More than three dozen soldiers stationed in Russia's Far East are reportedly facing criminal charges for handing over cash to be included in a planned ?business trip? to visit Moscow's military installations in war-torn Syria.
On Wednesday, business daily Kommersant reported that at least 36 servicemen are believed to have tried to bribe their way onto a taxpayer-funded junket to the troubled Middle Eastern nation.
A lawyer working as an advisor to the unit, based on Sakhalin island in the Sea of Japan, allegedly persuaded troopers that he had connections among the officers selecting representatives to be sent to Syria. According to the publication, privates and non-commissioned officers were charged 20,000 rubles ($280 USD) and commissioned officers up to 40,000 rubles ($565 USD).
Russian military personnel sent to Syria for any period of time are automatically awarded veteran status and guaranteed monthly payments designed to support those who have seen battle for life. Veterans also receive an additional 15 days of annual leave within the armed forces, and have more opportunities for travel.
However, the scheme quickly collapsed, Kommersant reports, after the lawyer came under investigation and was charged. He is said to have pleaded guilty and been barred from receiving promotions for a year and a half. The hapless troopers involved in the scheme have been handed hefty fines of up to 90,000 rubles ($1,270 USD). None reportedly reached the Middle East despite making the payments.
Russia has sent a number of military advisors, as well as frontline personnel, to support the government of Bashar Assad in the Syrian Civil War. Moscow maintains its presence in the region is limited to fighting banned terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda. However, the region has increasingly become a battleground for international influence, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying US troops should leave the country and allow Assad's forces to assume full control.