied male students to become reserve officers of a particular military specialty depending on the university.

Modern Russian Federation

The two-year conscription term in force since 1967 continued unchanged after the Soviet Union dissolved until the mid-2000s. In 2006, the Russian government and Duma gradually reduced the term of service to 18 months for those who will be conscripted in 2007 and to one year from 2008 and to drop some legal excuses for non-conscription from the law (such as non-conscription of rural doctors and teachers, of men who have a child younger than 3 years, etc.) from 1 January 2008. Also full-time students graduated from civil university and having military education will be free from conscription from 1 January 2008.

See also


  1. Military service in Russia cut by half
  2. Army time cut to one year Russia Today Retrieved on April 28, 2008 Archived April 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. 1 2 3 Jerome Blum (1971) "Lord and Peasant in Russia: From the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century", ISBN 0-691-00764-0, pp. 465,466
  4. Cornish, Nik. The Russian Army 1914-18. p. 11. ISBN 1-84176-303-9.

Further reading

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