Fridinsky Touts Fall in Army Deaths

After just one month on the job, the new chief military prosecutor, Sergei Fridinsky, announced on Friday a dramatic decline in the number of suicides and hazing-related deaths in the armed forces.

Speaking at a meeting of top military prosecutors attended by Prosecutor General Yury Chaika and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Fridinsky said the number of suicides among military personnel was down 10 percent in the first half of the year, while the number of hazing-related deaths fell by 28 percent.

Some 3,500 beatings and other hazing incidents have been reported this year, leaving 17 soldiers dead and more than 100 with serious injuries, according to the Prosecutor General's Office.

Most recently, a soldier killed himself Thursday while on guard duty at an Interior Ministry troops unit in the central Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk, Itar-Tass reported Friday. The suicide was the eighth non-combat death in the unit in the last 16 months.

Fridinsky's upbeat assessment contrasted sharply with the reports of his predecessor, Alexander Savenkov. Just a few months ago, Savenkov warned about the rise of non-combat deaths and the plague of hazing in the armed forces, much to Ivanov's consternation.

Savenkov feuded publicly with Ivanov for two years, accusing the top brass of covering up the truth about crime in the military. Savenkov lost his job last month when Chaika ordered a major shakeup of the prosecutor's office.

Human rights groups warned that Savenkov's departure would allow the military to continue concealing the truth about crimes in the ranks. The Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees has warned that the military prosecutor's office would once more turn a blind eye to hazing and other crimes.

Fridinsky admitted Friday that while the number of non-combat deaths had fallen, the overall crime rate in the military was actually on the rise, especially economic crimes committed by officers. Fridinsky offered no plan for tackling the problem, however.

"We understand that this problem is not exclusive to the armed forces. It affects the whole of society, including law enforcement," Fridinsky said.

The crime rate in the military has grown by 13 percent this year, Chaika said at the meeting. The number of hazing incidents increased by 3 percent, he said, blaming the increase on Savenkov, whom he accused of unnecessary confrontation with the Defense Ministry.

"In recent years, military prosecutors have adopted an openly confrontational stance toward the Defense Ministry rather than cooperating and pooling their efforts," Chaika said.

Savenkov positioned himself as an outside observer and critic and politicized pressing problems, creating an uproar in the media, Chaika added.

Chaika seemed to be referring to the high-profile case of Andrei Sychyov, a first-year conscript serving at the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy. Sychyov was the victim of a brutal hazing incident in January that left him with gangrene in his feet and legs. Sychyov's legs and genitals were subsequently amputated.

Savenkov stated publicly that he had never encountered a more egregious offense during his career, and vowed to oversee the investigation personally, including what he called the military leadership's attempt to cover up the incident.

A second-year soldier at the academy, Alexander Sivyakov, has been accused of carrying out the attack. Sivyakov is charged with "exceeding his authority with grave consequences." Sivyakov is currently on trial in Chelyabinsk. Sychyov is being treated at the Burdenko military hospital in Moscow.