In the latest embarrassment for Russia's military, one soldier said he was tortured with electric shocks until he agreed to have sex with clients, according to testimony collected by a campaign group.
The group also said it had witness statements that conscripts were sold to clients outside the gates of their unit in St Petersburg's historic center, and that other liaisons were arranged on the Internet and by telephone.
"Conscripts are very well aware of places such as special clubs where they can be picked up," said Ella Polyakova, St Petersburg head of the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, a non-governmental organization.
"We have several witnesses to it, and one of them gave us a written statement that he was forced to do it after he had been beaten and tortured with an electric current," Polyakova said.
The group alleged that the prostitution ring revolved around an Interior Ministry unit based next to the Hermitage Museum, the former Tsarist palace and home to a world-renowned art collection that attracts thousands of tourists a year.
Andrei Pichugin, a spokesman for the military prosecutor's office in St Petersburg, confirmed that an inquiry had been opened. He declined to make any further comment.
Russian media quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman in Moscow saying the conscript at the center of the complaints was mentally unstable.
The spokesman said prostitution claims were "intended to discredit the institution of military service."
Bullying and abuse is commonplace in Russia's military, where recruits serve 18 months and face hazing by older soldiers called "dedovshchina," or "rule of the grandfathers."
In some cases death or serious injury results. Doctors last year had to amputate an abused soldier's legs and genitals.
That caused deep embarrassment for Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, widely expected to run to replace President Vladimir Putin in 2008 when he steps down.
More often, dedovshchina means soldiers are forced to steal or beg and hand over earnings to their tormentors. Some officers have been prosecuted for renting soldiers out as laborers.
Now, when I read this story I was absolutely disgusted.....but then I thought to myself....
"If the Navy was this way when I was in it, I would have NEVER left!!"
I know that's terrible, and this is a sad sad story, but doesnt it just twist the DONT ASK DONT TELL policy into knots??