Surviving Army Life
The Fun of the Russian Army Experience
Moscow Times, August 15, 1998
Army Tells Soldiers to Forage for Food
By Simon Saradzhyan
The Defense Ministry has suggested that its servicemen fish, hunt, and gather
mushrooms to survive until the federal government accumulates enough cash
to pay military wage arrears, officials said.
General Nikolai Byrbyga of the ministry’s department for discipline and morale
said Wednesday that “collective trips of military servicemen and their family
members will be organized” to allow them to gather mushrooms and berries.
The general said his directorate had issued a directive last week “advising”
all deputy commanders of the military units in charge of discipline and morale
to organize such trips. The general stressed that the directive was “not
an order, but just a piece of advice” that should be acted upon only in a
serviceman’s free time, after he had fulfilled his daily duties.
“People really need this to survive somehow. We are trying to help,” Byrbyga
said, noting that most Defense Ministry servicemen have already gone for
four months without pay. Moreover, must Russian officers have not received
their food compensations – which account for some 20 percent of their overall
salary packages – for more than a year.
The directive also advised officers and their families to can their own
vegetables and fruits, according to Moskovsky Komsomolets. It was not clear
how they would go about doing so, since, unlike many civilians, servicemen
generally do not have their own garden plots or dachas to work from.
Officers at two military units reached by phone Wednesday said they had heard
about the directive but not yet seen it. The chief of discipline and morale
at an air force unit near the Moscow region town of Chkalovsky said he would
not be likely to take his brothers-in-arms mushroom hunting and fishing unless
officially ordered by Byrbyga’s directorate. “Just tell me who is going to
pay” for the trips, demanded the officer, who asked not to be named. He said
there was barely enough gasoline at his cash-strapped unit to hive commanders
driven around on official business, much less for buses to take officers
mushroom hunting in their free time. The officer said that the very idea
of organizing such trips was “not bad,” but had come too late.
Wives of Russian officers have for years planted vegetables on land plots
their husbands rent at token prices from depressed collective farms. Unlike
officers, however, rank-and file soldiers do not have much choice and have
to eat whatever their cash strapped unit can afford. In one infamous case
earlier this summer, news broke that hundreds of kilograms of low-quality
canned meat containing recognizable animal tail-, .It had been bought by
a military unit based in the Moscow region town of Monino. Luckily for the
soldiers, the meat, which was of such poor quality that it could have been
legally defined as pet food – was intercepted by the chief military prosecutor’s
office before making it to their canteens. Military prosecutors forced the
unit’s command to exchange the meat for a batch of better quality.
Current History, October 1998
Russia’s Crumbling Military
By Dale R. Herspring
The best indicator of stability in a political system is the military. Why?
Because the armed forces are usually the strongest, most cohesive, and most
disciplined organization in any polity. If they have lost cohesion and
discipline, then the outlook for the political system is bleak. Unfortunately,
this is exactly the condition the Russian military finds itself in. Discipline
has collapsed, equipment is becoming antiquated, morale has sunk to an all-time
low, good officers and noncommissioned officers are leaving the service,
the country’s generals have been politicized, and Moscow’s ability to ensure
the military’s obedience in a crisis is doubtful. Budget promises unkept
The Russian military is shot through with problems. The greatest concern
is money. Not only has the military’s budget been cut each year over the
past decade, but it has rarely received even the funds promised. In 1997,
the military received only 56 percent of its budgeted appropriation. It was
given only 43 percent of its budget allocation for medical services, 41 percent
of monies earmarked for clothing and equipment, and only 50 percent of what
was promised to feed its soldiers. The last shortfall has led to a constant
delay in paying officers, whose salaries are often used to feed enlisted
This budget crisis has had a cataclysmic impact on the entire military. Because
of cutbacks in weapons purchases (only 2 combat aircraft were purchased in
1995, compared with 585 in 1991), by 1998 only 30 percent of all weapons
in the Russian inventory could be classified as modern-in nato countries
the number stood at between 60 and 80 percent. If current trends continue,
by 2005 only 5 to 7 percent of all Russian weaponry will be new, and Russia’s
military will hold third world status.
Moscow’s worry about weapons does not end with the need for new systems.
Existing equipment is also in desperate need of repair. Marshal Igor Sergeyev,
the Russian defense minister, noted this April that 53 percent of all aircraft
as well as 40 percent of anti-aircraft systems, helicopters, armored equipment,
and artillery required repair. The navy is in even worse condition.
