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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Prosecutor Vows to Fight Army Hazing

Revealing gruesome details of hazing in an elite Interior Ministry division, Russia's chief military prosecutor pledged Tuesday to step up efforts to combat widespread harassment of servicemen.

"We want to know why so many soldiers are dying in peacetime," Yury Dyomin said at a news conference.

Dyomin recently sent four teams of investigators to the elite division, formerly known as the Dzerzhinksy division, to investigate a host of alleged crimes including hazing, or the brutal and systematic harassment of servicemen by their superiors.

Investigators were shocked by what they found. In the division, which was once the pride of the Russian military, investigators told the Russian daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda they uncovered evidence of 272 crimes. Among the horror stories was one young soldier who was forced to eat a rat in a cramped punishment cell.

"The circumstances were terrible," Dyomin said Tuesday.

Investigators also discovered another young conscript hospitalized with a ruptured spleen after being allegedly beaten by his officer.

Although more than a hundred soldiers in the division had suffered severe injuries and trauma as a result of beatings, only 37 cases were handed over to the prosecutor's office. In the course of their investigations, Dyomin's subordinates found evidence that more than 20 cases of dedovshchina, or hazing, had been hushed up, the paper reported.

"When people are being beaten unmercifully, they have nowhere to turn," Dyomin said. "Without a doubt, we need military police in the Russian military, but the biggest problem is financing."

The division, which was lauded for its efforts in Chechnya, is currently searching for 180 deserters. In Russia, an estimated 10,000 servicemen have abandoned their divisions, said Valentina Melnikova, spokeswoman for the Soldiers' Mothers Committee.

Up to 70 percent of some 10,000 enquiries the organization fields each year are related to hazing, Melnikova said Tuesday. Each year, some 2,000 young men, mostly conscripts, show up at the organization's headquarters citing maltreatment and abuse as the reason for deserting their battalions.

According to Dyomin, a total of 1,027 military servicemen died in crime-related circumstances in the first nine months of 1997, compared to only 974 in the same time period in 1996. A further 314 suicides in the military have been registered so far this year. Melnikova advises parents of abused servicemen to set the legal wheels in motion immediately by writing complaints to the Military Prosecutor's Office and obtaining medical and psychological evaluations to confirm charges of hazing.

Few, however, actually take their complaints to court. "This takes a lot of strength," Melnikova said. "They only do this when [their son] has been rendered an invalid or his health has been irrevocably ruined."

Dyomin also noted that the characteristics of crimes in the military are changing. Although military crimes committed under the influence of alcohol declined in 1997 by 33 percent, drug-related crimes in the military rose by 66 percent countrywide.

In the first nine months of 1997, Russia's military courts heard 8,404 criminal cases against servicemen.

And the military's top brass no longer find themselves above the law, Dyomin said. Criminal investigations are proceeding against 21 Russian generals, including one against former deputy defense minister Konstantin Kobets. The case against Kobets, who is currently being investigated in connection with a series of crimes including the abuse of power, is expected to reach a conclusion before the year's end.

Separately, Dyomin said Tuesday that he was not satisfied with General Lev Rokhlin's explanation of inflammatory statements made at a recent rally, and would not let "the army be dragged into political games." Rokhlin, who heads the State Duma's defense committee, has been trying to form a political base in the armed forces.