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Russia: Conscript's Prostitution Claims Shed Light On Hazing

Many conscripts don't find the Russian military suits them (ITAR-TASS) ST. PETERSBURG, March 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In a small, cluttered office in the center of St. Petersburg, Lyubov Yezheleva of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee tells the story of Pavel, a conscript from Siberia.

"He explained how over a period of time, while he was serving as a conscript here in St. Petersburg, he was forced into male prostitution. It was his superiors who made him do this, the people who are traditionally known in the Russian army as 'dyedi', or 'uncles'," Yezheleva said. "They beat him, and then they gave him a telephone, he arranged a meeting with the client and discussed the price. He went and carried out these functions and then he took the money from the client and gave it to his superiors."

Pavel, who has asked that his real name not be revealed, claimed he endured the abuse for several months before approaching the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, a nationwide group that protects the rights of conscripts in the Russian military. Pavel has written a statement and filed a case in the courts, although no date has been set for a preliminary reading.

You're In The Army Now

Yezheleva said she has heard of few cases where conscripts were forced into prostitution to earn money for their superiors. But she said rape and abuse in the military is not unusual.

"Crimes involving sexual violence do exist in the army," Yezheleva said. "We know about them because of the statements that people who come to us write down. I should make one thing clear that is extremely important: for a young man to talk about something like this is very, very difficult. And, in my opinion, the majority of these crimes will remain only on the conscience of those who suffered them and those who carried them out. It's very rare that a young man will come to us and say that he suffered sexual abuse. Because, of course, it is extremely humiliating."

Hazing in the Russian armed forces, which are made up primarily of conscripts, is endemic. There is even a term, "dedovshina", that describes the abuse younger conscripts suffer at the hands of their superiors.

In a country where the state has tight control over the media, few cases of bullying in the army come to light. But in recent years, a number of attacks on soldiers has reached the newspapers and shocked the population.

In one case, a junior conscript's legs and genitals had to be amputated as a result of a beating. In another, a conscript had to have part of his intestine removed after he was beaten.

Every year at least 1,000 conscripts die in noncombat incidents -- including hazing and suicide. Hundreds more are hospitalized. As a result, thousands of young men who are required to serve in the military do everything they can to avoid the draft.

Paying Their Way Out

One Muscovite, who asked not to be identified, told RFE/RL his family paid $7,000 to bribe his way out of conscription. He said most of his friends did the same, paying between $5,000 and $10,000 each to dodge the draft.

Anatoly Tsyganok, director of the independent, Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasting, says the structure of the military needs to be changed.

A conscript waiting to receive his new uniform (ITAR-TASS)

"There are definitely social problems that the Russian Army has inherited from the Soviet Army," Tsyganok said. "I don't think there has been a suitable system put in place to combat these problems. It seems to me that the way to fight 'dedovshina' is by changing the way that the draft is organized. Another reason is that the Russian Army lacks a professional level of sergeants. This needs to be a proper profession that is recognized by the Defense Ministry."

He says frequently it is older conscripts who have reached the rank of sergeant who abuse the younger, newer ones. Often, they have been the victims of hazing themselves.

It is estimated that up to 70 percent of young men pay their way out of conscription, leaving the poorest and least healthy to make up the armed forces. In a candid address last month, Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov, the head of Russia's Air Force, spoke out about the state of the country's military.

He said that of the 11,000 young men drafted into the air force, more than 30 percent were "mentally unstable," 10 percent suffered from alcohol- and drug-abuse problems, and 15 percent were ill or malnourished.

He added that 25 percent had never known their fathers, 3 percent didn't know their mothers, and another 3 percent were orphans.

Dodgy Draft Practices

At the Soldiers' Mothers Committee office in St Petersburg, Lyubov Yezheleva said nothing is likely to change.

"We know that people are already being summoned to the military commission, already young men are being caught on the metro, and it seems that violations before the next draft are going to be rather serious. And unfortunately, these violations aren't getting the attention they deserve," Yezheleva said. "Last year, during the autumn draft, we found out that young men were having their doors broken down, they were dragged from the street -- even if they had documentation to prove they weren't fit to serve -- and they were sent into the armed forces."

Some Russians say the way to solve the problem is to abandon conscription, reduce the size of the armed forces, and introduce a professional military.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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