Equipment problems have had a disastrous effect on Russian combat operations.
During the war to suppress the insurrection in the republic of Chechnya in
1994-1996, the army quickly discovered that it lacked the money needed to
carry out operations. Funds had to be diverted from its regular budget, further
worsening the situation for the armed forces as a whole. At one point the
shoes and winter hats worn by Russian troops in Chechnya were paid for by
a Moscow bank; the army simply could not afford to buy such “luxuries.” And
because of a lack of modern weapons, the military relied heavily on older
arms and ammunition, some of which were manufactured during World War II.
Other examples abound. By 1997, almost all government meteorological stations
had stopped passing critical weather information to the military because
of nonpayment, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had to order power
stations to continue to supply military installations with power even if
they had not paid their electricity bills. At the end of 1997, the military’s
total debts exceeded 40 trillion rubles, or half the 1996 military budget.
Lack of money has also hurt training. If soldiers do not train, their ability
to carry out their assigned missions quickly degrades. Training funds are
down 90 percent since 1991, and Russia’s armed forces have not conducted
a single division-level ground forces operation since 1992. Similarly, Russian
pilots are lucky if they get in 25 hours of flying a year-just a fraction
of the 150 to 200 hours that nato recommends for its pilots. According to
Russian sources, pilots often spend more time sweeping runways than flying
planes. Many can be found working part-time as cab drivers (it is also not
unusual to see soldiers begging for money on the streets of Moscow). With
the exception of some elite units (airborne troops and those engaged in
peacekeeping operations), the vast majority of Russian soldiers receive little
or no training, and are thus in no position to carry out combat operations.
If the Russian army were called on to go to war (especially if the operations
were large-scale and offensive), the cost in terms of human life would be
tremendous-a cost that would be exacerbated by the lack of sophisticated
weapons and equipment. A breakdown in discipline
At one time observers could talk of “Prussian-style” discipline in the Soviet
military. This writer can remember seeing many cases in which Soviet soldiers
and sailors were subject to the most brutal discipline and behaved almost
Although some criminal acts probably occurred, they
often were limited to activities such as senior officers using soldiers to
build dachas for themselves. Soldiers might not have been exceptionally
efficient, and they might have taken whatever they could from the state,
but generally crime in the Soviet military was limited.
Cadets getting ready for the big time.
Over the past 10 years, however, discipline has deteriorated to the point
where the military prosecutor’s office has a full-time job pursuing those
accused of the most serious forms of crime, such as murder. Yuri Demin, the
chief military prosecutor, noted in 1997 that 50 soldiers were shot by fellow
servicemen-and this was just those on guard duty who shot each other! He
further reported that by March 1998, another 10 had been killed in similar
circumstances. The problem continues to grow. In May, in the Far Eastern
military district, 4 soldiers reportedly shot and killed their commanding
officer. In all, during 1997 approximately 521 servicepeople died because
they were engaged in criminal activity. In addition, Demin reported that
14 generals were under investigation for committing crimes.
Suicides are also a growing concern. In 1997, 487 soldiers committed suicide,
57 more than in the previous year. The Duma reported that between January
and April 1998, another 132 committed suicide. While the cause is unclear,
most observers agree that poor food and working conditions, frequent delays
in wage payments, and the widespread hazing of recruits were the primary
The last is a long-standing problem. Rather than exerting close personal
supervision of enlisted personnel, Russian officers have traditionally relied
on senior conscripts to keep the junior ones in line. However, the senior
conscripts have brutalized many of the junior conscripts-to the point that
a number of them have committed suicide. Others have been killed. As recently
as May a young soldier was beaten to death because he refused to mend an
older conscript’s soccer shoe. The army is aware of the problem, but ending
it would require major changes in the training and conduct of officers and
noncommissioned officers. There is little indication that the high command
is prepared to make these fundamental changes. Meanwhile, it was reported
that 50,000 young men evaded the draft in 1997, while more than 12,000 conscripts
went awol rather than endure the brutality of barracks life.
The quality of those who do answer their draft notices has dropped considerably.
