Russian army put on alert for tell-tale tattoos

Russian soldiers march during a rehearsal for a parade in St Petersburg (file photo) Many young Russian men face being conscripted into the army

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Guidelines are being issued to the Russian army to check soldiers for intimate tattoos but a defence source denied gay men were being targeted.

According to the advice, revealed by Russian newspaper Izvestia, tattoos are a useful indication of character.

"Special attention should be paid to tattoos around the face, and on the sex organs and buttocks," it notes.

The defence source said it was a matter of health and appearance, not soldiers' sexual orientation.

Russia maintains a large conscript army with a long history of personnel problems that include bullying, ethnic tensions and malnutrition, as well as death and injury during training exercises.

Many young men try to avoid the call-up through obtaining legal exemptions or by other means.

In a US TV interview in 2010, Vladimir Putin, Russia's current president, said openly gay men were not banned from serving in the Russian military.

'Sign of submission'

The guidelines, which cover all aspects of military life, are quoted as saying that tattoos may indicate a "low cultural and educational level" and "possible sexual deviations".

A young man who allows himself to be tattooed may be inclined to "submit to the will of others", they warn.

Two unnamed sources interviewed by Izvestia - a military psychologist and a deputy battalion commander - argued that gay soldiers were an unwelcome distraction in the army.

However, an unnamed senior defence ministry official told Russia's Ria-Novosti news agency: "The commander and his deputy should monitor the health of the soldier and his appearance, not his sexual experience and sexual orientation."

The state of a soldier's skin was more properly a question for army medical commissions, he added.

News of the guidelines comes as the country's parliament debates a controversial bill to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality among children, which some campaigners see as a veiled attack on gay rights.

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