Russian police round up draft dodgers, as creating all-professional army put on hold

On Sunday, Russia launched its spring military draft, warning that police would go all out this time round to track down draft-dodgers - they fear bullying and service in the breakaway republic of Chechnya. Some 190,000 men aged between 18 and 27 are expected to report between April 1 and June 30 to do two years' service in the ranks of Russia's 1.2 million-strong army. In the meantime, plans to reduce and streamline the forces, creating an all-professional army of regulars, have been put on hold. A presidential decree instructed the government and executive bodies "to ensure implementation of measures on calling up Russian citizens for military service." General Vladislav Putilin warned that the military and police would redouble efforts to round up draft-dodgers. Some 20,000 failed to report for military service last time round in the autumn, and the numbers are growing, especially since the 1999 resumption of hostilities in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, Gen. Putilin is quoted by AFP as saying. The Russian Association of Soldiers' Mothers, a lobby group against military service, has repeatedly condemned service conditions, claiming they were inhumane, and raw recruits were deployed in Chechnya with little training. In a decree promulgated at the end of 1999, President Vladimir Putin abolished the principle that only volunteers need serve in Chechnya. The Russian army, largely dependent on conscription, does not have the resources to conduct operations in Chechnya relying only on regulars. There are plans to reduce army strength from the present 1.2 million to 365,000 by January 2004, General Putilin said. But he warned that the reductions would not affect the scale of conscription because the army would continue having difficulty maintaining troop levels. Former President Boris Yeltsin originally promised the creation of an all-regular, all-professional army without conscription by 2000. Mr. Putin and his new defence minister Sergei Ivanov, have also said their aim is an all-professional army. But Mr. Ivanov warned on Saturday it would take time to achieve this, recalling that the United States had taken 10 years to accomplish that. The Association of Soldiers' Mothers appealed on Friday to young Russians to obey the law and not try to dodge the draft. Instead, they should resort to legal means to refuse military service, the group urged. Some young Russians have tried to register as conscientious objectors. An alternative form of civilian service performing social duties was foreseen in the 1993 Russian Constitution but, in practice, never introduced.

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