If this week’s news is any indication, it appears that Nashi’s efforts to solve dedovshchina by flooding the Russian military with its activists will prove difficult. First, all the prosecution’s five witnesses in the Sychyov Case have recanted their testimony or pulled out completely. For those who aren’t familiar, last New Year’s Private Andrei Sychyov was so severely beaten by senior recruits that his legs and genitals had to be amputated to save his life from gangrene infection. The case has engendered a firestorm of condemnation by the Russian public. President Putin called the incident “tragic” and promised to form a military police force to combat dedovshchina, which according to estimates have claimed 16 lives last year.
Putin’s words now appear empty. According to the Times London and the Moscow Times, one of witnesses, Andrei Shevchenko, says that the military investigators forced him into signing a statement. The prosecution’s star witness, Artyom Nikitin, didn’t attend the court date, and citing family reasons left Chelyabinsk for Moscow. Then, Mikhail Loginovskikh, the chief surgeon at the military hospital, said in his court testimony that he did not find any evidence that Sychyov was beaten! If that wasn’t enough, Sychyov’s mother and sister claim that there have been attempts to bribe them out of holding the military responsible.
Sychyov’s mother and sister, Galina and Marina, have revealed that in the run-up to the trial they were approached by a man who offered them ?50,000 and a flat in Moscow if they said they did not think the military was to blame.
“We are outraged and shocked by the dirty tactics the defence ministry is employing,” said Marina. “They offered to buy us off and they put pressure on us to sign a statement saying that we did not believe Andrei had been beaten. Instead we were to claim that his injuries were the result of some genetic disease. They want the case buried.”
Perhaps it was the scandal that Sychyov Case has become that drove Kirill Grigorev, a 19 year-old conscript and Moscow student to hurl himself out the window of the General Staff building in Moscow. His suicide was first reported in Moskovskii Komsomolets. Grigorev prepared press digests for the Defense Minister and was the General Staff’s computer expert. In his last letter to his mother, Grigorev wrote:
“[Older conscripts] told us to bring them money, alcohol, cigarettes, prepaid telephone cards, and beat us severely, tortured us and did not let us sleep if we didn’t do what we were told. And they beat us for no particular reason, just out of boredom or when they were drunk.
He further claimed in his note that commanders hired him and other conscripts out as labor on commercial projects. Hiring out or subjecting recruits to forced labor is a practice that stretches all the back to the Tsarist military.
His mother also reports that in December, Grigorev was so severely beaten that he could hardly walk.
Given the brutality and intimidation of dedovshchina, is this really something that can be solved by putting Nashi activists in the military? Hardly. Military culture is a tough thing to reform, let alone break. There is no reason to think that hazing is new to the Russian military, and that long history will outlast any real attempts at reform. It also doesn’t help that Russian officials verbally condemn the practice but then turn around and undermine efforts at punishing those responsible for it. Given this, one can expect more suicides like Grigorev’s to occur.