In 1997, some 40 percent of new conscripts had not attended school or held
a job in the two years before their military service. Furthermore, one in
twenty had a police record and others were, according to the Russian defense
minister, “drug addicts, toxic substance abusers, mentally disabled, and
Problems are also found at the junior-officer level. Not only are these officers
resigning their commissions at an alarming rate, but competition among candidates
for officer school (which once was intense) has dropped sharply. In 1989,
for example, it was 1.9 candidates per space; in 1993, only 1.35. Recent
comments by Russian officers suggest that it has since decreased even further.
Moreover, by 1996 more than 50 percent of all junior officers had left the
military as soon as their duty was completed in order to enter the business
world. Why should they remain in a military that pays them about $100 per
month for doing a job that requires heavy labor and the physical discomforts
that go with it? Poor salaries, an insecure future, inadequate family quarters
and support institutions, and declining prestige have all taken their toll.
Given the problems facing the military, it is not surprising that morale
is at an all-time low. Many military professionals no longer see any future
in the armed forces. Pavel Felgenhauer, the highly respected Russian commentator
on military affairs, has reported that senior officers have begun to tell
journalists openly that Marshal Sergeyev is not fit to command the Russian
army-public criticism that would have been inconceivable during the Soviet
period. Even more troubling from the Kremlin’s standpoint are the questions
being raised concerning what officers would do if called on to support Moscow
internally. A 1995 survey of 600 field-grade Russian officers illuminated
doubts about the army’s reliability. According to the survey, “officers were
particularly adamant in their opposition to using the military to quell a
separatist rebellion in one of the regions of the Russian Federation.” Only
7 percent supported such an action. When asked if they would follow Moscow’s
orders if a Russian republic declared independence, 39 percent “admitted
that they probably or definitely would not follow orders.”
The survey’s results confirm defense analyst Felgenhauer’s comment in March
1998 that “sending the present Russian armed forces into any kind of action
would be a serious error. Things could get worse than they were in Chechnya-the
troops could rebel instantly.”
To compound morale matters, the government has increased the income taxes
soldiers must pay. At the same time, military officers whose incomes previously
were not taxed must now not only pay this tax but also suffer a reduction
in benefits such as free travel and a 50 percent discount on housing.
Politicizing the military
The general breakdown in discipline and decline in morale has been accompanied
by another major change in the post-Soviet Russian military. There has long
been a misperception in the West that the Soviet military was highly politicized.
Much depended on how one defined the term “politicization.” If it referred
to the effort of a party-state such as the Soviet Union to inculcate a particular
political point of view in the hearts and minds of its troops, then the Soviet
military was very politicized. Political officers and indoctrination lectures
were part of the life of the Soviet soldier.
There is, however, another type of politicization: the involvement of military
officers in politics. In this sense, Western military officers have been
much more politicized than Soviet military officers. For example, American
military officers often enjoy close ties with members of Congress, something
that would have been inconceivable in the Soviet Union. Soviet officers were
far more isolated from civilian society and, with the exception of a few
at the very top, seldom became involved in the political process.
Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russian military officers have cast off
this apolitical stance. Former Soviet (and Russian) generals such as Aleksandr
Rutskoi, Boris Gromov, Aleksandr Lebed, and Andrei Nikolayev have become
household names among those who follow politics in Moscow; all have taken
the political plunge, with varying degrees of success. As far as civil-military
relations are concerned, this has increased the possibility that at some
point active-duty Russian generals may move directly into the political realm.
As for the military, it has further undermined cohesion as generals have
begun to view themselves as political actors and sometimes find themselves
on different sides of issues in public.
This does not mean that the Russian military is likely to intervene directly
in the political process. The military itself is too divided internally to
carry out a coup successfully. And although Aleksandr Lebed stands a better
than 50:50 chance of winning the next presidential election (assuming it
is open and fair), his election would be a case of a former general who used
his military background to political benefit and who won office through the
electoral process. Can it be reformed?
Military reform has been widely discussed in Russian military circles, but
there has been little effort to make it a reality. The most ambitious and
controversial plan is the one currently being implemented. Designed under
Marshal Sergeyev’s leadership, the plan divides military reform into two
Under the first stage, which is to be completed by the year 2000, the military
is to be reduced to 1.2 million troops. Reaching this level will require
the discharge of thousands of soldiers. The maximum number of generals (in
both the military and paramilitary units) is also to be cut to 2,300. Funds
must be found to pay those who are discharged, since Russian law requires
that forcibly discharged soldiers receive a hefty separation allowance.
