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ARE TROOPS GOING HUNGRY IN RUSSIA?

A chronic shortage of funds has left many Russian soldiers and their families on the verge of starvation, forcing them to live on crackers without hot food, a top Russian military official said Tuesday.

Many Russian garrisons have even run out of their emergency rations, Valentin Panichev, Russia's top military prosecutor, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.He urged the Russian parliament to increase the army budget. Otherwise, he warned, there could be other cases like the one on Russky Island in the Russian Far East where four naval cadets died of malnutrition in 1993.

He also said back wages and deteriorating service conditions had led many officers to search for side jobs, working as watchmen, gypsy cab drivers or salesmen. Others steal weapons and supplies, he said.

The number of thefts in the Russian army has increased significantly and made up one-fifth of all 11,444 crimes committed by Russian servicemen during the first half of the year, Panichev said.

The Russian army has also been plagued by brutal hazing of new conscripts by older soldiers, which often involves beatings and other violent acts. Last year, two Russian border guards in the Pacific broke into a base dormitory and killed six of their comrades. They later told investigators they wanted to avenge brutal harassment.

Last month, a border guard at another remote Pacific outpost went on a shooting spree, killing his commander and four other soldiers. Authorities haven't yet released the results of the investigation.