Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 139

The Russian army’s drug problem, not surprisingly, has reportedly also contributed to a rapid increase in the number of Russian servicemen believed to be HIV-positive. But it is difficult to ascertain the scope of the army’s AIDS problem. Defense Ministry officials are reportedly reluctant to discuss it, and, in any event, there are undoubtedly difficulties in gathering reliable data. In early 1997, for example, the prosecutor of the Moscow Military District reported that the district had some 128 cases of HIV, up from just thirty-two for the 1993-1996 period (IPS, July 30, 1998). However, more than six months later, in February of this year, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that it had discovered only 180 cases of HIV for the armed forces as a whole (Novye izvestia, February 18). Most recently, in early July, the Defense Ministry was still reporting only 180 cases of HIV. That figure referred only to the armed forces and not to Russia’s other “force structures” (Krasnaya zvezda, July 8). An article published in May said that seventy-two cases of HIV had been reported over the preceding year in these various other military forces (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 21).

The armed forces have reportedly documented no cases of the mature AIDS virus among Russian servicemen. That is apparently in large part because of the army’s policy toward HIV carriers. Immediately upon diagnosis, Russian draftees found to be HIV-positive are immediately expelled from the armed forces. However, career military personnel diagnosed as HIV-positive are allowed to remain, though they are monitored regularly. Some twenty officers and warrant officers infected with HIV are reportedly serving today.

The army, meanwhile, still does not test draftees for HIV. That is reportedly because of the costs involved, and because of legal injunctions against involuntary HIV testing. According to one newspaper account, the Soviet armed forces invested heavily in AIDS testing equipment and related materials in 1987, at a time when the disease was being heavily publicized. Most of that equipment is now out of service, however, while the related supplies have been exhausted. New investments to monitor the AIDS virus in the armed forces have not been made, meaning that the armed forces can neither screen incoming personnel for the disease, nor, apparently, estimate accurately the number of servicemen who might now be infected by it (Novye izvestia, February 18).