Russia's top military prosecutor has shocked the country by revealing that 46 soldiers - the equivalent of an average platoon - died last week for non-combat related reasons.
Eight of the soldiers committed suicide and several had to be shot by comrades to halt drunken and violent rampages. There were two attempted suicides.
Russians have long known that their armed forces are ravaged by appalling brutality, crime and bullying but these revelations from General Alexander Savenkov have hit home particularly hard.
His outburst has also been interpreted as a damaging and personal attack on the Defence Minister, Sergey Ivanov, who is a hot favourite to succeed President Vladimir Putin in 2008.
"Without exaggerating you can call that quantity of peacetime deaths  a catastrophe," noted the daily Novy Izvestia. It quoted Veronika Marchenko, the chairwoman of the Mothers' Rights Group, which lobbies for better conditions in the army, as expressing little surprise that 46 had died in one week. "Last week does not differ from any of the other 52 which preceded it," she said. "They were exactly the same."
Military service is obligatory and lasts two years. First-year recruits are usually bullied by the second year ones who are known as "deds", or grandfathers.
The bullying is sometimes so mentally and physically harsh that many take their own lives.
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