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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Legal Loophole Riles Military

APYoung conscripts undergoing training in Lyubertsy. Last year, more than 7,000 young men used the loophole to avoid the draft.
Thousands of conscription-age men are exploiting a legal loophole that allows them to get out of mandatory military service by signing up for two-year stints as firefighters and policemen -- jobs that let them spend nights at home, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

And a growing number of young men are ignoring call-up notices from military recruiters to ride tanks and sail submarines thousands of kilometers away from home, opting instead to volunteer for service at the Interior, Emergency Situations and Justice ministries, according to a batch of statistics released by the Defense Ministry. The number has swelled from 1,051 in 1999 and 2,834 in 2000 to 7,234 in 2001, Interfax reported.

This is forcing the military to call up less capable recruits, a Defense Ministry official said in an interview.

"It is limiting our choice," said the official, who asked not to be named.

The Defense Ministry has become so concerned with the situation that Minister Sergei Ivanov has written a letter to President Vladimir Putin, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The presidential press service said Monday that it did not have any information about Ivanov's letter.

The Emergency Situations Ministry declined to comment, while calls to the Interior Ministry's press service went unanswered.

One Moscow police official confirmed, however, that conscription-age men in the capital sometimes choose the police over the armed forces.

"If the Defense Ministry doesn't like that, they should feel free to contest it in court," the official said.

The police force will continue to welcome such volunteers, he said.

The police, which is part of the Interior Ministry, and the Justice and Emergency Situations ministries all have annual quotas that are filled by recruitment-age men. The Moscow police reportedly lack 10,000 men.

The Defense Ministry said Monday that it was illegal for young men to volunteer elsewhere, pointing out that this contradicts the law on military service, which states the armed forces get first pick from the pool of conscripts.

The loophole comes in laws on firefighting and the police, which allow conscripts to serve as firefighters and policemen and, thus, legally avoid military service.

Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center said it was no wonder that the loophole was being exploited.

"Young men are attracted by the opportunity to avoid the very bad conditions of serving in units where hazing is commonplace," he said.

With thousands of young men dodging the draft altogether every year, the loss of conscripts to other ministries is only one more headache for the Defense Ministry. The ministry said 21,000 men defied their call-up notices last fall alone, although it still managed to meet its quota of more than 100,000 conscripts.

However, the need to fill the ranks often has left recruiters with no choice but to pick less-than-ideal candidates -- men in ill health or with psychological problems, drug addicts and even convicted criminals.