MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti commentator Viktor Yuzbashev)

The court martial of the Chelyabinsk garrison has finished hearing the case of Private Andrei Sychyov, who had to have his legs and genitals amputated as a result of hazing.
Sergeant Alexander Sivyakov of the Chelyabinsk Tank Academy was sentenced to four years in prison for forcing Sychyov to squat with his hands outstretched for more than three hours on New Year’s eve, which provoked a rapid development of the “positional compression syndrome” and subsequent gangrene.
His co-defendants, Pavel Kuzmenko and Gennady Bilimovich, received suspended sentences of one year and six months each, after being found guilty of violating the army code of conduct.
But will the sentences handed down to Sivyakov and his fellow servicemen change the situation with hazing in the Russian army? Will second-year servicemen, who harass the first-years to prove their superiority over them stop hazing youngsters?
Military specialists say this is improbable.
There are many more cases like Sychyov’s, although not all of them end equally tragically. The media report cases of hazing in the army almost daily, and the defense ministry prints official data about the number of crimes and accidents in the army on its web site every month.
As of September 1, 2006, 13,190 such instances were registered on the site, nearly 3,000 more than the year before (10,640). Privates, sergeants and officers in the army and navy keep harassing their colleagues, despite the declared and practical measures taken by the defense ministry to stop this disgrace. Why?
This is a rhetorical question. General of the Army Nikolai Pankov, Deputy Defense Minister and head of the Personnel Department, spoke about the reasons in his report at a conference of army and navy leaders. He mentioned the lack of a comprehensive approach of personnel officers to practical problems in the units. In other words, Russian officers neglect to work with military personnel.
The general also spoke about “unsatisfactory training of military schools graduates in human relations.” This means that young officers are not taught to talk with privates, and their alternative methods have proved ineffective.
Other reasons for legal illiteracy in the army are connected with the above two. Many officers neglect their personnel functions, using punishment and strong language instead, and in general behaving in a high-handed manner. They do not respect their subordinates and deny them the right to human dignity. One of the possible reasons for this is officers’ dissatisfaction with their social status and the low prestige of military service in Russian society.
The root cause for this is the meager payment for officers’ hard work. The monthly salary of a company commander who has 100 such subordinates as Sergeant Sivyakov and Private Sychyov is 8,000 rubles (about $300), while a trolleybus driver in Moscow gets 22,000 rubles (about $820). Almost 30-50% of the 150,000 Russian officers have no housing. They can barely feed and clothe their families, and therefore have no time or desire to “become actively engaged in personnel work.”
Besides, their subordinates are no bargain either. According to the defense ministry, nearly a half of them are in the risk group, which means that they had trouble with the police before being drafted, or have a criminal record, abused alcohol or drugs, were homeless, or attempted suicide.
In this situation, it is surprising that the number of cases such as Sychyov’s is so small, or that the military officials, society and the press seem to be unperturbed by them.
What can be done to remedy the situation? The answer to this question has been given many times at all kinds of conferences and meetings, including at the top level. Unfortunately, the bureaucratic machinery grinds slowly, and reasonable proposals tend to become lost. Potential solutions provide for converting sergeants to contractual service, raising officers’ salaries so that they would not want to lose their jobs, and giving them flats.
There are many facets to the task of strengthening discipline in the army. It cannot be attained by addressing one of the problems, but calls for a comprehensive approach and the involvement of civil society. But society and generals now stand on different sides of the barricades, which means the Sychyov’s case is not the last one. -0-