Red Army shamed by thievery and corruption

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The Independent Online

The Red Army used to march across Red Square in frightening formation, the Soviet epitome of a disciplined and elite fighting force, but today's conscripts have apparently succumbed to a disease which infects all levels of modern Russian society: thievery and corruption.

The Red Army used to march across Red Square in frightening formation, the Soviet epitome of a disciplined and elite fighting force, but today's conscripts have apparently succumbed to a disease which infects all levels of modern Russian society: thievery and corruption.

The soldiers, sailors and airmen are more likely to be found picking pockets, defrauding the state or selling their equipment than firing a gun or driving a tank, Russia's chief military prosecutor said.

In unusually blunt comments, Alexander Savenkov said the armed forces were riddled with corruption from top to bottom, and more and more senior officers appeared to be putting their hand in the till. A total of 7,300 servicemen have been convicted of crimes in the first half of this year, and of those, 800 were officers.

"Unfortunately, the main category of convicted officers is senior officers, he said. "The number of convicted officers with the rank of colonel is no longer counted in the dozens, we have more than 100."

Prosecutor Savenkov said corruption extended to the Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow and his prosecutors were investigating the conduct of at least two generals. Cases involving two other generals had already been sent to court.

The sacking of General Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the army's general staff, and of three other generals, appears to signal deep, high-level discontent with the armed forces which have struggled since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Prosecutor Savenkov said 500m roubles (£10m) had been embezzled from the state by military officers in the first six months of this year.

At least 27 military officials were investigated for taking bribes to fraudulently declare conscripts "unfit for service" and most had already been found guilty, he added.

Russia's armed forces have suffered other embarrassing cases of corruption this year, most notably on the scandal-ridden nuclear flagship of the Northern Fleet, Peter the Great. The ship's chief accountant siphoned £280,000 from sailors' pay. The officer bought flats, cars and electronics equipment and his case was far from isolated.

Corruption among Russian forces in the breakaway republic of Chechnya is known to be particularly acute, with soldiers even selling their weapons to the separatists, the people they are supposed to be fighting.

But analysts say the army is famously resistant to fraud-busting investigations. "The less transparent the agency [such as the Defence Ministry] the more corrupt it is," Georgy Satarov, head of the Idem think-tank, told The Moscow Times. "That's the rule."

In 1994, a journalist, Dmitry Kholodov, who was investigating corruption among Russian troops withdrawing from the former East Germany was killed when a briefcase he had been given exploded.

Reforms to make the army a leaner, cleaner fighting machine are in the pipeline. Military service is likely to be cut from two years to six months and there will be fewer excuses to avoid conscription.

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