In Russia, the Favorite Pastime of Draft Dodging

Russia's Army relies heavily on conscripts, but Russians are working harder than ever to avoid service.

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But bribes don't always work. Conscription officials have been known to pocket payments and then not exempt a draftee from service, says Znachkova, adding that in worse cases, they take the money and then report a conscript for attempted bribery. As is often the case in Russia, having the right connections can solve many problems, meaning that it can be safer to make a payment through a contact in the military. "You only go via people in your own circle," says Oleg, whose own seemingly tenuous connection is a friend who himself is friends with the son of an officer.

The Committee of Soldiers' Mothers discourages offering bribes to military officials, and instead suggests that draftees study the conscription laws and see if they fit under one of the exemption categories—soldiers with severe cases of flat feet and scoliosis do not have to serve, for example. Some doctors can, of course, be bribed for fake diagnoses.

Other times, it's simpler to leave Russia altogether. Dmitry, 24, recently moved to Moscow from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and received Russian citizenship. Znachkova proposed he either return to Tashkent until he is 27, when he will be too old to be drafted, or enroll in a master's program that ends when he is 27.

If worst comes to worst, draftees can take legal action. Yaroslav Tsitsoyev, 18, is suing his local conscription office because they refused to send him for medical tests after he said he was ill. He doesn't have a lawyer, though recently Znachkova was prepping him on how to speak with the judge and printing off legal documents for him. "Most of my friends aren't serving; they all have problems with their health," says Tsitsoyev, who was calm despite his impending solo appearance in court.

There are rumors of Russians taking more extreme steps to avoid the draft, such as breaking their own arms. Oleg recounts the story of an acquaintance who lived in two flats that adjoined each other and had a shared bathroom.

"Whenever personnel from the conscription office came round, he'd just run next door. They didn't know he had two flats," Oleg says.

"That was before he bought himself a certificate saying he'd served."

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