Only 11 percent of Russian men enter mandatory military service: general
MOSCOW (AFP) Dec 06, 2002
Just 11 percent of young men in Russia do their military service, a high-ranking general said Friday, attesting to the unpopularity of a conscription regime plagued by harsh conditions and violence.

Most Russian men between 18 and 24 avoid the mandatory two-year draft by taking advantage of some 22 rules to avoid conscription, including university study and health problems, said Vasily Smirnov, deputy head of the general staff's mobilization department.

Desertions are frequent in the Russian armed forces, where conditions are harsh and recruits are often subjected to violent hazing practices and bullying.

Also Friday, Russia's top general in charge of ground troops said that an army commander was found guilty of beating his servicemen and withholding their pay, causing 16 conscripts to flee their posts earlier this week.

"The guilt of the company commander has been proved," ITAR-TASS quoted Nikolai Kormiltsev as saying.

Russia's plans to professionalize its armed forces are moving ahead, Smirnov said, but could run into problems if social services, such as proper living conditions and pay were not more readily provided.

"The army cannot reform itself, reform must come from the state," he said.

Smirnov said that professionalizing the military and doing away with the highly unpopular conscription was just one step in reforming the chronically underfunded armed forces, which currently enlist some 1.1 million people.

"Reform doesn't only involve moving to a contractual army, but reforming the power of the armed forces," he said, adding that all soldiers must receive adequate training.

"Experiments are going on to identify problems which will help us prepare to deal with the full professionalization of the army," Smirnov said.

The 76th parachute division, based in the northwestern town of Pskov, became the first division to experiment with professionalization, launching a program in September to recruit 3,000 volunteer soldiers by next summer.

Last month, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said limited finances made it impossible to fulfill a plan promised by President Vladimir Putin to do away with military conscription.

He said conscripts would make up half of the armed forces until at least