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Russia: Weaponry Thefts From Military More Than Double

Moscow, 28 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Weaponry thefts from the Russian military have more than doubled this year, a senior law enforcer says.

But, says Lieutenant General Eduard Gaveto, deputy chief military prosecutor, he hopes that peace in Chechnya and improved funding of the Russian military will diminish the stealing.

The Military Chief Prosecutor"s Office (GVP) registered 214 thefts of weaponry and ammunition in the first half of this year, Gaveto said, 52.8 percent more than January to June of 1995. He said most of the thefts occurred in the North Caucasian Military District, including the separatist province of Chechnya.

Thefts of weapons and ammunition constitute about two percent of the crimes investigated by the GVP, he said. The GVP lists more than 5,200 weapons as missing from 1946 to mid-1996. The Interior Ministry has a total of nearly 10,300 entries on its list of wanted weaponry. The two agencies plan to compare and merge their lists into a single computer database on missing weaponry and ammunition

The Russian armed services are running far behind in their payrolls for officers and men. Some servicepeople reportedly have not received wages for months. In addition, Gaveto said, the Defense Ministry has lacked funding to ensure sound security measures at its numerous arsenals since 1993.

One result is that the Leningrad Military District has inadequate storage for 5,500 railway carloads of ammunition. Another is that the Zabaikalsky Military District has at least 50 percent more weaponry than its aged arsenal can house adequately. More than 40 percent of the Pacific Ocean Fleet's arsenals do not meet safety requirements and only a few boast electronic alarms.

This year has already seen at least one warhead detonate after soldiers guarding an arsenal of conventional missiles tried to break it apart in search of precious metals. Several other warheads have been stolen by Defense Ministry guards and civilians, but later recovered.

Gaveto said that military courts can't avoid "taking into account" the dire financial straits of uniformed thieves. He said the courts soften their verdicts when culprits turn out to be servicepeople impoverished by wage delays. He cited a recent case in which the Moscow Military District Court released on probation two officers after finding them guilty of stealing 40 SKS rifles from the Tula Artillery Academy.