Moscow, Dec 12 (IANS/RIA Novosti) President Vladimir Putin is bringing back dedicated sports units in the Russian army to satisfy the draft requirement while protecting future champions from the full rigors of military service.
Sports units were common in the Soviet army and included only high-profile athletes who were exempt from ordinary service. "The Ministry of Defence should form army sports units with a minimum manpower of 400 people," Putin said in comments published on the Kremlin website Tuesday.
This will allow the army to fully accommodate "candidates for the Russian national teams in Olympic sports," Putin said.
As was the case in the Soviet era, coaches are to comprise lists of promising youth athletes who are eligible for the draft between the ages of 18 and 27 and submit them to the Defence Ministry. The names are then sent to military enlistment offices throughout the country.
Putin gave new Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu until Feb 25 to establish the initiative.
Russia has a mandatory draft system where all able-bodied men of the correct age must do a 12-month stint. Draft-dodging is common practice, with potential recruits scared off by poor living conditions, low wages and systemic hazing.
One of Putin's pet projects in his third term as president is to restore the country's sporting might, which was lost with the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.