The reform plan also calls for the abolition of the position of commander
in chief of ground forces, one of the most powerful in the Russian army.
It will be replaced by a Ground Forces Main Department. The introduction
of more mobile forces is called for as well. The plan also combines the air
defense and air force into one service. Some 125,000 air force personnel
will be discharged by the end of 1998, and a number of redundant offices
and organizations have been combined in an effort to save money.
Stage two calls for even more ambitious changes. Space forces may be combined
with the air force, military academies will undergo major changes both in
curriculum and numbers, and there are suggestions that the military will
be divided into conventional and strategic nuclear forces. This last change
would lead to a blurring of service lines (each has both conventional and
nuclear forces); opposition by more traditional military and navy officers
is already evident.
The proposed changes to the nuclear forces come at a time when Russia is
placing primary reliance on nuclear weapons as it restructures its conventional
forces. Nuclear weapons are cheaper than conventional systems, and easier
to maintain. The danger, however, is that by adopting a “launch on warning”
strategy, even greater reliance is placed on Moscow’s command-and-control
systems as well as its missiles. After all, launch on warning means that
as soon as Moscow detects an incoming missile, it has no alternative but
to launch its own missiles in response. It does not have time to evaluate
the situation and determine if the threat is real.
Unfortunately, radar systems no longer work as well as they did in the past,
and the reliability of Moscow’s aging missiles is a grave problem. There
is a serious danger that these antiquated warning systems could lead the
Kremlin to believe it is under attack when it is not. The September 1998
agreement by the United States to share missile launch data with Russia
underscores America’s concern about this deficiency. A bleak outlook
the introduction of reform measures, it is hard to be optimistic about the
Russian military’s future. President Boris Yeltsinx gives the impression
that he neither understands nor cares about the state of the armed forces.
He seems to tolerate the military and, if anything, appears more interested
in the country’s internal security forces-which are specially trained to
deal with domestic conflict.
As for the reform process, it is true that for the first time the country
has a plan and is attempting to implement it. The problem is that the military
continues to fall apart in the process. As the West knows only too well,
downsizing is expensive. As recently as this July, Yeltsin promised the
military-again-that the government would find enough funds to cover the costs
involved in reform. Whether he will follow through is open to question. As
it stands, the newly combined air force and air defense forces are attempting
to sell 600 surplus aircraft in an effort to raise money to help pay basic
Even if the reforms are fully carried out, it will be a long time before
Russia has a military similar to that under the Soviet government. First,
the equipment is so old that almost all of it will have to be replaced, a
very expensive undertaking. Second, the hemorrhage of young officers from
the military and the drop in prestige of military service mean it will be
some time before the army is able to attract the high-quality people it needs.
The chaos present in the military is indicative of a greater problem: the
instability that haunts Russia. This means that the Kremlin can only hope
that it will not have to call on the military to protect it from internal
or external enemies. What it needs is a honeymoon for the next 5 to 10 years,
a period of foreign and domestic tranquillity in which it can rebuild its
shattered armed forces. Unfortunately, the country’s leaders seem to believe
that they can ignore the military until the rest of the country recovers.
While it would be wrong to rule out such a possibility, the instability that
seems to reign throughout Russia suggests that this will not be the case.
There has been a tendency in some circles to ignore the role played by the
military in many polities, including Russia. But if the military represents
the last barrier against collapse and chaos, then the state of the armed
forces is critical. For Russia, the situation is not encouraging. The Russian
military may not yet have collapsed, but it is not far from doing so.
Dale R. Herspring is a professor of political science and head of the
department at Kansas State University. This article draws on the author’s
“The Search for Stability in the Russian Army,” in Constantine Danopoulos
and Daniel Zirker, eds., The Military and Society in the Former Eastern Bloc
(Boulder, Colo.: Westview, forthcoming).
Washington Post 17 January 1999
Book World Book Review: Shooting Themselves In the Foot,
Review of THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET MILITARY By William H. Odom Yale.
523 pp. $35
By W. Bruce Lincoln
The collapse of the Soviet military marked a defining moment in modern history.
