Russian servicemen, dressed in historical uniforms, line up as they take part in a military parade rehearsal in front of St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, November 6, 2015.
Maxim Shemetov / Reuters

In Russia, military service is mandatory for men aged 18 to 27. But according to a recent European Parliamentary Research Service report, each year, half of all would-be conscripts—75,000 out of an annual intake of around 150,000 young men—are thought to be dodging the draft. And now the conflicts in Ukraine in Syria are expected to push those numbers even higher. The armed forces’ autumn draft—which runs between October 1 and December 31 and involves 147,000 young men—could register greater reluctance to serve than any in recent memory. Of particular concern to Russia’s armed forces are intelligent young men who enroll in Ph.D. programs, allowing them to put off service until they age out of the draft.

Muscovite Vladimir Berkhin, a young psychologist, recently started a doctoral program at a reputable university in his home city. “A young man who wants to avoid conscription in Russia can present himself as ill—

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