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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Conscript Numbers Dwindle, Dodgers Flourish

It was supposed to be a festive occasion, but few were smiling. Open House Day at the Moscow Draft Board was more like Empty House Day.

The people who call up young Muscovites for service have acknowledged that the 1994 crop of conscripts will be low and disappointing. According to draft board figures, nearly 90 percent of the 140,000 Moscow men eligible have already received deferrals for health, educational or family reasons.

That leaves about 13,000 18-year-olds, before accounting for the problem of draft dodging. Last year, the Defense Ministry had a field of 18,000 youths to call on after President Boris Yeltsin revoked deferrals for students in Moscow's technical schools.

Draft Day, held last weekend at the city's 28 regional conscription offices and the board's headquarters in southeastern Moscow, is akin to events put on by western military organizations to attract volunteers. In Russia's case, it serves to draw draftees to their duty.

But the clean-scrubbed floors and pristine bunks at headquarters were hardly sullied by the touch of a potential soldier Sunday. By midday, recruiters said only 15 young men had stopped by to visit.

Colonel Vladimir Dobrovolsky, the draft board's vice chairman, explained the paucity of draftees, saying: "We practically have no working youth in Moscow. They are all studying."

General Vladimir Bespalov, head of the draft board, blamed rising military health standards for the dearth of recruits. Under the Soviet regime, the city would yield crops of more than 43,000 18-year-olds, he said.

"Since then, the laws have changed," he said. "We have a very high standard of health" for potential draftees to qualify for the military.

According to a Defense Ministry spokesman, for the past two or three years, the army has excluded recruits with ulcers, high blood pressure and rheumatism. Previously, soldiers with those conditions were accepted, but relegated to non-combat status, a category which no longer exists.

Recruiters were reluctant to discuss another reason for the low number of conscripts reporting -- draft evasion. Last year, about 7,000 conscripts, or about 39 percent of eligible recruits, failed to report for service. Bespalov was not willing to hazard a guess on this year's return.

"That would be hard to say. So far, we've only summoned 30 percent of the recruits," he said. "There are still 2 1/2 months left" in the draft season.

Students attending daytime higher educational institutes automatically receive deferrals, and Moscow has an ever-growing number of such schools, said Eduard Kapitosky, a draft official who advises parents and recruits on educational issues. Once a potential recruit is deferred, he is not called again.

Starting Jan. 1, the draft board will add another exclusion for men with one child under the age of 3. Currently, the exemption is limited to men with two or more children.

The city's draft board, and the army at large, know that the number of recruits is falling. The front page of Monday's Krasnaya Zvezda, the Russian Army's official newspaper, carried an appeal from Defense Minister Pavel Grachev to draftees and their parents headlined "The Russian Army and Navy are counting on you, young men!"

The next day, Krasnaya Zvezda's front page asked: "All of Russia hosted Draft Day. But will it fill the army?"

At great expense, and with the help of television commercials, the army is increasingly counting on contract, or professional soldiers, to fill the ranks.