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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Kicks Off Spring Draft

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The army, which says it backs plans to abolish the dreaded draft, kicked off on Sunday the spring draft to conscript nearly 200,000 young men.

The hard part will be persuading them to show up.

Vladislav Putilin, a deputy chief of staff, said Friday that a manpower crisis means Russia must still draft conscripts despite planned military reforms to slash the armed forces by one fifth, or 470,000.

Putilin said just 12 percent of young men of conscript age would likely serve their two years in uniform. On Friday, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree calling up 189,995 men.

Ill-health and exemptions made the draft ever smaller, the three-star general told a news conference.

The move toward an all-professional army, a prospect held out by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on his first day in office on Thursday, would not ease the situation in the short-term.

"Of all those who should be called up, only 12 percent are actually conscripted. And that percentage is falling at a catastrophic rate," Putilin said.

"Today we cannot call up as many people as the armed forces need. … Soon there will be no one we can call up," he added.

Eight years ago, 24 percent of those called up actually served in the army or navy. In the autumn of 1999, the figure was 13 percent, he said.

Ill-health meant more than 50 percent of draftees were immediately ruled out, while military doctors ruled unfit to serve a further 30 percent.

Of the remainder, 60 percent to 70 percent had left school early or had received no education whatsoever, Putilin said.

"Yes, the armed forces are getting smaller. … But that will not influence the number of conscripts summoned to serve."

Seventy percent of officers and noncommissioned officers in the armed forces are professionals, but only 30 percent of ordinary troops, according to Defense Ministry figures.

A bill to introduce a system of "alternative service," currently before parliament, could further reduce the pool of recruits open to the military.

The measure would allow men of conscription age to avoid the military but force them to work in the civilian sector — for up to twice as long. The exact period has yet to be finalized.

Putilin said less than 2,000 conscripts had expressed an interest in civilian service at the time of their draft, ridiculing figures from supporters of the bill that suggested up to 15,000 preferred civilian to military service.

President Vladimir Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, promised to end conscription but never made good on the pledge.

Proposed military cuts announced in November would involve 470,000 military staff and 130,000 civilians over five years.

Officially, there are now 2,136,000 uniformed personnel and 966,000 civilians in the armed forces.