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Russia: New Conscription Law Would Reduce Draft

Moscow, 29 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Russian Federation Council, upper chamber of parliament, has approved legislation to exempt thousands more young Russians from compulsory military service.

If approved by President Boris Yeltsin in time, it would affect the conscription campaign due to start next month.

An expert with the council's Security and Defense Committee, Aleksei Novikov, says the bill would permit the armed forces to be adequately manned at least until a proposed professional army policy is implemented. Novikov assisted with the drafting.

The bill met little opposition in the upper chamber. It permits persons with relatives who died in military service to avoid conscription. It grants students exemptions to complete their education and provides permanent exemptions for graduate degree holders. Novikov said he is hopeful that Yeltsin will approve the measure.

In the past, a number of military and quasi-military agencies competed for conscripts, creating a severe manpower shortage in the armed forces. Novikov says the new bill gives first priority to the Defense Ministry, Federal Border Guard Service, Interior Ministry, Railroad Construction Troops, and the Federal Agency of Government Liaison and Information

The Defense Ministry has announced that it needs a draft of about 188,000 young men this fall.

Many draft-age -- 18-27 -- Russian youths say they fear spending two years in the armed forces, where hazing by older soldiers is common. Others, however, are eager to serve -- even volunteering to substitute for acquaintances who have been called up.