For decades this military colossus had stood as the indisputable defender
of Lenin’s vision, and its privileged position had testified to its vital
role as an instrument of Soviet foreign and domestic policy. To the military
alone the post-World War II Soviet Union owed its superpower status. And
yet, in the six short years of Gorbachev’s rule, the Soviet military fell
apart. It “melted,” William H. Odom writes, “like the spring ice in Russia’s
How did this happen? And why? To answer those questions is the purpose of
Odom’s study, and as a longtime student of Soviet military affairs, a former
director of the National Security Agency, and the present director of national
security studies at the Hudson Institute, he is well-equipped to take up
that task. The result is far and away the most impressive treatment of the
subject yet to appear. No other single volume rivals the thoroughness of
Odom’s account or equals the complexity of his analysis. >From beginning
to end, the force of his argument challenges his readers to think in new
ways about one of the most complex phenomena of modern times.
Especially after World War II, the military dominated Soviet thinking, policy
and society. Communist ideology demanded that everything be subordinated
to the military, and insisted that no price was too high to pay for preserving
it. For it was the military that kept the Soviet multinational state from
fragmenting into its disparate parts. And, just as the military shielded
the Soviet state from internal discord, so it also defended the state against
foreign attack. As the preeminent expression of Von Clausewitz’s observation
that war is simply the continuation of politics by other means, the military
served as the key instrument for expanding the Soviet empire and furthering
its policies abroad. Its armed forces were the largest and arguably the most
powerful in the world. Its nuclear arsenal was by far the largest, and it
was controlled by men who believed, as Odom writes, “that nuclear war was
winnable and that nuclear use made good military sense.”
And yet, by the mid-1980s, the military had become a force that crippled
every aspect of Soviet life. Bloated beyond belief and paralyzed by corruption,
the military failed as policymakers in Afghanistan and became a prime source
of resentment at home. Anxious to move beyond the stagnation that had soured
Soviet life during the Brezhnev era, Gorbachev decided to cut military expenses.
To do so, he launched a serious effort to improve relations with the West
in the belief that large-scale disarmament could be made possible by effective
arms control. That required him to limit the Soviet Union’s ability to make
war. And that eventually obliged him to abandon the ideological foundations
that underlay the legitimacy and purpose of the Soviet state.
By the mid-1980s, there was surprising agreement among the Soviet elite that
excessive military expenditures lay at the root of their nation’s troubled
economy. But neither they nor Gorbachev understood that, as the Soviet Union
faced new challenges from the nationalities held by force within it, the
policy of demilitarization would lead to the destruction of the Soviet system.
Therein lay the ultimate tragedy of the Gorbachev era. “There was no way
to retreat and no clear way to go forward without yielding to the centrifugal
forces emerging in the national republics,” Odom writes. But with the weakened
military that had been brought about by Gorbachev’s efforts to reallocate
Soviet resources, there was no way to defend the Soviet Union against those
forces. Unwittingly, Gorbachev had undermined what every leader since Peter
the Great had known was Russia’s key to empire. Without its armed forces,
the Soviet state had no chance to survive.
And so the military — the singular buttress of Soviet power, ideology and
policy — collapsed. Odom sees in that event far-reaching implications for
the future, for he views Russia as now having “the first real opportunity
in modern times to break out of a cycle of structural conditions that have
kept it from the path of liberal political and economic development.” In
that context, he argues, the key question now remains whether the military
“again becomes a substitute for law and the foundation of Russia’s sovereignty
and stability” or whether it “becomes the guardian of a constitutional state
based on a market economy, popular political participation, and guaranteed
individual rights.” The former would return Russia to the path it has trod
since at least the days of Peter the Great. The latter could lead Russia
to capitalism and a Western style democracy.
But the historical factors shaping this choice are even more complex than
Odom argues, for before the constitutional state, market economy, and popular
political participation can appear, they will have to overcome at least five
centuries of political experience that is pushing Russia in the opposite
direction. Russia’s masses are not accustomed to serving their nation. Except
for a brief moment at the beginning of this century, their historical experience
has never encouraged the development of that sense of civic responsibility
which is essential to the proper functioning of democracy. With one or two
brief exceptions, Russia has been throughout its history a nation of
petty-minded, self-serving interest groups, upon which reform and change
have never been imposed successfully except by autocratic rulers from above.
