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Russia's Dark Military Problem: Hazing


In recent months, the Kremlin has announced moves indicating the return of Russian military power - deploying new missiles, building new atomic submarines and resuming strategic flights. But as VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow, Russia is coping with a serious problem in its military ranks.

The military draft in Russia is semi-annual process. Each spring and fall, young men of draft age are obligated to register and undergo a physical examination for service in the armed forces.

The military would like its draftees to believe they will be serving in a mighty force of committed and disciplined soldiers eager to serve their country. But Russia's armed forces are plagued by a dark reality.

Widespread beatings of Russian soldiers by fellow soldiers in brutal hazing rituals are recognized as a serious problem by senior military officials. General Vasily Smirnov is the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff.

"Our assessment of the facts of hazing in the armed forces is very harsh," General Smirnov says. "I believe the gradual reduction of the military service period will allow us to substantially reduce the shameful phenomenon, which now exists."

Hazing is no secret to the conscripts at the Podolsk draft induction center near Moscow. Some hope for a medical deferment, and many are reported to pay bribes to avoid military service altogether.

Anton Latynin says he is resigned to serving in uniform for the next 18 months. "If it weren't for hazing, if there were normal conditions, I could simply perform my duty. But I don't want to waste time. I want to work on my career, but it has to be put off."

Valentina Melnikova is head of Russia's Committee of Soldiers' Mothers. She holds regular meetings with draft age men and their parents to advise them of their rights, and medical conditions that allow conscripts to avoid military service.

She told the VOA that officers in today's Russian army, like that of the former Soviet Union, treat soldiers like mud. "Everybody understands their attitude toward conscripts is, 'so somebody is killed or disfigured. A few months will pass and they'll send some new draftees.' There is no appreciation that people are individuals, that people have value because they are people," she said.

Young men and women demonstrating recently at the Defense Ministry in Moscow said many patriotic Russians fear hazing and pay bribes to avoid conscription. The demonstrators' controversial suggestion - an official draft avoidance fee to channel money from bribe takers to government coffers.

"We think that additional financial resources in the form of a military tax could raise military conditions, thereby attracting more young people to serve," explained protester Yaroslav Volpin.

Russia has reduced the period of military service from two years to 18 months and will further lower it to one year in 2008. All healthy Russian men between the ages of 18 and 27 are required to serve.

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