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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgians Plan to Sell Military Exemptions

Thousands of young men in Georgia may soon be able to legally buy their way out of compulsory military service under a plan designed to boost the Defense Ministry’s meager budget and help root out corruption among recruitment officers.

The Georgian parliament next month is set to consider a bill that would allow young men to defer military service by paying 400 laris ($200) a year, Defense Ministry spokesman Major Koba Liklikadze said by telephone Monday from Tbilisi.

The bill, which was drafted by a ministry team of recruitment and legal experts, also would allow men to purchase lifetime exemption for 2,000 laris, he said.

However, they would still be required to undergo three months of military training so they could be called up in time of war.

Liklikadze estimated that the Georgian armed forces could bring in 3 million to 4 million laris a year, which he said would be "not bad at all" for the ministry, which had only 23 million laris to spend this year. With such a small budget, the Georgian military is unable either to procure new weapons or upgrade existing arsenals.

The Defense Ministry does not expect "too many" conscripts in the economically depressed country to be able to afford the exemptions, the spokesman said. The average officer is paid only 100 laris a month.

Liklikadze predicted the bill would be passed by parliament "in the near future" and submitted early next year to President Eduard Shevarnadze for his approval.

Georgian males aged 18 to 27 are eligible for 18 months of compulsory military service if physically fit, but hundreds dodge the draft.

Georgia’s military recruitment and registration offices, which are required to draft 14,000 conscripts every year, often have to team up with police to locate draft-dodgers, Liklikadze said.

The legislation has already come under public criticism for favoring those who are better off.

But Liklikadze argued that the armed forces are mostly manned by the poorest people anyway because wealthy Georgians already avoid the draft by bribing recruitment officers.

"We’d rather make this money ourselves than see some indecent officials pocket it," Liklikadze said.

In addition to procuring new arms, the Defense Ministry hopes to spend some of the expected new revenue to hire more professional soldiers.

Draft-dodging was relatively rare in Soviet times. The breakup of the Soviet Union has left the military and police too cash-strapped to hunt for draft-dodgers, while once hushed-up cases of violent hazing have received extensive media coverage, further discouraging young men from military service.

A Moscow recruitment official, reached at home by telephone Monday evening, said "it would have made sense" to introduce a system of paid exemptions in Russia, too.

The official, who asked not to be identified, conceded that some of his colleagues take bribes to grant exemptions and predicted that the introduction of such a system would prompt many of them to leave. "It is unreal to live only on the [official] salary," which is less than $100, he said.