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Russian Army Plagued by Draft Evasion, Health Problems

January 20, 1994

MOSCOW (AP) _ Draft evasion and the poor health of potential draftees are preventing the Russian army from filling its ranks, four high-ranking generals said today.

Col. Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov, chief of the Russian General Staff, said more than 20,000 draft dodgers had been caught, but 50,000 others eluded the army and police.

″Not only in Russia, but in all countries, draft evasion has been considered a shameful act unworthy of a real man,″ he said at a news conference.

Draft evasion in peacetime is punishable in Russia by large fines and one to three years in prison.

Kolesnikov said there was growing disrespect for all laws in Russian society. But draft evasion also has been blamed on the military’s falling prestige, low pay, poor housing and frequent hazing of recruits.

Maj. Gen. Valery P. Zolotov, head of the military’s central medical commission, said about 25 percent of potential conscripts are rejected for medical reasons.

″In the last three years, the health of conscripts has grown much worse,″ Zolotov said. ″We are very worried about their state of health. It’s not just an issue for the armed forces. ... The health of soldiers is the health of the nation.″

The Defense Ministry called the news conference to announce the results of the most recent conscription drive, which began in November and will end in March.

Kolesnikov said only 73 percent of the planned number of soldiers and non- commissioned officers was drafted. He did not reveal the actual number of conscripts, which a ministry spokesman said was a military secret.

As of Jan. 1, the army had more than 2 million soldiers and officers, including about 250,000 women, the ministry said.

The generals expressed pleasure about one change: President Boris Yeltsin’s decision last year allowing the military to hire professional, volunteer soldiers on longterm contracts. Kolesnikov said 120,000 soldiers were given contracts last year and 150,000 more would be hired in 1994.

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