Russian army officer sacked after pneumonia deaths

Army conscripts using foot cloths - file pic
Image caption Traditionally Russian infantry have worn foot cloths - considered old-fashioned now

Russia's new defence minister has sacked the chief medical officer of the armed forces after five soldiers died of pneumonia.

The minister, Sergei Shoigu, was dissatisfied with the standard of military healthcare under Vyacheslav Novikov, a ministry statement said.

He has not been directly blamed for the deaths, which are being investigated.

One soldier died of pneumonia on Sunday and four others in recent weeks. Army conditions are often very basic.

Sunday's death was at a military hospital in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals, and the earlier deaths were at a military hospital in Podolsk, in the Moscow region. Moscow Echo radio says a case of suspected criminal neglect has been opened.

The cause of the pneumonia is not yet clear.

In November Mr Shoigu's predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov was sacked by President Vladimir Putin, amid an investigation into suspicious sales of defence ministry assets.

No socks

For years there have been scandals in the Russian military over defective equipment and bullying.

Mr Shoigu told the generals on Monday that it was time for the Russian army to scrap the traditional foot cloths still worn by some soldiers, and replace them with socks.

At a meeting with top generals, Mr Shoigu said it was "astonishing" that the foot cloths - called "portyanki" - were still in use. "You must resolve this question. By the end of 2013 we must forget the word 'portyanki'," he said.

The minister added that extra funds would be made available if necessary to provide up-to-date footwear.

Interfax news agency says there were plans back in 2007 to ditch the Russian army's old-fashioned foot cloths and boots, in favour of modern, healthier footwear.

A famous fashion designer, Valentin Yudashkin, was even commissioned to redesign the army's uniform, but the improvements did not happen, Interfax reports.

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