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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawmaker: Defense Ministry Plans to Slash Draft Deferrals

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov lamented the sorry state of the armed forces Wednesday and said his ministry was working on a bill to drastically reduce the number of potential conscripts eligible for draft deferrals.

Addressing lawmakers in the State Duma in a speech closed to the press, Ivanov said the legislation would be aimed, first and foremost, at tens of thousands of would-be conscripts who work for government organizations, a deputy present at the session said. The highest concentration of such young men, about 60,000, was in agencies such as the customs service and the Interior Ministry and their affiliated institutions of higher learning, the deputy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, quoted Ivanov as saying.

The deputy added that Ivanov had said the latest draft netted only 11 percent of eligible men and they were a pathetic lot, afflicted with drug addiction, psychological problems and malnutrition.

"Ivanov called the three-month training period at the start of mandatory military service a 'feeding-trough' to fatten up the soldiers to make them fit for service," the deputy said.

In the past decade, the armed forces have been plagued by underfunding, low morale, internal violence and general lack of discipline, prompting President Vladimir Putin to push for military reform. The 2003 budget, to be debated by the Duma later this month, provides for a 30 percent increase in defense spending, boosting the total to more than 340 billion rubles ($10.7 billion).

Ivanov has said that sweeping structural reforms could be implemented only after significant improvements in armaments and conditions for servicemen. His ministry has clashed with liberal lawmakers over the estimated cost of reform, especially the switch to a professional army.

Alexei Arbatov, a deputy chairman of the Duma's defense committee, said some of the information given by Ivanov on Wednesday was simply wrong. "Either the minister was mistaken or misinformed," Arbatov said. He could not elaborate because the speech was classified, but added that the minister had said nothing fundamentally new for those familiar with military issues.