Sergeant Demoted in Beating

A Chelyabinsk military court on Monday held the first in a series of trials of servicemen charged with hazing soldiers at the tank academy where Private Andrei Sychyov lost his legs and genitals after being tortured.

RIA-Novosti said the Chelyabinsk military court demoted Sergeant Ivan Chernykh, the first to face trial as a result of the investigations, and gave him a four-year suspended sentence for beating a private and breaking his nose. Chernykh and his victim will continue serving in the same battalion.

The treatment of Sychyov, who had to undergo several operations after being tied up and badly beaten by drunk fellow soldiers, has sparked a public outcry over the state of the armed forces.

Investigations showed that Sychyov's ordeal was not the only episode of hazing in the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy.

Later this week, five other servicemen from the academy will face trials for dedovshchina episodes unrelated to Sychyov. Several soldiers have been arrested in connection with Sychyov's case, but it is not yet clear when they will be tried.

Unusually outspoken media coverage of Sychyov's suffering has been a severe blow to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Critics say that defense budget hikes have allowed the military to run exercises unprecedented since Soviet times, but do not help improve morale among servicemen.

Five years into President Vladimir Putin's military reforms, parents across Russia still do their best to bail out their children from compulsory military service, fearing its bad reputation.

The military complains that widespread draft dodging has led to a situation in which mainly young people from the poorest families, many of them with drinking habits and criminal records, join the armed forces.

Many politicians have said the public scandal around Sychyov would encourage further dodging and put Russia's plans to cut military service from two years to one in 2008 at risk.

Keen to show that it is fighting hazing, the military has launched a public hunt for servicemen involved.

On Monday, Interfax reported that three servicemen had been arrested in Bashkortostan over the beating of a fellow soldier to death.