By Karine Kalantarian
At least 300 citizens of Armenia have expressed a desire to serve in Russia’s armed forces on a contractual basis, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry revealed on Thursday.
Colonel Nikolay Baranov told reporters in Yerevan that written applications from them have been received by his ministry ever since last year’s decree by President Vladimir Putin that allowed the Russian military to recruit citizens of other former Soviet republics.
The move also gave successful applicants from what Moscow considers its “near abroad” the right to apply for Russian citizenship after three years of military service. They must be proficient in Russian and have no criminal record.
According to Baranov, the applicants should send their documents to the Russian military’s regional recruitment centers, rather than the Defense Ministry in Moscow. Only twelve Armenian nationals have followed this procedure, he said, adding that two of them have already joined Russian troops.
Putin’s decree was part on Russia’s ongoing gradual transition from a conscript-based to professional army. Baranov admitted that Moscow has trouble attracting a sufficient number of Russians volunteers.
Financial compensation is clearly the key motive of Armenians willing to join the Russian army. Hundreds of them had reportedly sought to participate in the 2001 U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan for the same reason.
“I’ve got a list of about 360 people who wanted to pack up, go over to Afghanistan and contribute to the war on terror,” an official from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan told RFE/RL in August 2002. “These were all volunteers. It wasn’t coming through the government, and obviously, we were not going to accept people like that.”