Abused Russian soldier seeks army reform in politics

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MOSCOW, Sep 20 (Reuters) A Russian conscript whose legs and genitals were amputated after he was abused by fellow soldiers wants to enter politics to push for a professional army, his sister said.

Andrei Sychev was 19 when a drunken sergeant forced him into an awkward 4-hour crouch after being abused ahead of a New Year's Eve party in 2005. Blood flow to Sychev's legs ceased and, after he was left without medical care for 72 hours, gangrene forced doctors to amputate.

His case provoked a public uproar and highlighted the Harsh bullying in Russia's armed forces, where young men have to serve as conscripts for 18 months.

Russian media have reported that Sychev could put himself forward as a candidate in parliamentary elections for the Union of Right Forces party, but his sister said yesterday these were just rumours.

''He is not going to be a candidate for anything,'' Sychev's sister Marina Muffert told Reuters by telephone from Yekaterinburg, three hours east of Moscow by plane.

''He just wanted to be politically active with a concrete goal to resolve the problems that exist in the army,'' she said.

In a blog on the Russian Internet, Sychev advocates a professional army to help avoid the estimated 1,000 conscript deaths every year, including an average 260 suicides.

''I may not have legs, but my head is in place, and I know what to do with it,'' Sychev wrote on Sept 4, drawing 144 almost unanimously positive comments.

A sergeant was sentenced to four years in prison for abusing Sychev, but the unusually loud outcry over his injuries hurt the army's reputation and Sychev became a pawn in a struggle inside the Kremlin for influence ahead of 2008.

Sergei Ivanov, then defence minister, was quoted by Russian news agencies as initially dismissing the case as not serious.

But Ivanov swiftly changed tack and ordered a top general to investigate the abuse at the Chelyabinsk Tank Academy in the Ural mountains where Sychev served. Analysts said enemies of Ivanov sought to fuel the uproar over the case.

Bullying remains a highly sensitive political issue.

The general in charge of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia was sacked in August after a conscript died following a beating by two officers who beat him unconscious and dumped him in a dog cage after heavy drinking at a wedding party.

REUTERS SZ AS0942

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