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Last Updated:  Saturday, 8 March, 2003, 11:49 GMT
Miss Shooting Range crowned

By Alan Quartly
BBC correspondent in Moscow

Tatyana Posyevnina smiles and waves at a ceremony after winning the Miss Epaulettes 2003 competition
The winner beat off competition from about 90,000 other contestants
They came from far and wide - a commando from the intelligence corps in the Caucasus, a naval doctor from the Northern Fleet and a lieutenant from the strategic missile troops.

And the military kept Russia's top brass deliberating until two in the morning as it tried to decide just who deserved the title of prettiest woman in the Russian army.

In a week-long blaze of publicity, the Russian army newspaper Red Star gave daily updates on the activities of the 16 finalists taking part in the military's first nationwide beauty contest.

Women are the sparkle in the army. If women, the flower of life, are present, then the army will be reborn
Marina, Miss Shooting Range
Eventually, at the end of four days' competition in Moscow, the winner was chosen.

Tatyana Posyevnina, a junior sergeant from the north-western town of Petrozavodsk, was the soldier to catch the generals' eye.

'Tough battle'

Heaped with prizes of TV sets Tatyana gratefully accepted the title of Miss Epaulettes 2003 to the applause and wolf whistles of a packed house in the Central Theatre of the Russian army.

Lieutenant Dina Karimova
Lt Dina Karimova, who serves in the Russian strategic missile forces, was third

It had been a tough battle.

Since summer 2002 the army had been whittling away at its 90,000 women soldiers until it reached the final 16.

The contestants who got to Moscow did so because they were the best in various categories - such as baking pancakes, singing, dancing and writing about the romance of their jobs.

All this, said the defence ministry, was designed to prove the equality of men and women in Russia's armed forces.

'Shorter skirts'

But it seems nobody told the jury or the contestants that.

Lieutenant Dina Karimova, who came in joint third, serves in the Russian strategic missile forces.

Backstage, she explained some of the conditions of service for women. "According to the rules, the distance between the floor and skirt hems should be no more than 40cm.

"But, in reality, our skirts are shorter because that way it looks more beautiful," she added.

Further down the corridor was Private Marina Fyodortsova.

Miss Epaulettes 2003 competition
Contestants had to show their military skills
All the way from Orenburg near the border with Kazakhstan, Marina was enjoying her week in Moscow.

When the finalists were taken to a shooting range earlier in the week, Marina proved herself the number one markswoman - earning the title Miss Shooting Range.

A crack-shot with a Makarov pistol, she notched up 44 points out of a possible 50.

"My colleagues say I'm a phenomenal fighter, despite my looks," she said.

"Women are the sparkle in the army. If women, the flower of life, are present, then the army will be reborn."

'Tenderness and femininity'

In fairness, such genuine optimism was characteristic in all the finalists of Miss Epaulettes.

Serving in often remote and neglected parts of the Russia, a week of glamour in Moscow really made many of them feel like stars, said Lance-Corporal Galina Goncharova, a veteran of 10 years' service in the Baltic Fleet.

"The main quality of women is tenderness and femininity," added Captain Anna Filatova, a navy doctor from Murmansk.

"Perhaps that's not compatible with the army, but it would be nice if things weren't so rough and aggressive, but more beautiful."

Presenting the awards on the eve of International Women's Day - a respected and revered national holiday in Russia since Soviet times - deputy Defence Minister Col-Gen Nikolai Pankov voiced what many of his male colleagues in the audience were thinking.

The most difficult thing now, he said, would be to let the 16 army beauties return to their units.

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