MOSCOW – Hundreds protested in central Moscow on Saturday against the draft, calling for an end to mandatory military service and criticizing plans to cut deferments as the Russian armed forces began their spring conscription campaign.
The demonstration, part of a nationwide campaign led by opposition politicians and anti-draft activists, drew about 300 people to Pushkin Square. Many chanted slogans or held posters saying "the Army is Slavery" or "Draft: No," and some called for the resignation of President Vladimir Putin and the defense minister.
Ekho Moskvy radio reported that similar protests were held in some 30 other Russian cities.
The government is preparing to scrap a series of deferments — a decision Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says is necessary to fulfill plans to reduce the term of mandatory service from two years to one.
The protest also came amid public dismay over a horrific case that highlighted the persistent problem of abuse in the military — the hazing of an 18-year-old private over the New Year that resulted in the amputation of his legs and genitals.
For the spring draft, the ITAR-Tass news agency said the military plans to conscript nearly 125,000 young men — 9.7 percent of those ranging in age from 18 to 27.
All Russian men in that age group are theoretically required to serve in the 1.2 million-member military, but fewer than 10 percent are normally drafted, while many dodge service by signing up for college, being excused for health reasons — often falsified — or simply paying bribes.
Some Kremlin critics want mandatory service to be eliminated altogether, citing poor conditions in the underfunded military and rampant bullying of young conscripts by older soldiers.