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Crime in the army

Maria Rüttinger, Markian Ostaptschuk / kmsAugust 18, 2012

Muder, drug trafficking and other crimes are reportedly on the rise within the Russian army. Some human rights advocates say ending the draft and instituting a professional army would help bring about humane conditions.

A russian soldier standing on Red Square in Moscow
Image: Fotolia/Moreno Novello

A recent report by Russian military prosecutor Sergei Fridinski paints a dismal picture of conditions within the Russian army. He said in the first half of this year, murders rose by more than half and drug trafficking increased 25 percent compared to the first six months of 2011. The prosecutor also reported twice as many bribes within the Russian army during the same period of time.

Culture of blackmail

Fridinski's numbers come as no surprise to Ella Polyakova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg chapter of the Russian human rights organization Mothers of Soldiers. The statistics correspond to what she expected.

Russian women demonstrating with the group "Mothers of Soldiers" (Photo: dpa)
Mothers of soldiers killed in the Russian army demonstrate outside parliamentImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We've been complaining that the conditions in the army are a crime against humanity," Polyakova told DW.

Mothers of Soldiers raises awareness about often unbearable conditions in the military. With 12 months of compulsory military service still engrained in Russian law, citizens try to circumvent the draft as much as possible, sometimes using bribes.

Estimates hold that only one-third of people drafted in the same year are actually performing their military service.

Polyakova said corruption and violence are flourishing within the army, with soldiers and their families being blackmailed for bank cards and money. She added that the extortion is often accompanied by torture and beatings.

Sergei Krivenko, director of Russian human rights organization Citizens. Army. Justice, said motives for violence in the army have changed.

"Before, the violence served as a way of establishing order in the ranks," he said. He went on to say that today, violence is for personal economic gain.

Ella Polyakova poses for a picture. She's the chairwoman of the organization "Mothers of Soldiers" (Photo: DW St.Petersburg correspondent Vladimir Izotov)
Ella Polyakova, the chairperson of the St. Petersburg chapter of "Mothers of Soldiers" believes that the Russian army must make reforms to protect soldiers. The level of violence and corruption has also made it useless to Russian society.Image: DW

Free labor

Polyakova said many in the military primarily view young troops as free labor. Conscripts account for one third of the roughly 1 million members of Russia's armed forces.

"For example, officers might arrange for a pig farm within their military unit," Polyakova said. "And then the soldiers are forced to raise and later slaughter the pigs."

She said there is also drug trafficking with the barracks.

"If a soldier doesn't go along with it and a crime is supposed to be covered up, then his life is in danger," she said.

Krivenko knows about the drug trafficking, too. He attributed increasing drug use among both volunteers and conscripts to crime, corruption and a complete lack of discipline in the army.

Calls for reform

Krivenko is convinced that only the creation of a professional army, where all soldiers enlist voluntarily, can improve the situation.

"A career soldier has a completely different legal status," he said. "He's a real soldier, he has rights and duties. He goes to the army as if he were going to work."

Polyakova agrees. She does not believe Russia can actually use the army in its current state.

"We must impose a moratorium on this army," she said. "If society is convinced that it actually needs an army, then one will have to be created on a completely new foundation."