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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 November, 2003, 15:54 GMT
Russian army 'sick and hungry'

Sarah Rainsford
BBC Moscow reporter

The average Russian soldier is sick and hungry, according to a report by Human Rights Watch in Moscow.

Conscript soldiers, the reports says, are routinely denied access to adequate food and medical care.

Recruits at an enlistment office
The report says hunger and disease weaken Russian troops
Human Rights Watch is calling on the Russian government to examine the findings, warning that poor nutrition threatens the military's fighting strength.

The Russian army drafts almost 500,000 young men each year, but it is beset by problems including desertion, draft dodging and hazing.

The official diet for a Russian conscript looks healthy enough: the long ration list includes meat and dairy produce, as well as a daily dose of fresh fruit and vegetables.

But Human Rights Watch says soldiers are routinely denied that food, or served rotten produce crawling with bugs. As a consequence, it says, the Russian army is sick.

The report is the result of more than one hundred interviews conducted across Russia.

Its authors admit their methods are not scientific, but argue that their task is to highlight an extremely serious problem.

'Mismanagement'

Anna Neistat, the organisation's director in Moscow, believes the problems stem from corruption and a lack of accountability.

She says much of the money and produce allocated to the military doesn't appear to get through to the conscripts.

In an interview with the BBC, a defence ministry spokesman admitted the possibility of what he called 'local mismanagement'.

He said that was a matter for prosecutors but denied there was any large-scale problem with nutrition.

Human Rights Watch is calling on the government to step in and monitor the military. It also suggesta appointing an army ombudsman to protect conscripts' basic rights.

Problems in the Russian army are nothing new, but these latest findings are likely to make sober reading for the current batch of conscripts waiting for their call-up papers this month.

The report, which is entitled 'To serve without health', has been submitted to the authorities in Moscow and should be considered by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Monday.




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