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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Cuts Could Turn Draft Around

The downsizing of the Russian military could result in the most successful fall draft since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country's chief recruiter said Tuesday.

"The armed forces may be fully manned for the first time in the contemporary history of Russia," the chief of the General Staff's organization and mobilization department, Vladislav Putilin, told reporters at a Moscow recruitment office.

He stressed, however, that this will be possible only if the federal government provides adequate financing for the ongoing conscription campaign.

Defense Ministry troops have been downsized by hundreds of thousands in the past few years, with their personnel strength projected to total 1.2 million by the end of this year, compared with 1.7 million in 1996.

The personnel cuts, Putilin said, should make it possible for the Defense Ministry to better staff its remaining units, some of which had less than 40 percent of the required personnel in the early 1990s.

He said the need for fewer men also should make it easier to weed out recruits with psychological problems, blamed for a rash of cases of servicemen turning their guns on their commanders and fellow soldiers. As a further step, the Defense Ministry plans to start holding recruiters personally responsible for the men they draft, Putilin said.

But he said the key is whether the federal government comes through with some money.

"We hoped that the reductions would result in better funding of the remaining units, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be the case," the commander said.

Putilin said the Defense Ministry needs at least 152 million rubles ($9.62 million at Wednesday's official rate) to recruit all of the 158,512 young men that it has planned to draft during the October-December conscription campaign.

Regional authorities, who used to fund 60 percent of draft costs, are now too cash-strapped to help, he said.

The chronic cash shortage limits the armed forces' ability to recruit more professional soldiers, Putilin said. They make up only 25 percent of Defense Ministry soldiers and the share is unlikely to increase because potential volunteers remain discouraged by the low wages, which are often months' late.

President Boris Yeltsin has announced plans to abolish conscription and create a smaller, professional military. The Defense Ministry has insisted that this can only be done with adequate financial support.

Another problem that continues to plague Russia's military is draft evasion. The number of those on the run has fallen by half this year but nonetheless hovers at 22,000, Putilin said.

Desertion also is a common occurrence, with some deserters fleeing after killing their commanders or other soldiers. The military often explains the deserters' actions by saying they had psychological problems or were unable to adjust to military conditions, although most deserters say they fled their units to escape hazing by older servicemen.

Putilin also lamented the continuing decrease in conscripts' education level. Only 70 percent are high school graduates, according to Defense Ministry figures released Tuesday.