Category Archives: Hazing

The Results of Reform

Trud’s Mikhail Lukanin offered an interesting one last Wednesday . . . with help from other frequent commentators, he takes a swag at describing the results of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s nearly 4-year tenure as Defense Minister.

It’s interesting because it’s unclear if Lukanin’s article is intended to damn by faint praise, to be sarcastic, or was ordered by someone.  Maybe he intends to say these are just results, the good and the bad.

It’s easy to see some good in Lukanin’s first five, but his final three are pretty much unleavened.

The Army’s Become More Mobile

Lukanin quotes Vitaliy Shlykov:

“Until 2008, our army looked like fragments of the old, Soviet one, weighed down with heavy weapons, oriented toward global nuclear war with practically the entire world.”

He says even in the August war against Georgia the army was still “Soviet” — slow to stand up, with an archaic command and control structure.  But now the situation’s changed with mobile brigades that can answer an alert in 1 hour instead of days.

The Army’s Rid Itself of the Spirit of the Barracks

Valentina Melnikova tells Lukanin that the soldier’s life has changed cardinally under Serdyukov.  She says, until recently, one-third of soldiers were typically involved in nonmilitary work every day.  Now soldiers are gradually being freed from such duties as commercial firms take them on.

New Equipment Has Come to the Troops

Lukanin writes that finally a start’s been given to the largest rearmament of the army in post-Soviet times.  One that will take new weapons and equipment from about 10 percent of today’s inventory to 90-100 percent [official sources only claim 70 percent] by 2020.

Lukanin quotes Ruslan Pukhov:

“The Navy alone will receive 40 submarines and 36 new ships, and the Air Forces 1,500 aircraft in the next decade.”

Officer Pay Has Grown

Lukanin says lieutenants and majors made 14 and 20 thousand rubles per month respectively before Serdyukov’s reform,  but now 50 and 70 thousand if they receive premium pay for outstanding combat training results.  And from 2012, premium payments will be included in their permanent duty pay, and 50 thousand rubles will be the minimum base pay for officers.

Lukanin quotes Aleksandr Khramchikhin: 

“The officers of our army are actually comparable with the armies of developed countries in pay levels. “

They Didn’t Talk Reform to Death

Lukanin says experts think it’s good Serdyukov’s reform was pursued energetically, without lengthy discussion and debate.  Pukhov gives the cut from 6 to 4 military districts as an example:

“At one time, it would have taken years to transfer a huge quantity of officers and generals from place to place, but the Defense Ministry did this in just 4-5 months.”

They Stopped Training Officers

Lukanin refers to Serdyukov’s halt to inducting new cadets into officer commissioning schools until at least 2012.  He says 2010 graduates were either released or accepted sergeant positions.  This led to the departure of experienced instructors, and their replacement with younger officers lacking the necessary experience.

Sergeants Almost Ceased to Exist

Contract sergeants were dispersed in 2009-2010.  The Defense Ministry considers them poorly trained, and in no way superior to ordinary [conscript] soldiers.  Now it’s counting completely on conscripts with an even lower level of training.

There’s Nothing to Defend Against China

Here Lukanin notes that some results of reform have put people on guard.  Anatoliy Tsyganok tells him tank units have been practically eliminated: 

“Now only 2,000 tanks, old models at that, remain in the army.”

In Tsyganok’s opinion, tanks are still very relevant for the defense of Russia’s border with China.

What do we make of all this?

  • It’s good that the Russian Army was restructured into smaller, more combat ready formations, i.e. brigades, and sub-units. 
  • We really have no clear picture of the extent and success of outsourcing nonmilitary tasks in the army.  Meanwhile, the “spirit of the barracks” is alive and well when it comes to dedovshchina and violence in the ranks. 
  • The promise of another rearmament program shimmers on the horizon, but it’s not delivering much yet, and there are plenty of serious obstacles to completing it. 
  • The officer pay picture has improved, but the Defense Ministry has real work to do this year to implement a fully new pay system next year.  Meanwhile, several years of premium pay have caused divisions and disaffection in the officer corps. 
  • Moving out smartly on reform was a change over endless talk, but there are areas where more circumspection might have served Serdyukov well. 
  • The Defense Ministry definitely had to stop feeding more officers into an army with a 1:1 officer-conscript ratio.  We’ll have to see what kind of officers the remaining VVUZy produce when the induction of cadets restarts. 
  • Aborting contract service cut the army’s losses on the failed centerpiece military personnel policy of the 2000s.  But something will have to take its place eventually to produce more professional NCOs and soldiers. 
  • Russia is probably right to deemphasize its heavy armor.  It doesn’t appear to have much of a place in the coming rearmament plan.  And tanks really aren’t the answer to Moscow’s largely unstated security concerns vis-a-vis China anyway.

