I wish all readers of Sean’s Russia Blog a very happy New Year! I hope all of you keep reading in 2007 and beyond! Let the vodka flow . . .
The postcard, dated sometime in the 1940s, is taken from RIA Novosti’s New Year postcard gallery.
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By Sean — 13 years ago
Two articles in today’s Moscow Times concern the Russian military and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s attempts to get a handle on it. The first, “No More Free Labor for Soldiers” reports on Ivanov’s decree forbidding officers from using conscripts to perform work outside their military service. Forcing conscripts to build dachas, collect harvests and other labor is a common practice in the Russian military. Some of these tasks fall under dedovshchina, or hazing, where new conscripts are forced to perform all sorts of laborious and humiliating tasks for older soldiers and officers under the threat of violence. According to the article, the Defense Ministry has recorded 662 non-combat deaths since January to August this year. This number is disputed by the soldiers’ rights organization Mothers’ Rights Foundation. Veronika Marchenko, the head of MRF claims that non-combat deaths, including deaths from hazing, number around 3,000 per year. This number would presumably include other types of deaths from abuse such as suicide and mental illness.
Conscript abuse is a serious problem in the Russian military. Human Rights Watch released a report late last year chronicling the abuse associated with the hazing of new recruits. In one of its most horrific passages, the report summed up dedovshchina with the following incident:
“No sooner was Alexander D. assigned to the Third Company at his unit, than the rules of dedovshchina became apparent. While he described the abuses during the first week as “not all too strong,” after about a week, Alexander D.—a young man with a strong sense of personal dignity—came into serious conflict with the dedy [short for ???????, or grandfathers. In this context senior conscripts—Sean] when he refused to comply with one of their orders. He told Human Rights Watch that “the one way to avoid physical abuse was complete submission—turning into a ‘lackey’ (in Russian: shesterka) who does whatever he is asked no matter how humiliating or senseless.” And Alexander D. was not willing to become one. While Alexander D. was standing guard at night, the dedy ordered him to sew collars on their jackets, and went to bed themselves. Alexander D. did not do any sewing that night. The next morning, when the dedy found out, they made it clear his refusal would not go unpunished. One of the dedy told Alexander D. he would be better off “hanging himself.” Later that morning, one of the dedy took Alexander D. to the storage room and started beating him on the arms with an iron bed post wrapped in a towel. When Alexander D. tried to resist, the ded twice beat him with full force on the thigh. Alexander D. fell and the ded hit him on the back and head. The ded then told Alexander D. that the worst would follow at night. Indeed, that night, after Alexander D. had gone to bed, the dedy hit him over the head with a stool to wake him up and took him to the sergeants’ room, where they beat him for a while and then told him to do push-ups. Alexander D. initially refused but after more beatings he did push-ups until around 2:00 a.m. when they told him to dust and themselves went to bed. Alexander D. again refused.”
Despite this, the Ministry chose to tackle the problem of conscript labor. At a press conference this week in Lisbon, Portugal, Defense Minister Ivanov said this, “The myths that exist in society say that soldiers do nothing else but collect harvests and build generals’ dachas. As of today, if such a case is recorded, the commander that gave such an order will be fired and may even land in prison.” Ivanov also warned in June that the names of dead soldiers would be published monthly on the Defense Ministry’s website for all to see.
Not everyone is optimistic. In an editorial accompanying the article, Alexander Gots doubts that Ivanov’s decree will make a difference.
“Whatever lofty sentiments the brass might express about their concern for the average soldier, disdain for the grunts is the foundation of any large conscript army. Our military leaders can’t understand why they’re being made to answer for the lives of individual soldiers. If there’s one thing our generals are good at, it’s calling up huge numbers of young men, providing them with the most primitive combat training and then using them as cannon fodder. This is why the generals require a ready reserve that comprises the entire male adult population of the country. This is why they bitterly oppose the creation of a professional army. By vowing to investigate and publicize all deaths of military personnel in an attempt to force the generals to see conscripts as human beings, Ivanov has infringed upon one of the armed forces’ basic operating principles.”
