The plot thickens on Kazakhstan’s eastern frontiers. For a second time in a month, allegations of hazing among border guards are prompting a rapid response in Astana.
This week, authorities arrested the commander of a border post near China on suspicion of committing violence against other soldiers in his unit, local media report.
The arrest of the commander plus two contract soldiers comes two days after 11 conscripts deserted from the Tersayryk unit in northeastern Kazakhstan to protest their treatment.
The military now says the soldiers deserted in order to report hazing, the practice of senior soldiers bullying junior ones that is common in the armed forces of some former Soviet states.
“They wanted to report to the command post that there had allegedly been an incident of hazing,” Ardak Zamanbekov, an official from the regional command, said in remarks broadcast by KTK TV. The military has opened a criminal case to investigate the allegations.
The incident comes in the wake of a massacre at another border unit on the frontier with China, this one in southeastern Kazakhstan, where 15 people were slaughtered on the night of 27-28 May. The sole survivor, 20-year-old conscript Vladislav Chelakh, confessed to the massacre last week, saying that hazing had made him “flip.”
Some commentators in Kazakhstan have had trouble swallowing that theory, though the latest desertions indicate that hazing may be a serious problem within the country’s armed forces.
Zamanbekov said that the two incidents were in no way connected. Nevertheless, Astana is certainly taking the accusations seriously, arresting not the deserters but the more senior officers who allegedly committed violence against them. The head of the Border Service, which falls under the jurisdiction of the powerful KNB domestic intelligence service, has also resigned.
Deputies from Kazakhstan’s parliament are preparing to visit border units to investigate and have pledged to draw up a new law governing state borders in a bid to better regulate what is going on in these often remote military units.