Some Cracks in Air Forces’ Stonewall (Part I)

An update on the Igor Sulim case . . . on Tuesday, Moskovskiy komsomolets’ Olga Bozhyeva reported there may finally be some pressure on the alleged extortionists.  Colonel Kovalskiy and one Captain Artemyev decided (in fine Russian tradition) to go the hospital to avoid arrest, but a former 4th squadron chief of staff and Kovalskiy relative, Mikhail Zakurdayev was arrested on July 30. 

Bozhyeva wrote about related crimes at Lipetsk including forgery and extortion from civilian workers receiving premiums to the tune of 10 million rubles.

She reported that, despite the Defense Ministry’s promise to check all units, systemic extortion of premium pay was only found in Lipetsk, Sevastopol, Syzran, and Michurinsk.

The case at the Syzran generated some media attention starting on July 29.  The press reported the chief of the helicopter pilot training center, Colonel Nikolay Yartsev, and a former training regiment commander have allegedly been “taxing” pilots five percent of their premium pay, taking a total of four million rubles from 43 officers last year.  The Saratov garrison commander has opened a criminal case against them.

According to Bozhyeva, military prosecutors say the command in Lipetsk is still creating obstacles instead of establishing order in the ranks.  It transferred a primary witness and Sulim ally — Major Anton Smirnov — to Chelyabinsk.  Another officer whose wife complained in a letter to the president was removed from flight duty for “poor morale.” 

Bozhyeva ends with an excerpt from Sulim’s blog where he says officers are quizzed several times a day on the most obscure military topics.  Failing the tests justifies not paying their premium pay.

According to RIA Novosti, on Wednesday, Sergey Fridinskiy announced that unnamed VVS Glavkomat officers have been held to account for violating the rights of Lipetsk pilots facing extortion from their own commanders. 

The Main Military Prosecutor apparently responded to queries from Duma deputies interceding on behalf of Senior Lieutenant Sulim.  Fridinskiy indicated his prosecutors checked on Sulim’s complaint that his rights were violated during the initial [Air Forces] investigation. 

The head prosecutor claimed, as a result of these checks, several criminal cases were launched, and steps were taken to prevent further violations.  The GVP also announced that:

“The officials, including those in the VVS Glavkomat, who committed them have been brought to account on the GVP’s demand.”

The GVP found that, in the investigation, no active steps were taken, and conditions were created for continued illegal activity by dishonest officers.  They obstructed the investigation, and pressured officers prepared to cooperate with investigators.

According to RIA Novosti, Sulim’s main antagonists, Colonels Kovalskiy and Sidorenko, were removed from duty, but continued to have regular, unfettered access to the base.  But the pilots and navigators who gave evidence were removed from flight duty and given menial duties.  Several times the command’s given Sulim tasks without informing him to provide the basis for reprimands for not fulfilling assigned duties.

The Duma deputies who went to Fridinskiy think the Lipetsk command’s dragging out the case and using “administrative resources” to pressure those who spoke out.  The deputies believe the Tambov garrison military prosecutor isn’t interested in closing the case, and to them, this means higher-ranking officials will have to be made accountable.

More tomorrow.

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