Editorial: doing army twice?

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Pursuant to new law, Russian citizenship will equal conscript service in Russian defence forces.

Estonia has undertaken to follow the widespread rule of not requiring military service of its citizens permanently dwelling abroad. And, whoever has served in some other country, will not be forced to do that all over again. Thus, last year saw 38 conscripts entered into the reserves, having completed their military service in some other country.

Nevertheless, customs may differ. Russia, for one, has decided that whoever is «on their books» and registered as citizen will have to do service in their army.

The problem will mainly concern those who, in addition to Estonian citizenship, also possess the Russian one. Legally, these people fall into a somewhat gray area for the Estonian state as well: Citizenship Act prescribing that an Estonian citizen may have but one citizenship. At the same time, the constitution states that no-one may be deprived of citizenship by birth. For those dwelling near borders, with relatives on both sides of it, it has been therefore beneficial and prudent to keep both citizenships – even if to go help grandma on the Russian side, or to keep graves tidy. Whatever the laws, life has to go on... no matter the rule and the state.

That the citizenship would mean three drops of blood for Russia to claim its rights, none could foresee. Now that the price tag to double citizenship has been revealed, in the worst case, payment must be made by military service.

It being rather obvious why, up to now, citizens of both countries preferred service in a NATO state, not in Russia. In NATO, military service is eight months – in Russia, an entire year. In NATO, the armies offer a culture somewhat different; food, equipment and living conditions also being better. Also, examples of use of conscripts in the so-called hot wars, whether in Chechnya or in 2008 attack against Georgia, would sway the double-citizens towards a Western type military.

In some ways, Russia’s problem may be understood. On the one hand, we are talking about loyalty to Russian state, leading to trustworthiness. Up to now, sanctions mainly related to career options: Those with a NATO military service record could not run for Russian state posts of law enforcement offices. On the other hand, it may a matter be much simpler and down to earth. As, for Russia, the declining population poses quite a problem, and they would rather not risk young men, having done military service in the West, opting not to return.

If at all possible, Estonia ought to stand for its citizens living on the other side of the Eastern borderline, and try reaching an agreement with Russia that the youths would keep their options to choose where they would serve. Whatever they would choose thereafter – returning to Russia or following the call of NATO and democracy – would be for the lads themselves to decide.