The use of conscripts for labor has a long history in Russia. Before the Revolution, soldiers were forced to build roads, bridges, and collect harvests. After the revolution conscript labor was used to build railroads and work in coal mines. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gots claims that conscript labor became a “full-blown industry.” Soldiers were hired out to local factories. The money was used to supplement local military budgets, while some “good” commanders invested the money back into his units. Gots adds that since things have gotten worse. “In the North Caucasus,” he writes, “things have reached the point where soldiers are sold into slavery. And for officers who earn meager salaries and enjoy few rights, control of this pool of free labor is the last thing that ensures them a measure of social status.”
It is because of this, that Gots thinks that Ivanov’s decree will not be met with much praise within the command structure. The ban seeks to undo a long standing, yet unwritten privilege of Russian military commanders.
The decree does not, however, address the severe problem of dedovshchina. Even if it did, it probably couldn’t do much to alter its pervasiveness. Dedovshchina is too embedded in military culture. It allows older conscripts to regulate and dominate new ones, giving the military a self perpetuating code of conduct that has no written rules and functions according to the laws laid down by rank and file soldiers. As one ded interviewed by Human Rights Watch put it,
“When we arrived as first-year conscripts, nobody spared us, we slaved for the dedy, and were beaten much more than this [new recruit] now… And we did not complain, we did not run away, and eventually we became friends with the dedy. Now it’s our turn. That’s the law here. We didn’t put up with a full year here so that some dukhi [ or ghost, in this context a derogatory term for new recruits] can now ignore us. Let them take it, and then their time of compensation will come.”
As Gots correctly titles his editorial, slavery is not reformable.Post Views: 436
By Sean — 12 years ago
Exact Russian military casualties in the Chechen War have been hard to pin down. The problem is that the Defense Ministry is known to keep such figures guarded from public scrutiny. According to Mosnews, the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces claims that 3,826 troops were killed, 17,892 were wounded, and 1,906 were missing in action in the first Chechen War, 1994-1996. For the second war, 1999-present, casualty figures are “unclear and often contradictory.” The only official figure given was by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in December of 2002. He reported that total losses of federal forces were 4,572 killed and 15,549 wounded. No official update has since been given.
But even the above figures have been met with scrutiny. The human rights groups Prague Watchdog and the Union Committee of Soldiers Mothers of Russia have both raised skepticism about the reliability of the Kremlin’s figures.
Compounded with the Russian’s lack of transparency in casualty figures, is the fact that more than one Russian and Chechen security forces operate in the region. In addition to the standard military, police, FSB, and Ministry of the Interior (MVD) troops as well as Kadyrov’s squads also engage in what is now called “anti-terrorist activities.”
According to a short article by Vladimir Mukhin in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the chaotic and deadly situation in Chechnya continues. Nothing says this more than the high casualty rate Russian MVD forces are still sustaining in the region. Based on Russian Defense Ministry figures published last week, Mukhin writes,
In July of this year six servicemen were killed in the course of fulfilling their service duties in Chechnya. And it is noted that all of them fell in battle. These were members of the elite spetsnaz (special-purpose forces) group that was fired on at almost point-blank range on the highway near the settlement of Avtury on 4 July. A further 15 soldiers and offices were wounded during that battle. According to ‘s sources in the military department, a subunit of troop unit No. 54607 from near Tambov fell into an ambush. It is not ruled out that the emergency visit by Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov to Chechnya on 11 July was prompted by this tragedy.
Russian Federation Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Nurgaliyev is also concerned about losses among his subordinates. In Makhachkala the minister drew attention to the fact that about 200 police officers and Internal Troops servicemen have been killed in Dagestan in the past four years. In 2005 alone there were more than 100 attacks, as a result of which 60 personnel were killed and more than 120 wounded. According to Nurgaliyev, since the beginning of this year 22 police officers have been killed and 59 wounded as a result of terrorist acts in Pakistan.
The statistics show that one police officer or serviceman is killed in the North Caucasus nearly every day. Although there are as yet no complete figures on this. Only the Russian Federation Defense Ministry continues to give reports of losses on a monthly basis. In all, since the beginning of 2006 42 Defense Ministry servicemen have been killed in Chechnya, and one is missing. From the beginning of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya (1999) to the present day, 3,588 Russian Federation Defense Ministry servicemen have been killed in the course of their service duties and 31 have gone missing. The losses in MVD structures are as follows: In 2004-2005 236 people were killed from among representatives of the law-enforcement agencies, and 279 from among servicemen of the Russian Federation MVD Internal Troops. As of today there are no official figures on losses among police officers and Internal Troops servicemen in Chechnya in 2006.
