Russian army sold recruits for sex, rights group claims
Luke Harding, The Guardian, February 14, 2007

Russia's scandal-prone military was gripped by allegations yesterday that cash-strapped senior officers had forced young conscripts to work as male prostitutes.

According to the rights group Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, conscripts at an army base in St Petersburg were compelled to perform sexual services for influential middle-aged clients, among whom was a former general in the FSB intelligence agency.

Clients were said to arrive at night outside the military base, next to the Hermitage museum, and the soldiers would be forced to get into clients' cars.

One conscript, who had raised the alarm, told Russia's Gazeta newspaper yesterday that older soldiers humiliated the others. "Sometimes they made us mop the floors all night ... The officers would beat us on the arms and legs. We were sent out to the park to earn money ... I was tortured with electric shocks." Another conscript added: "At least 10 out of 35 of us would not spend the nights at the military base."

The allegations involving St Petersburg's unit of 3,727 personnel follow cases of abuse of conscripts. Last year there was national outrage at the gruesome fate of Andrei Sychev, 19, a tank academy conscript so badly tortured by his superiors his genitals and legs had to be amputated.

Russian media reports claim soldiers at the St Petersburg unit passed a "client list" on to successors, and conscripts were paid about 1,000 roubles (20) for sex.

Yesterday, Vasily Panchenkov, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said: "This is merely an anti-army campaign designed by the [Soldiers' Mothers] committees. The unit is constantly checked."

Human rights groups are concerned about what they call systemic bullying in the army, still made up overwhelmingly of conscripts. Valentina Melnikova, of the soldiers' mothers committees, said: "The reason these cases are so hard to prove is that everybody stays silent in the army."