Desertions, often blamed on dismal conditions and fierce hazing of new recruits, have plagued the Russian military in recent years. Eight Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia left their unit in Tskhinvali at dawn on 18 June, armed with automatic rifles. The headquarters of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone mixed peacekeeping force said this was the first case of desertion in the Russian battalion's 10 years presence in the conflict zone. Peacekeepers and South Ossetian law enforcement officers launched a search for the deserters.
Two more deserters from a unit in the North-Caucasian republic of Adygeya were discovered at around 0900 on 17 June, in the vicinity of the village of Sadovaya. Both were shot after refusing to surrender to police and attempting resistance.
Privates Andrei Polyakov (20) and Pavel Toporkov (19), from 131st Maikop Motor-Rifle Brigade, left their unit 01.00 hours 16 June with assault rifles and 250 cartridges. The soldiers had been drinking at their posts and were apparently very drunk. The unit command learned of their desertion about 45 minutes later.
On the outskirts of Maikop, the deserters carjacked the driver of a Moskvich car at 0215 and ordered him to drive in the direction of the Krasnooktyabrskiy settlement. At 0320, the vehicle was stopped at a traffic checkpoint for inspection and the deserters opened fire on the traffic policemen. Lieutenant Pavel Berezin and Sergeant Igor Prikhodko died at the scene. The deserters fled, later abandoning the car and hostage to disappear into the woods south of Krasnooktyabrskiy.
Over 600 military and special-purpose police, along with helicopters, took part in the subsequent manhunt. Polyakov died immediately, while Toporkov was badly wounded and died on the way to hospital. A special investigative commission has been established to investigate the incident.
A Russian border guard (armed with an assault rifle and pistol) also deserted his unit on 16 June, in the northwestern republic of Karelia. Meanwhile, Private Vladislav Vakhitov (of the 12th Interior Ministry battalion) went AWOL after shooting and killing Junior Lieutenant Alexei Danilov and wounding Senior Lieutenant Oleg Goryunov (who later died in the hospital). The incident occurred near Chechnya's Goragorsk village on 13 June. The deserter committed suicide after reachin Stavropol territory, when police officers attempted to detain him 200 meters from a Kura district checkpoint. Vakhitov was a native of the Bashkortostan autonomous republic, drafted in November 2000 and sent to Chechnya in June 2001. Policemen seized the deserter's AK-74 assault rifle fitted with a GP-25 under-barrel grenade launcher, 180 cartridges, 10 grenade launcher rounds and four RGD-5 grenades.
The most-lethal case was when two Russian paratroopers who deserted their base on 4 February killed five policemen and four civilians in a series of clashes, before being cornered and killed on the 5th in Tatarstan. - Adam Geibel