All of this comes with another article written by Mukhin on how the idea of a Russian contract army is failing. Mukhin writes,
It follows from the documents drawn up in the General Staff that at the present time the Armed Forces are suffering from the massive breaking of military-service contracts by soldiers and sergeants. Thus, according to the chief of a group of analytical subunits in the Main Organization and Mobilization Directorate (GOMU) of the General Staff, Col Yevgeniy Shabalin, in 2005 12.9 percent of servicemen who became professionals prematurely stopped military service (that is, they broke their contracts). In the case of the 42nd Motorized-Rifle Division stationed in Chechnya and operating, as is known, under combat conditions, almost every third professional broke his contract early.
The RF Armed Forces expects a similar trend in 2006, although in smaller proportions. This does not even worry Col Shabalin so much as the fact that a significant number of servicemen who signed a first contract do not intend to extend it.
According to the RF Defense Ministry’s Sociological Center, only 15-19 percent of professionals of the RF Armed Forces are ready to sign a second contract. Thus, over the next 2-3 years, the troops may lose the backbone of professionals who signed contracts in 2004-2005 (the document is signed for three years) and now constitute the foundation of the so-called permanent-combat-readiness forces. It is understandable that this will affect the quality parameters of the country’s entire national defense, since the significant shortfall caused by leaving professionals will have to be restored by other people recruited from civilian life and from among other young soldiers. They will have to be trained again, subunits will have to be coordinated, etc. And this, of course, will cost money, since almost half the army will have to be retrained in accordance with the professional programs. According to the information of GOMU chief Col-Gen Vasiliy Smirnov, it is planned to have 40-45 percent contract soldiers in table-of-organization positions in the Armed Forces in 2008. Here the professional sergeant layer is to exceed 50 percent.
Of course, the Defense Ministry is undertaking measures to change the situation: it is working harder with military commissariats and on the quality of contractor recruitment, increasing moral incentives, and intensifying indoctrination work in the troops. However, this is plainly far from enough, since the motivation of professionals for the work, as the polls of military sociologists show, depends primarily on the material incentives determined by the state. Some 29 percent of the professionals surveyed did not want to continue military service because of the absence of conditions for rest and leisure (clubs, sports facilities, etc). In the past the Finance Ministry has significantly cut expenditures for these items, although the government has approved a federal targeted program (FPTs) for changing the troops over to a professional basis. Some 27 percent of the contractors intend to leave the Army because of low pay. This is completely explainable. On average, a professional receives very little even by average-Russian standards — from 7,000 to 9,000 rubles. True, this figure amounts to 15,000 rubles in Chechnya. But even this money is not a sufficient incentive today. Next year the 42nd Division in Chechnya expects a mass exodus of contractors. Some 26 percent of those polled explained their upcoming departure from the army by the failure to solve the housing problem. This is again connected with the federal targeted program: the government skimped on money for small-family construction, and the majority of contractors now live in refurbished barracks.
It appears that the Russian military’s own failures at improving soldiers living conditions and compensation has killed any hope of establishing a professional army in Russia for the foreseeable future.All translations of Russian text are from Johnson’s Russia ListPost Views: 2,758
By Sean — 12 years ago
Wondering how war in the Middle East impacts Russia? I highly recommend Charlie Ganske’s post “The Long War in the Middle East and Russian Oil” on Russia Blog for an answer. Here is the opening paragraph:
The Russian business newspaper Kommersant has an article up on their website today, candidly titled Thanks to the War Machine. The article provides some historic perspective on how the USSR profited from the oil shocks after the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The article also notes that Russia has been the single largest beneficiary of higher global oil prices fueled by Mideast turmoil. However, Kommersant contributor Sergey Minaev’s argument intersects with a view we have presented here at Russia Blog for some time: the West (not just the U.S.) has a strategic interest in developing Russian oil and gas, with the goal to expand global energy supplies from outside the Middle East.
I also suggest taking a look at Yuri Mamchur’s deconstruction of the new extremism law signed by Putin.Post Views: 574