- Title: RUSSIA: Russia investigates military rent boy allegations
- Date: 15th February 2007
- Summary: (W3) ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (FEBRUARY 13, 2007) (REUTERS) STREET WITH TRAFFIC/ EXTERIOR OF BUILDING WHERE THE ST. PETERSBURG SOLDIERS' MOTHERS COMMITTEE HAS ITS OFFICES DOOR TO BUILDING, WOMAN ENTERING BUILDING CLOSE-UP OF SIGN OUTSIDE BUILDING READING: "ST. PETERSBURG SOLDIERS' MOTHERS COMMITTEE" INTERIOR OF OFFICE, WOMEN IN OFFICE
- Embargoed: 2nd March 2007 12:00
- Topics: Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVA80INXTXBLMGRS8YI1BO5U85VF
- Story Text: Russian prosecutors have launched an investigation into claims by a campaign group that conscripts were bullied into working in a prostitution ring run by older servicemen.
In the latest embarrassment for Russia's military, one soldier said he was tortured with electric shocks until he agreed to have sex with clients, according to testimony collected by a campaign group.
The group also said it had witness statements and letters from soldiers that conscripts were sold to clients outside the gates of their unit in St Petersburg's historic centre, and that other liaisons were arranged on the Internet and by telephone.
"He (a conscript soldier) writes (in his letter) that from his unit - and you can see how detailed the description is - he was forced through beatings - and he gives the names of those responsible - to go to different addresses. And he were to come back without money, he would be beaten," said Ella Polyakova, St Petersburg head of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, a non-governmental organisation, told Reuters on Tuesday (February 13).
"They were sent to various addresses, and they had (mobile) phones, so the clients would call and he (a conscript) would go the clients," added Polyakova, reading from a hand-written letter sent to her by a conscript.
Polyakova said the letter revealed a network of clients. "There exists a data base of clients, and he (the conscript in his letter) gives their names. And there were officers to whom they gave the money (earned from prostitution)." she said, adding that the soldiers appeared to put up with their ordeal for fear of shaming their families if they fled the army.
"When I asked him (the conscript) why he had not left the army earlier, and why he had gone through this ordeal, his answer was that he was in the first place ashamed, and ashamed to have to say about it to his family; and he could not see a way out of the situation; if he had left the army, he would have become a deserter."
Polyakova met Russian military prosecutors on Tuesday (February 13), after being summoned to their offices in St. Petersburg.
The Soldiers' Mothers group has alleged the prostitution ring revolved around an Interior Ministry unit based next to the Hermitage Museum, the former Tsarist palace and home to a world-renowned art collection that attracts thousands of tourists a year.
Andrei Pichugin, a spokesman for the military prosecutor's office in St Petersburg, confirmed that an inquiry had been opened. He declined to make any further comment.
Russian media quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman in Moscow saying the conscript at the centre of the complaints was mentally unstable.
The spokesman said prostitution claims were "intended to discredit the institution of military service."
Bullying and abuse is commonplace in Russia's military, where recruits serve 18 months and face hazing by older soldiers called "dedovshchina," or "rule of the grandfathers."
In some cases death or serious injury results. Doctors last year had to amputate an abused soldier's legs and genitals.
That caused deep embarrassment for Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, widely expected to run to replace President Vladimir Putin in 2008 when he steps down.
More often, dedovshchina means soldiers are forced to steal or beg and hand over earnings to their tormentors. Some officers have been prosecuted for renting soldiers out as labourers.
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