MOSCOW -- Maj. Vladimir Lopatin, a 30-year-old former instructor of Marxism-Leninism with a pristine military record, is the scourge of the Red Army.

Dressed in a crisp, navy blue uniform and wielding a pen as lethal as a Kalashnikov rifle, Lopatin is the leader of a new sort of Soviet dissident known as the "Young Turks," a rebellious caucus of 20 mid-level officers in the Congress of People's Deputies who are pressuring the conservative army establishment to deepen and speed up the pace of military reform.

Every time one of the Young Turk deputies takes the podium in the Soviet legislature, the older generals glower as if they were watching a public mutiny. It is a battle of generations that the army command takes very personally. In April, the generals had Lopatin thrown out of the Communist Party; a few weeks later, an embarrassed Kremlin leadership reinstated him; finally, in July, Lopatin quit the party forever.

"I decided I could no longer cast my lot with those people. They have no future," Lopatin said in an interview at his offices on Kalinin Prospect. Lopatin is the chairman of a parliamentary subcommittee on military reform, and said the military leadership, led by Defense Minister Marshal Dmitri Yazov and Chief of Staff Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, has "done all {it} could to obstruct us and make our work irrelevant."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin admires Lopatin's intelligence so much that he wants to make him chairman of the vast republic's committee on defense and intelligence.

There have been numerous cases of harassment against the young military deputies who have attempted to speak out for deep budget cuts and an end to the mandatory draft: Col. Vilen Martirosyan was threatened with expulsion by the Communist Party for being a member of the Ukrainian nationalist group Rukh and was charged with "anti-Soviet activity" in the official military newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda; Lt. Nikolai Tutov was thrown out of the party ranks after he helped found a new party, the Social Democrats.

When the military contingent in the congress held a special all-army session last December, the leadership relegated the Young Turks to the back of the hall and unplugged their microphones. At the same meeting, one of the higher-ups branded the dissident officer, Col. A.V. Tsalko, "an enemy of the Soviet army." Lopatin reported to the congress that officers were threatening him with discharge to a reserve unit.

The Young Turks are certainly guilty of numerous ideological sins. They favor the creation of a professional, volunteer army; massive reductions in spending, troop levels and arms exports; the replacement of Yazov with a civilian defense minister; the elimination of the Communist Party's influential role within the military; far greater control for the republics over military questions; and the creation of a military union to petition the government for better conditions and "civil rights."

Gorbachev's position is closer to the Young Turks' than to Yazov and Moiseyev's -- a fact of political life that has led many generals to lash out at Gorbachev for having "lost" Eastern Europe and "humiliated" the army. Asked about rumors over the past year that discontent among conservative military leaders is so profound that they were considering a coup d'etat, Lopatin smiled and said, "Better to look at the reasons behind such rumors. After all, who is opposed to the processes underway today? In the pyramid of power, the real endangered foundation is the military-industrial complex. They have a lot to lose under radical reform. Today there is a turn to the right that is easy to see."

With hundreds of thousands of troops returning from Eastern Europe and the Pacific with no jobs or apartments, with the Communist Party, Leninist ideology and all the assumptions of Cold War geopolitics coming to an abrupt end, with thousands of young men in the Baltic States and other republics dodging the draft, the Soviet military leadership is undergoing a profound institutional crisis. For a few years, it resisted the light of glasnost. But ever since the last, ignominious days of the war in Afghanistan, the army has come under hard scrutiny not only by the press and the Gorbachev government, but also by some of its own.

And that, Lopatin said, "is humiliating for them. Understand: The main scope of military reform is beyond the scope of Marshal Yazov, and he tries to pretend we do not exist." But the popularity of the military reformers, both among recruits and the general public, is widespread. So much so that there is a joke in Moscow:

Question: What is the most prestigious rank in the military?

Answer: A people's deputy.

By contrast, Yazov is widely considered aloof, not especially intelligent, a relic of the past. Even his reputation among Afghan veterans is low.

