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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Cancels Draft Exemptions

The state and its students once had a pact: Attend a university or institute with obligatory military training, and upon graduation go into the reserves as an officer and avoid the draft.

That deal is now off. The Russian Army needs lieutenants, and a presidential decree is going to call them up over the next two years from the ranks of reservists and recent graduates once considered untouchable. All told, the decree envisions recruiting 54,000 young men, according to the Defense Ministry.

"This is a temporary but necessary measure associated with the transitional period," Ivan Skrilnik, spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, said Tuesday. The reorganization of the armed forces, he said, has placed particular stress on the need for young officers.

The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, however, is protesting the move. This decree flouts the law because it does not say why the reserves are needed, said committee member Yulia Koryacheva.

"If you want to draft reservists for military service, you have to explain why you're doing it," she said. More than 100 young men have turned to the committee for advice, she added. Other types of deferrals for active students remain in place.

One young reserve officer already knows what he is going to do. Yevgeny, 22, who did not want his last name mentioned, is going to hide. "When people enroll in a university and study in the military department, they know they're not going to serve in the army," he said.

The officers' ranks are usually well supplied by Russia's more than 100 military academies, where, unlike those who finish an institute or university, graduates are obliged to serve two years. Now they are not staying any longer than absolutely necessary.

"We have plenty of military academies, and they are putting out plenty of graduates," said Vladimir Kernozhidsky, an official with the Moscow City Draft Board. But, he added, "they serve their two years, and then they go."

Once, prestige, a decent salary and ample housing could keep an officer in the army beyond his obligatory service. But as the prestige and comfortable life of the army becomes a historical footnote, officers are leaving as soon as their terms expire.

"The shortage is due to a lack of pay and poor housing," Kernozhidsky said. A lieutenant's salary tops out at about 300,000 rubles a month (less than $88), he said. "This is a very small salary, especially in Moscow."

In addition, many officers and enlisted men were left homeless in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Russian troops from Eastern Europe.

The breakup of the Soviet Union has deprived the army of an array of officer-specialists who trained at military academies that are now in the newly independent republics. To correct an imbalance in the ranks of specialists, the 1995-96 reserve draft will call on officers according to their training.

Aviation specialists top the list -- 4,000 of them are needed -- followed by liaison officers and artillery and medical experts. Defense Ministry officials said they could not provide the precise number of lieutenants in the army.

Kernozhidsky said military officials are considering raising the salary of lieutenants as an enticement to serve longer. But he added that technically, at least, these shortages should not happen. The current military structure is supposed to keep the bunks full.

"According to the law, everything is fine," he said. "But in reality, it doesn't work out that way."