More youths bribe their way out of Russian army Abusive treatment of recruits feared

July 06, 1993|By Chicago Tribune

MOSCOW -- When Sasha entered the hospital for tests a few weeks back, he already knew what the diagnosis would be. His parents had bribed the doctor to "discover" a stomach ulcer.

Sasha, 17, has received his draft notice and is scheduled to report for duty soon. But the hospital certificate, which cost his parents several months' pay, should get him a deferment.

"All my friends are doing stuff like this to stay out of the army. Only kids with no money and no connections get drafted these days," said Sasha, who asked that his last name not be used.

Russia is in the final week of its semi-annual military recruitment period, but once again the number of teen-age males being inducted will fall far short of what the army wants -- and needs.

Frightened by the beatings and humiliating treatment that Russian soldiers are expected to endure, more and more teen-agers are concocting ways to avoid 18 months of military service.

And a growing number of those who do enter the military are later driven to desert.

The recruiting problem is most severe in large urban areas. Of some 64,000 young Muscovites eligible for the current call-up, which ends tomorrow, fewer than 10,000 will ever serve, military officials concede.

As a result, the once-powerful Russian army is seriously understaffed. Some 320,000 soldiers will be discharged in coming months, but only 90,000 inductees are expected, according to Red Star, the official army newspaper.

Russia has about 2.5 million people in the military.

Three years ago, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was much more difficult to connive a deferment. Today, with corruption rampant , it's often just a question of finding the money.

Between a third and a half of draft-eligible teen-agers in the Kuntsevo Military District now appear with faked evidence of disqualifying illness or physical condition, officials acknowledge.

There is little social stigma attached to draft-dodging or illegally obtaining a deferment. The odds of getting caught are small, and those caught are rarely punished.

The army would have a much easier time attracting recruits if it did away with pervasive brutality, which critics say contributes heavily to a staggering number of noncombat casualties.

According the Union of Soldiers' Parents, a volunteer organization seeking to end physical abuse, about 40,000 soldiers have died in nonbattlefield circumstances, including suicide, in the past four years.

Army regulations forbid the beating and humiliation of draftees. But over the last three decades, an unofficial system of mistreatment, called dyedovshina -- after the dyeds, or granddads, those in their last six months of service -- has taken hold.

Older soldiers routinely assault recruits with their hands, feet, sticks and belts. Officers look the other way, and often deal harshly with victims who complain.

Newer soldiers also are subjected to hazing. Depending upon the tradition in their unit, they are beaten with belt buckles, parts of wooden stools, or soup ladles. Despite pressure from groups such as the Union of Soldiers' Parents and widespread criticism in the press, the army is extremely reluctant to move decisively against the dyedovshina system.

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