In the past, the alternative to a strong and determined ruler with the power
to impose change in Russia has been a society fragmented to the point where
all sense of national interest has been lost. We are seeing that again today
in the conflicts within the Duma and in the confrontations between the Duma
and Yeltsin’s government. And so the solution to the dilemma that Odom poses
at the end of his book remains uncertain, and we cannot yet tell whether
Russia will follow the old path or a new one.
At the moment, the forces of time and history seem to argue for the old path.
If that turns out to be true, then Odom’s brilliant study will become a handbook
for Western military planners and policymakers who need to know what forces
have shaped Russia’s military and what principles will determine its behavior
in the future. But whichever way the future turns, this book will be essential
reading for everyone who wants to understand why America’s Cold War rival
acted the way it did and what caused that opponent to become a colossus with
feet of clay.
Reviewed by W. Bruce Lincoln, the author of 11 books about Russia and
the Soviet Union, the most recent of which is “Between Heaven and Hell,”
a history of Russia’s artistic experience.
Christian Science Monitor 1 February 1999
Russia’s Army faces battle within its ranks
By: Judith Matloff
We’ll call him ivan, because he’s afraid someone will kill him if his name
is revealed in this story. He’s been lying low in his mother’s Moscow apartment
since running away from the Russian Army last week. Ivan’s crime, as seen
by the law, is desertion. He had had enough of being beaten in hazings that
are commonplace in his regiment near the town of Nizhny Novgorod, 240 miles
east of Moscow.
When we first met him at the offices of an advocacy group, his cheek was
bruised and he was exhausted, having walked all night in the woods after
deserting his post. “The seniors said they’d kill me if I squealed on them,”
he says of his tormentors, who regularly battered him with fists, chairs,
and stools for such offenses as running errands too slowly. “They said it’s
nothing personal, that it happens to all the new recruits to show them their
place. But I couldn’t take it anymore,” Ivan says.
As in many nations’ militaries, hazing has always been present in Russia’s
Army, even when it was renowned for discipline during the Soviet era. But
the violence has been aggravated by a lack of food and months-long wage arrears
– problems which have grown worse since the economic crisis erupted in August.
A good portion of Russia’s 1.2 million enlisted men have been reduced to
foraging for berries or mushrooms in the woods or begging for potatoes from
villages near their regiments. Abuse, murders, and suicides are on the rise.
And with them desertions – thousands of them. According to the Soldiers’
Mothers Committee, a Moscow-based advocacy group for servicemen, morale and
conditions have sunk to their lowest level since the breakup of the Soviet
Union in 1991.
This fuels the sort of stress that can make a man want to shoot someone,
or himself, says committee leader Valentina Melnikova. “Since the crisis
began in August the problems have worsened. The number of people appealing
to us has doubled.”Vladlen Maximov, military correspondent for Moscow’s Novaya
Gazeta newspaper, says the low spirits of officers are partly to blame. “These
guys are not paid their salaries for months and literally lack food. So of
course they don’t care about the soldiers.”
When it was first set up, the committee was dedicated to helping mothers
find sons missing in action in Afghanistan and then Chechnya. Now its task
has shifted to advising men on dodging the draft or seeking legal recourse
if they are caught when they run away. The organization’s dingy headquarters
in Moscow is filled each week with dozens of youths and their mothers who
sit waiting to tell their tales.
Typical among them is Alexei Pushkarsky, who ran away from his regiment in
Vladimir, east of Moscow, Jan. 5. He says he could no longer endure the beatings
by older soldiers when he could not afford to meet demands to buy chocolates,
bread, and cream. After a particularly severe thrashing he took refuge in
an Army clinic, but doctors made him leave. “After that I knew I was through.
They said I was ‘too clever’ by hiding in the hospital. They hit me on any
pretext. Once, it was because I sang badly. Another time I couldn’t find
them cookies. Sometimes it was just ‘because,’ ” he says.
Ms. Melnikova says besides hazing and poor conditions, another increasing
problem is that many of the 150,000 youths recruited every six months are
physically unfit. Underweight, drug-addicted, and ill boys are being drafted
and cannot perform their duties properly. The government denies this is the
case, but it does concede disturbing figures pertaining to abuse. The Military
General Prosecutor’s Office reports that 57 soldiers died and 2,735 were
injured from hazing during the first 11 months of last year. Nearly 500 committed
suicide. It is less precise on the total number of conscripts who have gone
AWOL, although some experts put the figure at about 10,000 a year. Since
a partial amnesty was announced last March, 11,478 deserters turned themselves
in to authorities.
