Saturday, February 7, 2009

Corporal Glukhov's deserts to Georgia: the propaganda war begins

By Varvara Pakhomenko
February 4, 2009
The latest round in the conflict between Georgia and Russia/South Ossetia in August 2008 is the propaganda war being fought over Corporal Glukhov, who deserted to Georgia. Neglected, underfed and bullied, the soldiers of Russia's army do not feel like victors, reports Varvara Pakhomenko.
Nothing out of the ordinary - a soldier deserts his military unit. For anyone who has any idea what our army is like, there is nothing surprising about this. According to official data, around 2,000 soldiers in Russia leave their military units every year. Human rights advocates say that the real figure is at least double that. Statistics show that most soldiers flee the army because of bullying. Only less than a year ago, the Supreme Court vindicated soldiers who deserted for just this reason. Until now the punishment for leaving a military unit, whatever the reason, was quite strict: up to 10 years' imprisonment.

So there would be nothing unusual about the desertion of 21-year-old national service corporal, Alexander Glukhov from the small Udmurt town of Sarapul... if he had not turned up in a neighbouring country and appealed to the president on central television to grant him asylum. Russian soldier Glukhov fled from Georgia to Georgia, or from South Ossetia to Georgia - the interpretation depends on one's political views. So does the name of the disputed area where his division is deployed - Akhalhori or Leningori (the Georgian and Ossetian versions of the name respectively).

While the politicians cross swords, Russian soldiers and Ossetian armed formations remain in the strategically important area that was occupied after the events of August and local residents continue to leave it.

For several months human rights advocates have been raising the alarm over the catastrophic situation which has developed in this region: the vast majority of the population, which until August last year consisted of ethnic Georgians, is running away. The main danger is not the bands of armed Ossetian looters, who are still roaming the region. A much greater danger comes from the impending mandatory issue of Ossetian passports, currently being talked about by the Tskhinvali authorities. There are also concerns that entry to Georgia - which has now been significantly complicated - will be closed completely by the new Ossetian authorities.
Full article is here

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