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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Short Sentence Will Not Stop Army Hazing

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The four-year sentence handed down to Sergeant Alexander Sivyakov in the Andrei Sychyov hazing case has left everyone involved dissatisfied.

Sychyov's lawyer said the sentence -- four years in a penal colony, just one year above the minimum mandated in the Penal Code -- did not reflect the severity of the crime and that he planned to appeal.

Sivyakov's lawyer dismissed the verdict as unfounded and reiterated her client's innocence. She attributed the amputation of Sychyov's legs and genitals after the hazing incident to a hereditary medical condition -- a theory first advanced by top military doctors in mid-August, more than seven months after the hazing incident occurred.

The ambiguous outcome of the trial was almost guaranteed.

For a start, the sergeant -- himself nothing more than a second-year conscript -- was charged not with assault, but with "exceeding [his] authority, resulting in grave consequences," a catch-all charge that has been applied in a number of recent hazing and abuse cases in the military. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars.

The trial was notable for allegations of heavy-handed interference by the military leadership and a dispute over diagnoses that pitted the local doctors in Chelyabinsk against specialists from Moscow's Burdenko Military Hospital.

The implications of the Sychyov case extend far beyond the Chelyabinsk courtroom where Tuesday's verdict was delivered, however.

From the moment news broke of the incident at the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy last New Year's Eve, the case has been held up as glaring evidence of the hazing epidemic in the military. Officials, from President Vladimir Putin on down, have called for measures to improve discipline in the ranks.

Now that Sivyakov has been convicted, there is a risk that the attention of the authorities, the press and the public will shift to a new scandal, and the system that put a poorly trained second-year conscript in charge of new recruits will go unchanged.

The most obvious lesson that should be derived from the Sychyov case is that the armed forces urgently need to create a corps of professional sergeants capable of training draftees and maintaining order in the barracks rather than beating their subordinates and hiring them out to work on construction sites.

Junior officers should also be offered incentives -- better pay, housing and training -- to attract the most qualified candidates to join the service.

Beyond this, the military must be subject to more robust civilian oversight, which could prevent crimes like this from being covered up for nearly a month before the public -- and apparently Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov -- heard about it.

Without meaningful reform in these and many other areas, the military will never put an end to hazing in the ranks. And many more young men will suffer.