"I remember the one time Yazov came to Afghanistan, in January 1989, all the soldiers and officers were excited and were all set to have him get a sense of what was going on," said Artyom Borovik, author of a book about Afghanistan, "The Hidden War." "He never even visited a single regiment. All he did was go to the embassy and talk with Najibullah. That made people very, very unhappy with him."

Lopatin is convinced that the dissidents in the army "far outnumber" the traditionalists, and he fears "the leadership is preparing wide-ranging actions against all those disagreeing with them, to get rid of them as part of the 'cuts' in the army. That's why we have to set up a union, a social protection system." The generals cannot get rid of the elected Young Turks, but Lopatin said that they "hide and obfuscate" his committee's work by deliberately failing to provide witnesses and accurate budget figures.

"They don't believe in democracy," he said. "They hardly even mouth the words."

Raised in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Lopatin graduated in 1981 from the Kurgan Higher Military Academy, one of the Soviet Union's many institutes that combine the lessons of Clausewitz and Lenin, the rifle and the sickle. He then served in Young Communist League units, the Black Sea fleet and "doing propaganda work in various army units."

But as with so many Soviet people, even for people such as Lopatin who were surrounded by Soviet society's most conservative institutions, the arrival of Gorbachev and glasnost meant a gradual, inevitable awakening. "Maybe it sounds funny," he said, "but it began to dawn on me that I had to start making some choices. I remember that I was subscribing to two magazines at the time: Scientific Communism, which told us the way things should be not the way they really were, and Krokodil, which used jokes and cartoons to tell the truth of everyday life."

Around the time of the 27th Party Congress in 1986, where Gorbachev first began speaking concretely about the need for radical reform, Lopatin was serving as a political officer in Vologda, a dismal city in northern Russia surrounded by hundreds of dying villages. In the spirit of the time, Lopatin began making speeches in the region, urging officers to learn from glasnost, to be self-critical, to change.

"I lost a promotion for my troubles," Lopatin said.

In January 1989, Lopatin decided to run for a seat in the new Congress of People's Deputies. After a five-month campaign, he beat 12 other candidates, winning 80 percent of the vote in the final runoff.

At congress sessions, Lopatin is a jolting vision. His carriage is trig, even stiff, and his speeches have the automatic sound of a tape recorder with the speed turned up. And yet from the podium of the Kremlin, he has been able to do what no soldier who values his liberty dares to do: He goes after the generals for concealing budget figures and telling "half-truths." He says the military leadership has managed to stack the Supreme Soviet committee on military and intelligence affairs with "people ready to serve their own interests": generals, leaders of the defense industry and other conservatives.

In Moscow, the name Lopatin is not as widely known. Many would sooner think of Konstantin Simonov's war novel, "Lopatin's Notes." Lopatin and his circle of young deputies are still considered malchishki, kids.

And yet Lopatin's ideas have, like Yeltsin's, staked out a territory to the left of Gorbachev that has been instrumental in pushing forward reforms. Lopatin has been published not only in progressive journals such as Moscow News and Ogonyok, but also in the august organ of the Communist Party's ideological department, Kommunist. In Kommunist, Lopatin wrote of how the leaders of his garrison in Vologda built themselves luxurious summer homes with army funds while the generals refused to allocate funds for a kindergarten for the soldiers' children.

If Yeltsin does, as expected, appoint Lopatin head of the Russian republic's legislative committee on defense and intelligence, he will suddenly be faced with a series of issues that will challenge the Soviet military and KGB leaderships even more sharply: Who will control the military on the territory of Russia, the republican or national government? Will the leadership still insist on posting conscripts from Russia to other republics? Will there even be conscripts? Who decides?

Suddenly this 30-year-old major who seems as if he could get by with one shave a week will be set once more against the leaders of the world's biggest army. "I will do what I can," he said. "My head is already well inside the tiger's mouth."