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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 September, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Death rate high in Russian army

By Stephen Dalziel
BBC's Russian affairs analyst

Figures recently released by the Russian Ministry of Defence show that so far this year some 1,200 military personnel have been killed in non-combat circumstances.

Accidents, carelessness, bullying and suicide are cited as the main causes.

The high figure continues a trend which has been occurring in the Russian military for some years.

With a war in Chechnya and peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia and Tajikistan, the Russian Army is not short of recent combat experience.

Russian soldiers
Suicides among Russian soldiers number around 300 per year

But for at least the fifth year in a row, more Russian servicemen are being killed in non-combat situations than in fighting.

A vivid example was the recent sinking in the Barents Sea of a decommissioned submarine, with the loss of nine lives.

That incident happened because proper safety procedures were not being followed.

It is believed that a hatch was open on the vessel's top deck.

The Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, and the President, Vladimir Putin, have constantly criticised the sloppiness which leads to such incidents.

But it seems to have little effect.

There is no reduction, either, in the number of deaths and injuries caused by serious bullying.

Disguising deaths

Official figures acknowledge that so far in 2003, 2,500 servicemen have been the victims of bullying. Sixteen have died.

A further five have been killed by their commanders.

Military observers believe that the real figure may be higher than this. The Russian military has a history of disguising deaths from bullying as accidents, or even suicide.

The officially issued figure for suicides among servicemen has been around 300 a year over the past few years.

While some of these are officers and warrant officers who have become disillusioned with what appears to be the hopelessness of military life, 70% are conscript soldiers in their first year - the most common victims of bullying.

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