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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 February 2006, 15:27 GMT
Russia officer fined for slavery
By Steven Eke
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Conscripts receive their kits at Chelyabinsk Academy
Bullying is a widespread problem in the Russian military
A military court in Russia has sentenced a senior officer serving in the country's elite missile forces for hiring out his troops as slave labour.

The missile forces are considered less prone to the violent bullying that results in hundreds of non-combat deaths and suicides every year.

But senior officers acknowledge that hiring out conscripts to supplement officers' low salaries is commonplace.

The case comes amid an unprecedented furore over abuse of conscripts.

A incident that provoked particular anger was the treatment of a conscript at a prestigious tank college in the Urals, where a 19-year-old was almost tortured to death by his colleagues.

Bullying

On Thursday, the military court in city of Novosibirsk concluded that deputy commander Vladimir Kontonistov had abused his office by hiring out young conscripts to commercial organisations for earnings he then personally pocketed.

It fined him $2,000 (1,125), and banned him from command for three years - a sentence prosecutors said was too lenient, and one they intended to appeal against.

This is just one of the cases of what Russians call "behaviour contrary to the code of conduct" - the bureaucratic term for bullying.

It is not a new phenomenon - indeed, the Russian imperial army was known for its brutal treatment of its own soldiers.

But it is now one of the major themes in Russia's leading newspapers and on television and radio, following the incident involving the 19-year-old in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk.

The attack has sickened and shocked even those inured to stories of military violence.

Amputated

The conscript was subjected to a brutal three-hour assault, then denied medical treatment.

The injuries he sustained resulted in doctors having to amputate both legs, his genitals and fingers. Photos of the young man before the assault, and in intensive care in hospital, have appeared in Russian newspapers and on internet sites.

Adding to the widespread outrage, the country's defence minister initially dismissed the case as "nothing serious".

Many Russian commentators say little will change until Russian society accepts that the army reflects its own problems, most importantly the frequent absence of accountability.


SEE ALSO:
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20 Apr 05 |  Europe


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