In two separate incidents this week, Russian servicemen inexplicably took the lives of some of their comrades, prompting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to warn that such tragedies in the armed forces were repeating themselves "with regular and threatening frequency."
The worst incident took place on January 27 at a remote base on Sakhalin Island in the Far East. While on guard duty at an ammunition dump, Private Oleg Naumov shot and killed six other privates and a warrant officer and seriously wounded a seventh private. He then fled, with his weapon, but was soon apprehended. Although a senior conscript in his unit, Naumov was reported to have told investigators that he had been brutally hazed by one of the men he had killed. Colonel-General Mikhail Klishin, a deputy chief of the General Staff, reported that Naumov had been sniffing acetone before the shooting spree and had been a known substance abuser since the age of 13. He was also said to have had a police record before he entered the military.
The second incident involved a more senior enlisted man in an elite unit. Sergeant Vadim Bobretsov was the leader of a guard detail on January 26 at the 27th Motorized-Rifle Brigade, stationed just outside Moscow. After posting the new sentries, he drove out of the garrison in his jeep while carrying two Kalashnikovs. When the jeep was later recovered, the bullet-ridden body of one of the sentries was found nearby. Bobretsov has also been taken into custody. Although a sergeant, he had been drafted in 1997.
Government spokesman Igor Shabdurashulov denied that these incidents were in any way connected to the underfinancing of the armed forces. Military Prosecutor General Yury Demin ordered all his subordinates to make sure that units were complying with the law when they assigned men to guard duty. His office reported that checks last year revealed that some commanders were not giving their soldiers the required amount of rest and, in some cases, had placed them on guard duty for weeks at a time. Over the past year, there have been eighty shooting incidents at guard posts with thirty-six fatalities.
Military officials have repeatedly noted that, though they have continued to meet their conscription goals, the quality of draft cohorts has declined. As the autumn 1997 draft drew to a close, staff officers complained that 40 percent of the new conscripts had not held a job or attended school in the past two years, 12 percent were alcoholics, one in twenty had a police record, and others were "drug addicts, toxic substances abusers, mentally-disabled and syphilitics." Klishin yesterday said that 71,000 young men who had committed serious crimes were not called up last year, but another 20,000 who had been given suspended sentences were drafted. (Russian media, January 27-28; Trud, December 16, 1997)
Russian Journalists Sentenced in Belarus.