Moscow, 1 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin has decreed a military draft this fall of 215,000 men between the ages of 18 and 28 -- that is men born between 1969 and 1978. The decree comes at a time when military draft evasion is a mounting problem.
Our correspondent in Moscow cites a Defense Ministry report that 31,000 young men failed to report for military registration during last winter's conscription drive. That was ten times the number of no-shows of seven years ago. The report was published in the independent military review, "Nezavisimaya Gazeta."
Earlier this year, Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered that the draft gradually be abolished and that a completely volunteer, professional armed forces be established by the next century.
Russia has long relied on compulsory recruitment. At present, 270,000 members of the 1.7- million-person Russian armed forces are volunteers. That includes 100,000 women.
The Defense Ministry maintained late last year that it finally had narrowed the gap between supply and demand for soldiers. The ministry said the armed forces were only 15 percent short of the needed manpower, compared with 40 percent two years ago. It had hoped the tide of draft dodging had been stemmed. However, the improvement came mainly as a result of extending the term of service from 1.5 to 2 years.
Our correspondent says the police remain reluctant to catch draft-dodgers and courts are unwilling to prosecute those who are brought in. Of the 31,000 men who failed to turn up at enlistment offices during last winter's call-up, 500 have been charged and fewer than 60 convicted.
The Defense Ministry says society should cultivate patriotism. In addition, it says draft-dodgers should be fined the equivalent of up to $5,000 and the term of alternative service should be extended to four years from three.
"It will hardly help the military to recruit more soldiers, because many will still prefer to stay out of the present armed forces, which are half-hungry and half-disbanded survivors of the Soviet war machine." Nikolai Khramov, the secretary of the Antimilitarist Radical Association, told our correspondent.
Opinion polls show that half of Russian conscripts say they don't want to join the military, but would agree to alternative service. Most say they would like to stay out of branches of service, such as the airborne, which are most dangerous. Some 24 percent of respondents to the polls say they would prefer to serve in the Strategic Missile Forces and Space Forces. About 12 percent want to join the Navy.