Serviceman's Hazing Death Being Investigated

Prosecutors are investigating the death of a serviceman who suffered severe head injuries after his drunken commanding officer kicked him in the face, a spokeswoman for the regional military prosecutor's office said Friday.

The comments by the spokeswoman, Natalya Zemskova, contradicted an earlier account of the incident by military higher-ups, who suggested the commanding officer was simply punishing the serviceman for insubordination.

Dmitry Panteleyev, 20, was attacked on Aug. 4 by Captain Vyacheslav Nikiforov at the base where they were stationed in the Moscow region town of Lukhovitsy, prosecutors said.

Panteleyev, from Syktyvkar, the capital of the Komi republic, had less than four months to serve before he was to be discharged.

After being beaten, Panteleyev was taken to a local hospital, where he died last week, never having regained consciousness.

Zemskova called Nikiforov a heavyset man, weighing in at about 160 kilograms.

The hazing incident came a week after the new military prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, touted what he called a dramatic decline in hazing-related deaths and suicides in the military.

Deaths from hazing have fallen by 28 percent, Fridinsky said at a meeting attended by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and top military prosecutors.

Initially, military officials said Nikiforov beat Panteleyev after the serviceman was said to have left his detachment without permission and returned drunk with another serviceman.

But on Friday, prosecutors said they had established that it was Nikiforov who had attacked his subordinates. The other serviceman with Panteleyev, who suffered only minor injuries, was not identified. No alcohol was found in Panteleyev's blood.

Nikiforov was detained last Monday and remains in custody in the nearby town of Kolomna, Zemskova said. He faces charges of abusing his post and inflicting severe injuries resulting in death. If he is found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Soldiers' rights groups have long accused the military of covering up hazing incidents.

"Dozens of similar crimes are committed everyday, and dozens of crippled soldiers are scattered across the country in hospitals and might never reach the public eye," said Valentina Melnikov of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees.

In 2003, Melnikov said, 24 servicemen deserted the same detachment in Lukhovitsy that Panteleyev had belonged to, adding that 18 of those had turned up at her central Moscow office complaining of hazing.

"This is a very typical case for the armed forces," said Veronika Marchenko, head of Mothers' Right Fund. "Kicking servicemen is the only way of punishing subordinate servicemen that most officers know of."

Based on parents' reports, Mothers' Right said 3,000 servicemen died yearly due to hazing and other accidents. This figure is much higher than that of the Defense Ministry.

A Defense Ministry spokesman declined to comment on the incident.

Panteleyev was part of a detachment of so-called railway troops. Such troops are usually deployed for civil and military construction projects, including the construction of roads and bridges and repairing railways.

The Defense Ministry spokesman voiced surprise that railway troops were part of the Defense Ministry.

 In another high-profile case, that of Andrei Sychyov, a military hospital doctor said the serviceman had been misdiagnosed by doctors in Chelyabinsk.

Sychyov, a first-year conscript serving at the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy, was attacked in a January hazing incident. His legs and genitals were subsequently amputated.

The trial for the suspect in the incident, Alexander Sivyakov, is now taking place. Sivyakov is a second-year soldier.

Vyacheslav Klyuzhev, the head doctor at Burdenko hospital, where Sychyov is being treated, said at least one of Sychyov's legs could have been saved, Interfax reported. He also said Sychyov could move around the hospital in a wheelchair and testify in Sivyakov's trial, though he could not leave the hospital.