Central Asians already clean Russia's streets and work on its construction sites, so why couldn't they fight its wars, too? That appears to be the thinking behind a Russian lawmaker's proposal to create military units manned by migrants from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to fight in Ukraine and against ISIS in Central Asia.
The proposal was made by Roman Khudyakov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (led by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky) and caused quite a stir in the Russian press. (One blog post called the would-be fighters "Gastarbeiter-Soldiers.") The newspaper Izvestia carried the most detailed description of Khudyakov's proposal. In his words:
In the French Foreign Legion there are soldiers from 136 countries, and not one French person dies in war. Why should our soldiers die? One way or another we need to respond to the challenges of today -- this is connected with global security and the threat of terrorism. We can't allow ourselves to close our eyes to the fact that fanatics from ISIS are now preparing an expansion into Central Asia and Russia. And we should stop them outside Russia's borders and preferably without the participation of the Russian armed forces. The foreign legion could deal with this.... Residents of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would gladly fill the legion, there's no problem there.
As with so many Russian initiatives these days, Khudyakov says it is justified by what the United States is doing:
The U.S. today is acting so audaciously and cynically -- they are sending their own private military companies when they can't officially send the army. A war is going on and it's as if the government has nothing to do with it. In these conditions we need to act more cruelly, by their rules. The units of this legion could be sent to help Novorossiya.
At first blush this seems an unlikely proposal, but in today's Russia there's little one can count out. And Igor Korotchenko, a prominent Russian military analyst and the editor of the magazine National Defense, told Izvestia that the idea has merit:
It deserves attention ... 'Foreign legion' isn't the best name for us, but in essence the formation from foreign military contingents, which could be used to localize Islamic extremists in the CSTO countries, would be in demand for maintaining peace and security. The most important thing is the opinion of the Ministry of Defense, which will one way or another examine this issue...
After the Americans leave Afghanistan, the mullahs will turn their attention to their neighbors. That's why we're providing training to the officer corps, military-technical specialists and shipping military equipment from our arsenals, to respond to the conditions of the Central Asian theater of military activities. Of course the first to fight should be the national [i.e. Central Asian] contingents, because we can't pay for the stability of Central Asia with the blood of our soldiers. And so a foreign legion could be appropriate there.
But it's not clear that such a Russian foreign legion could actually attract foreigners. For several years it's already been possible for foreigners to join the Russian military, but there have been few takers. "Foreigners can enter service in the Russian army on contract," head of the human rights organization Citizen and Army Sergey Krivchenko told the website slon.ru. "It was supposed that residents of former Soviet republics would come and serve in our army to ease the process of gaining residence in Russia, but it didn't work out: we have a tiny number of foreigners serving, barely a hundred."
So it appears that, as attractive as the idea of having Central Asians do their dirty work for them, if Russia wants to fight ISIS or Ukraine, it's going to have to use its own soldiers to do so.