Military authorities in Moscow went out hunting for deserters at the end of January. They called the special operation "Fugitive." This month, they are trying a more gentle approach. The new operation — "Deserter, Give Yourself Up" — includes a promise of clemency. Eighty-three deserters have turned themselves in this first week, a slightly higher success rate than in the January effort. The program might turn sour, however, if the authorities renege on their promises. So far, only one of those voluntarily returning has been granted immunity from criminal prosecution. The authorities estimate as many as 1,500 military deserters in Moscow alone. The Soldiers’ Mothers Committee says there are 12,000 nationwide. (Russian media, March 4; January 28)
Russian youth is less motivated to serve in the armed forces than ever before. In a poll conducted last month only 18 percent expressed a positive attitude about the prospect. Many of those who rejected military service said they did so because they feared the hazing that remains all too common. (Russian media, February 2) Most of this hazing ("dedovshchina") is inflicted by so-called "Dedy (literally, "grandfathers") — those conscripts who have served more than half of their term. They prey on the newer draftees, often with the silent approval or even connivance of their officers. Young victims feel compelled to desert or even take their own lives to escape this torment.
Prodded by such organizations as the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee, the military is trying to do something about the hazing. The practice, however, is deeply embedded in the military sub-culture. Earlier this year the main military prosecutor announced that more than 2,000 cases had been uncovered in 1997. While he was proud that this effort "saved dozens of young men from being beaten and hazed" he admitted that just over 100 culprits were convicted. (Segodnya, January 29) This effort is continuing. On Wednesday, a senior lieutenant in a military garrison near Khabarovsk, Siberia, was sentenced to seven years in a strict regime labor colony for the fatal beating of a 19-year-old soldier. (Itar-Tass, March 4) Other draftees and their parents, however, would certainly have liked to see a harsher punishment.
Brevnov Strengthens His Position at UES.