Russian soldiers increasingly using bribery to avoid combat or to be discharged after ‘injury’

Conscripts training for war in Ukraine, 21 October 2022. Photo: Arkady Budnitsky / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Conscripts training for war in Ukraine, 21 October 2022. Photo: Arkady Budnitsky / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Russian units fighting in Ukraine have established a system of bribes to purchase various services including “injuries”, leave, rotation and even to avoid active combat altogether, Novaya Gazeta Europe has discovered.

The mother of a former prisoner serving in Storm Z, a military unit for prisoners, first told Novaya Gazeta Europe about the scheme, which was subsequently corroborated by an officer from the motorised rifle platoon.

The woman recounted how her son had gone straight from prison to fight in Ukraine in April, but subsequently told her in a voice memo sent from the front that his unit wasn’t taking part in active combat thanks to “bribes in the millions”.

“Of course that all comes out of our money. … There are constant bribes to the fucking generals, because the longer it goes on, the more people begin to resent the fact that Storm [Z] hasn’t moved in six months,” her son said, before complaining that his unit had been forced to buy its own generators, fuel, and other equipment.

“The more important the general, the higher the bribe. And when you’ve only got a few days left before you go home, you want to stay alive. … So we paid for our lives. We didn’t expect to be stiffed for half our money,” he continued.

He and several other former prisoners in his unit were apparently paid just 50% of their monthly salary, a common complaint amongst Storm Z former prisoners, with the other half allegedly used to fund the continued payment of bribes.

The officer from the motorised rifle platoon confirmed that bribery is widespread in Russian units fighting in Ukraine. He also provided the standard prices for certain services on offer, saying that an injury requiring hospitalisation cost between $10,000 (€9,100) and $50,000 (€45,500), while leave cost between $5,000 (€4,500) and $10,000. Servicemen can also pay between $500 (€455) and $3,000 (€2,750) to be transferred from one section of the front to another or for early rotation, he added.

The Russian state pays out 3 million rubles (€31,000) in compensation to those wounded in the war in Ukraine, even when the “wound” in question occurred only on paper.

Before the war, servicemen often contacted human rights advocates about corruption in the army, according to Sergey Krivenko, the director of human rights group Citizen. Army. Law, who said that soldiers commonly paid bribes in order not to go on duty, or to be given leave.

“We hear less from them now, but not because it isn’t still going on, but because the army is brutal, and servicemen’s rights are severely curtailed. A bribe or escaping from a unit are often the only tools servicemen have to save their lives,” Krivenko explained.

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