AP: Murder and mayhem cull ranks of Russian army
- Murder and mayhem cull ranks of Russian army
October 3 2002
The Russian soldiers were caught napping when a burst of automatic
gunfire shot up their dugout in the Caucasus Mountains. Two shadows
slipped into the valley below, leaving eight corpses behind.
Officials at first blamed the usual suspects - rebels from nearby
But then the investigation took a different tack. After a four-day hunt
involving thousands of police, privates Oleg Khismatulin and Nikolai
Bozhkov were caught and confessed to killing their comrades in revenge
for being hazed.
The murders in late August topped national television headlines as the
bloodiest military shoot-out since February, when two Russian
paratroopers fled their unit and killed 10 police officers and
It highlighted the military's worsening problem of hazing and
One desertion made news in early September because of its sheer scale:
54 soldiers left their unit in southern Russia and marched 55 kilometres
to Volgograd to protest against beatings by their officers.
But most desertions go unreported. The deputy chief of the Russian
General Staff, Lieutenant-General Vasily Smirnov, says 2270 servicemen
fled their units during the first six months of this year and 860 remain
missing. General Smirnov said 2265 deserters were at large, and some had
been on the run for 10 years.
Russia's anti-conscription activists give a much higher figure - about
40,000 - and say only radical reform can improve things.
"The military degradation has gone too far to deal with through
evolutionary steps," said Ida Kuklina, who is active in Soldiers'
Mothers, the leading anti-draft group. "The army is the only part of
Russian society that has remained virtually unreformed since Soviet
times, except for shrinking in size."
Her group believes that about 3000 servicemen die every year in
shootings, suicides and accidents, not counting daily casualties in the
war with separatists in Chechnya.
General Smirnov said that, excluding deaths in battle, 483 servicemen
died on and off duty in the first half of the year - about one-third by
Hazing starts with routine demands for young conscripts to clean
toilets, wash older soldiers' socks or beg on the streets for cigarette
money. The defiant or weak-willed are beaten and, in some cases,
tortured, raped and killed.
The media recently reported a military prostitution ring in Moscow in
which sergeants offered their men as prostitutes.
Captured deserters usually face a military tribunal and are sent to
punishment units. Sometimes, the authorities simply return deserters to
their units, as apparently happened to the 54 soldiers who marched to
Every Russian male aged 18-27 is supposed to serve two years in the
military, but college deferments, health exemptions and bribes mean only
12 per cent of potential conscripts were actually called up this
northern spring, compared with about 17 per cent three years ago,
military officials say.
In its struggle to fill the ranks, the military routinely drafts men
with mental illnesses and criminal records.
"Violence is an inherent part of the existing system," said Ms Kuklina
of Soldiers' Mothers. "This problem will never be solved until the draft