Nine killed, 119 suicides in Russian army in 2011: official
Nine people have died outside combat in the Russian army so far this year while 119 soldiers committed suicide as violence continues to plague its ranks, an official said Thursday.
Violence between similarly ranked soldiers as well as violent hazing by officers toward conscripts has left a further 86 people severely injured, said Boris Khubiyev, deputy head of the military prosecutor's investigation office.
A further 119 people committed suicide in the troops this year, Khubiyev told journalists at a news conference in Moscow.
The majority were conscripts freshly drafted into the military, but some were troops in the interior and emergency situations ministries.
Physical and psychological abuse have plagued the army for decades and especially affect recent conscripts, driving many to suicide. But high-ranking officers rarely face punishment even when a case causes public outrage.
In the latest case, the army in September sent the badly disfigured body of a conscript home with a note saying he had committed suicide at his base in the Ural mountains.
But his family said their 20-year-old nephew appeared to have been tortured to death. His village and other neighbouring villages said that they would be boycotting the autumn draft until the incident was fully investigated.
Yet cases of violence and murder in the army will not stop until senior officers regularly face punishment, said Valentina Melnikova, coordinator of Russia's Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, a rights organisation.
"We must pressure the army command to answer for each injured soldier," she said. "This will never stop until people are made to face the consequences."
Melnikova's organisation has lobbied tirelessly for Russia to switch from conscription to a professional army, but paid soldiers have frequently been robbed of their wages, she said.
"Contract soldiers have been robbed by bandits entering the regiments, or even officers," she said. As a result, hundreds of paid soldiers would desert the army disappointed in the service.
The Russian army numbers about one million. President Dmitry Medvedev has vowed to cut its size while improving soldiers' living and working conditions as part of his campaign to modernise the armed forces.
Medvedev ordered last week that only 135,000 people are to be drafted this fall, down significantly from 279,000 last fall. The army has said it hopes to supplement the ranks by hiring contract soldiers.
While calling it a step in the right direction, Melnikova said "there are concerns that it may be just a pre-election ruse" before the presidential polls in March.
© 2011 AFP