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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sychyov Story Continues on Its Sorry Path

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When he first heard of the brutal beating of Private Andrei Sychyov, a full 25 days after the attack, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov described it as "nothing serious." As more information became available about the injuries that led to the amputation of Sychyov's legs and genitals, however, it became clear that the case had to be taken seriously after all.

Alexander Savenkov, then the chief military prosecutor, called the hazing the worst he had ever seen. Ivanov fired the head of the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy, where the attack occurred, and swore to find out why the incident had gone unreported for so long. President Vladimir Putin urged the armed forces to assist prosecutors in their investigation.

But then criticism turned to public calls for Ivanov's resignation. Ivanov promptly told a session of the State Duma that hazing was not a problem particular to the military but a symptom of a criminal malaise in society. A senior army general accused military prosecutors of engaging in a witch hunt, prompting Ivanov to assert that the army should be in charge of investigating itself. The Defense Ministry appeared to be circling the wagons.

The events so far in the trial of the soldier charged in the Sychyov case look like more of the same. Five soldiers from the academy have recanted earlier testimony confirming the attack. Three testified that they had been pressured to reverse their statements by an unidentified general who visited the academy in civilian clothes.

Then, on Monday, more than seven months after doctors first examined the wounded Sychyov in Chelyabinsk, doctors from the Burdenko Military Hospital -- the country's top military medical facility -- testified that the severity of Sychyov's injuries were the result of a hereditary illness, thrombophlebitis, a condition that causes inflammation as a result of blood clots. One doctor even claimed that a timely correct diagnosis might have saved Sychyov's left leg and genitals.

The testimony raises the question of why Sychyov, with such a serious illness, was considered fit for military service in the first place. Part of the answer might be found in the pressure brought to bear on conscription offices -- which are not even part of the Defense Ministry -- to meet their quotas during the fall and spring call-ups. If the doctors are right, this makes Sychyov's story even more tragic.

Whatever the case, the events that have surrounded the investigation and trial are not just sad, but alarming. None of this is going to help the armed forces attract the soldiers it says it needs.