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Russia: Financial Problems Blamed For Suicides Among Officers

Moscow, 30 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Russian military is reporting an increasing incidence of suicides in its officer corps, and psychiatrists say that financial problems are a major factor.

The chief psychiatrist of a Moscow clinic near many military installations -- including the elite airborne troops -- told our correspondent that the financial situation facing many of the officers has become especially acute.

"Most of the current distressing factors, such as lack of public respect and humiliation in Chechnya, were present last year too. But there is one that has (become) sharply aggravated -- their humiliating financial situation," said Dr. Alexei Pitzak.

Pitzak, who sees many officers and their families, operates a clinic in the Schelkovo district 30 kilometers northeast of Moscow.

The Russian Defense Ministry's Information Department, which has been reluctant to discuss the military's low morale, now concedes that military suicides are a problem. Spokesman Colonel Vladimir Uvatenko told our correspondent that the problem "definitely is linked" to the fact that many servicemen have not been paid for months.

Uvatenko said that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov has issued a special directive entitled "Measures To Prevent Suicides." He said the directive has already been sent to commanders of Defense Ministry units.

The official military newspaper "Krasnya Zvezda" this week quoted Defense Ministry psychiatric expert Colonel Boris Kobyakov as saying that suicides are caused not so much by the conditions of service as by "the attitude of our society to its defenders."

The newspaper said that suicides are more common in high-responsibility branches of service, such as the Strategic Missile Forces and the Air Force, and in military districts located along the country's frontiers.

In a recent front page editorial, "Krasnya Zvezda" said that the 242nd Infantry Regiment, based in the central Russian city of Kamyshin, had no cash in its coffers even to buy a coffin for its Lieutenant Yuri Khoruzhev, who shot himself in dismay over his hungry wife and children. He had not received a salary for months. Khoruzhev was assigned responsibility for the psychological welfare of his regiment's officers and soldiers.

The government owes the Defense Ministry and its servicemen the equivalent in rubles of $1.1 billion in salary arrears. It has pledged to pay the arrears by the end of this month.

The Moscow daily newspaper "Vechernaya Moskva" this week quoted Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed as warning in an interview of incipient military insurrection. He said the fact that the Defense Ministry has been forced unofficially to allow officers to take second jobs is "a national disgrace."

The newspaper quotes Lebed as saying, "Officers commit suicides," and "They are forced to beg and steal."

The deputy chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee, Mikhail Surkov, disputes any threat of rebellion, but he says "the situation is indeed disgraceful." Surkov told our correspondent he predicts that officers will soon start deserting their units if they remain unpaid.

Surkov, who is a retired lieutenant general and senior member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said he blames the tribulations of the military, including the suicide rate, on the federal government's failure to allocate funds for the military.