Many of those still on the run are armed. Unable to get proper jobs, they
often join criminal gangs. So alarmed are authorities about this threat that
they organized a massive sweep across Russia in mid-January. But only about
400 deserters were rounded up in the operation, which spanned 50 cities and
Ivan insists he will not give himself up, and says he prefers to remain
underground if the committee can’t help him. “I had thought it was every
man’s duty to serve the Army. But I would not have signed up if I had known
the conditions. Joining the Army was the biggest mistake of my life.”
Washington Post February 21, 1999
Russian Military Decay Detailed State Dept. Report Lists Poor Economy’s
Effects on Readiness
By Walter Pincus
An unusually detailed State Department report concludes that the Russian
military’s combat readiness is in “rapid decay” and says an internal assessment
by the Russian Defense Ministry finds “the average Russian soldier is only
marginally combat capable.”
Although the Russian military’s decline in recent years has been extensively
chronicled, the State Department report, handed to Congress Friday, was described
by a congressional arms expert as the most comprehensive recent unclassified
summary of the Russian collapse he has seen, reflecting data in secret
Because of severe economic problems within the Russian government, the study
said, military expenditures in the first nine months of 1998 were only two-
thirds of what was budgeted. As a result, training exercises in the Russian
army, navy and air force have been sharply curtailed and “combat training
has become virtually non-financed,” according to the report. Sea duty for
Russian submarines has been reduced by 25 percent and that for surface ships
by 33 percent, it added, while the Russian air force in 1998 did only 15
to 40 percent of normal flying to train.
Ruble devaluation has further reduced the military’s spending power and left
the Defense Ministry with debt of about 60 billion rubles, or roughly $9
billion. Of that amount, some $2.5 billion is in back pay to active duty
and retired servicemen.
“The Russian military situation is worse than ever,” the expert said.
The State Department report went to Capitol Hill at the same time that two
high-level U.S. delegations headed to Moscow for negotiations aimed at reducing
the nuclear arms threats of both countries. One group, headed by Pentagon
officials, is continuing talks on a joint Russian-U.S. early warning system
to prevent accidental launch of strategic weapons. The other, headed by Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, will discuss what may be done pending
Russian ratification of the START II arms reduction treaty and U.S. plans
to explore a minimal missile defense system.
The rapid decline in Russian strategic delivery systems is part of the
discussions in both groups, sources said. One sign of how the financial problems
affect reducing the size of the armed forces is the ministry’s failure to
pay severance, housing costs, pensions and relocation expenses to those who
retire. An attempt to give retirees a government promissory note, called
a housing certificate, to help pay civilian rents was halted in August 1998
after only 13,000 of the promised 42,000 certificates were issued. The roughly
$300 million worth of certificates — which were supposed to cover 80 percent
of an ex-soldier’s rent — now have what the report called “dubious” value
since the ruble devaluation.
“It’s amazing the military has not exploded,” a White House defense expert
said. He noted, as does the State Department analysis, that several attempts
in the past two years to organize the military into opposition movements
“have fizzled . . . and have had negligible impact on Russia’s political
order.” Largely because of the financial crisis, military reform programs
have been postponed. The most important plan, to change from a conscript
to an all- contract armed force, has been delayed “until well into the next
decade,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the decline in military living standards has put the military
“at the low end of the country’s economic scale.” In 1998, the government
was three to four months behind in paying salaries. The low living standard
contributed to “increase in crime, particularly theft, and corruption in
the armed forces, as well as to suicides among service members and widespread
evasion of military service.”
The State Department study pointed out that procurement of equipment also
is being delayed and “defense orders will meet only the most urgent
requirements.” In that category, however, the Russian strategic rocket forces,
which tend land-based nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, are “foremost”
on the list.
Of the 10,000 Russian soldiers deployed abroad in United Nations peacekeeping
roles, only those in Bosnia are funded in the Russian military defense budget.
Moscow’s battalion in Croatia is subsidized by the United Nations, and other
units in former Soviet states, such as Georgia, Moldova and Armenia, get
their salaries from Russia but get subsidies from the host governments.
In the future, according to Moscow, all peacekeeping missions would be assigned
first to airborne forces and then to special ground units in order to keep
them, like the strategic rocket forces, in better fighting condition than
the rest of the services.