Defense expert Aleksandr Golts, writing in the Moscow Times:
It is a well-known fact that the prosecutor general plays one of the most important roles in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “managed democracy.” Clearly, that role is not to lead the struggle against crime or to ensure the rule of law. Chief Military Prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky is no exception to the rule. However, Fridinsky recently had what appeared to be a sudden fit of honesty. While speaking to colleagues in the Military Prosecutor’s Office, he alarmingly reported that criminal acts in the armed forces were sharply increasing. Out of nowhere, the number of crimes has surpassed 20,000. One-fourth of those crimes were committed by officers — the highest rate in the past five years. It turns out that corruption has seized the highest echelons of the military establishment. An illegal scheme involving apartments for military personnel was uncovered in the army’s high command that cost the government 250 million rubles ($6.9 million).
In addition, Fridinsky announced the practical failure of a program to partially convert the military to a contract-based service: About 7,000 contract-duty service personnel — or about one-tenth of all those who signed contracts to serve five years — have deserted their units.
There is reason to believe that Fridinsky’s alarmist tone is insincere. It is a long-standing tradition for the military’s chief prosecutor to manipulate data to present whatever picture he desires.
Take, for example, when, out of the clear blue sky, the chief military prosecutor reported that more than 1,000 military service personnel had died because of “crimes and incidents” in 2005 and that more than a dozen had died in a single week in 2006. In reality, there had been no sudden surge in crime. The reports were a response to the prosecutor’s increasingly strained relationship with the defense minister. Military Prosecutor Alexander Savenkov lost that battle and his job, and Fridinsky was appointed to replace him. Almost overnight, the number of crimes for the same period dropped by 20 percent and “nonbattle casualties” fell by 50 percent.
This kind of statistical hocus-pocus only indirectly reflects the actual crime rate in the army. I suspect that it remained unchanged during that period because the underlying factors influencing the crime rate did not change. Primarily, this is the absolutely closed and subjective system by which officers advance in rank.
The result is that practically every unit commander is somehow involved in corrupt practices. One simple example: Unit commanders are frequently saddled with the task of wining and dining visiting commissions dispatched by supervisory military agencies. The members of those commissions expect to be given the red carpet treatment and all on their host’s bill. In order to receive a favorable evaluation, commanders must therefore find a quick, plentiful and untraceable source of cash. They are left with no choice but to sell off equipment or other assets under their jurisdiction or to rent out their soldiers as laborers.
There is no doubt that the lack of transparency in the military’s current reforms will serve as another source of corruption. It has been announced that the number of officers will be reduced by two-thirds — from 355,000 to 150,000. What’s more, 60,000 people will be retired early without pensions. Yet nobody knows which criteria the personnel review boards will use for deciding who gets the ax. Unless the Defense Ministry has a special division of angels for staffing those reviews boards, corruption will be rampant. There is an equally obvious reason for the desertions. Two years ago, conscripts were coerced through force or deception into signing service contracts, and now they are simply abandoning their units.
No amount of reprisals will quell the wave of crimes in the army’s ranks. The chief military prosecutor is also powerless to stop it. What could be the reason for the prosecutor’s latest gloom and doom report? I suspect that it is an attempt to help Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov by sending a signal to the military’s top brass: “Don’t try protesting Serdyukov’s reforms.” With corruption all-pervasive, I suspect that criminal proceedings could be initiated against almost any military commander. Now it seems that somebody has told the chief prosecutor to put out the word: “If you resist the planned personnel cuts, we will be coming after you.”
In the end, even a paltry retirement package is better than prison time.