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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army to Keep Soldiers Out of Prison for Now

The Defense Ministry has suspended plans to disband special disciplinary units, sparing soldiers the prospect of being sent to general prisons for their offenses.

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has examined a joint proposal by his ministry and the General Staff to disband the units by next year and decided to put it on the back burner, Interfax reported Monday, citing a ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The disciplinary units date back to Soviet times and are used to punish soldiers for military crimes such as failing to follow orders to guard a facility or leaving duty without permission for an extended period.

Soldiers convicted by garrison courts of wrongdoing can be ordered to spend up to two years in disciplinary units before being sent back to their regular units to finish their 18 months of compulsory service or three years of voluntary service.

The units are known for enforcing strict discipline and having harsh conditions, but those who serve in them do not leave with criminal records.

Serdyukov -- who worked as a furniture store manager and then top tax official before being appointed defense minister in February -- does not want soldiers to wind up with criminal records, and that is the main reason he decided to suspend the disbandment of the units, the ministry official told Interfax.

The military has five disciplinary units, located in Siberia, the Far East, Central Russia and the North Caucasus, Interfax said.

For minor offenses, commanders have the option of sending soldiers to special military facilities with holding cells.

These offenses include drunkenness and leaving duty without permission for short periods.

The cells were banished in 2002 but reintroduced earlier this year after legislators heeded complaints by commanders that they lacked effective means to discipline soldiers for minor offenses.

Anatoly Tsyganok, a retired colonel and independent defense analyst, said he supported the reintroduction of the cells but opposed the disciplinary units.

"The soldiers still have to complete their service afterward, and their time in these battalions does not count," he said. "So it would make sense for them to be tried in general courts and to serve in general prisons if convicted."

Calls to the Defense Ministry's press service went unanswered Monday afternoon.