So what’s Serdyukov’s scorecard?  A mixed bag.  Probably more good than bad, but we’ll have to wait to see which results stand and prove positive over the long term.  Definitely superior to his predecessor’s tenure.  Expect more Serdyukov anniversary articles as 15 February approaches.

Serdyukov’s Carte Blanche

In an editorial Monday, Vedomosti supported the carte blanche President Dmitriy Medvedev has apparently given Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and his military reforms.  The paper likes the reforms enough that it wants the President to think about the possible effectiveness of the ‘army method’ in reforming the MVD.  Here’s what Vedomosti had to say:

“Renaming the Army”

“Dmitriy Medvedev’s and Anatoliy Serdykov’s joint trip to a model Moscow suburban military unit went beyond the protocol of the visit.  The President’s speech in awarding outstanding military men became a new signal to officers, the army, and society:  ‘Despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary…  Everything that is now being done is directed at establishing modern and effective armed forces.  Here there are both problems and good decisions, I am following this personally as Supreme CINC.’  The Kremlin demonstrated that, despite the recent media scandal, it trusts the civilian Defense Minister, won’t bow to the generals’ and veterans’ opposition, and intends to continue its planned military reform.”

“The new carte blanche for Serdyukov for further transformation is important for many reasons.  The current minister is not the first civilian director of the military department.  However, he specifically replaced a campaign of reforming with systematic transformations.  In his inheritance from Sergey Ivanov, Serdyukov received a much truncated army of the Soviet type, not answering modern requirements.  Dedovshchina, obsolete armaments (modern equipment is not much more than 10% of the general inventory) and command and control, and manning were its main problems.  Add to this corruption among the generals which prevented equipping the army with new types of armaments and communications.  The victorious August war of 2008 showed that the victors couldn’t suppress the enemy’s aviation and artillery and were inferior to the vanquished in modern communications and reconnaissance means.”

“Serdyukov’s attempts to establish control over expenditures on purchases for the army met severe resistance from rear services officers and generals.  Not long ago he acknowledged to journalists:  ‘When I came to the Defense Ministry, speaking plainly, I was surrounded by large amounts of thievery.  Financial licentiousness, the impunity of people whom no one had checked out (…) was so deeply ingrained that it had already become a way of thinking.’  The minister confirms that the transparency of the defense order is a ways off.  The unnecessary secrecy of the military budget is interfering with this.  Meanwhile, progress in the struggle against traders in shoulderboards is obvious.  In 2006, corruption cases were started against seven generals, in 2007, when Serdyukov became minister, — against 16, in 2008 — against 20, in the first half of this year — against eight more.”

“Besides this, the Defense Ministry put up for sale unneeded property and facilities which were being illegally rented out to enrich a few people, and didn’t allow for building apartment blocks for officers needing housing on these grounds.”

“On the whole, it’s possible also to consider organizational transformations a success:  the transition to a more modern system of command and control and the reduction in the excess number of generals and higher officers.  In 2008, of 249 generals and admirals who underwent certification [аттестация], 50 were dismissed, and 130 sent to new places of service.  One can’t avoid mistakes in cutting and dismissing officers, but those deprived of a sinecure cried loudest of all about the collapse of the army and treason.”

“The struggle with barracks hooliganism goes on with varying success.  According to the Main Military Prosecutor’s data, in 2006, more than 5,800 people suffered beatings from fellow servicemen, in 2009 — 3,000.  And for the first five months of 2010, 1,167 soldiers suffered from dedovshchina — 1.5 times more than the analogous period of 2009, of them, four died.  The cause is not only in the growth — because of the cut in the service term — the number of new conscripts went from 123,000 in the fall of 2006 to the current 270,600.  Generals, having botched the program costing 84 billion rubles to transfer to contract, now are forced to call up those with criminal records.  Military police will remain a paper tiger for ‘dedy’ and ethnic clans.  We note that Serdyukov hasn’t forsaken a professional army, but put off its creation until the time when the Defense Ministry will be able to select and not collect contractees through deception and duress.”

“Nevertheless, it’s notable that over 3 and 1/2 years, the reform, being conducted by independent managers without legal changes and loud renamings, has really moved forward.  It’s possible it’s worth the President considering the effectiveness of the army method in reforming the MVD.”

Recommended Reading

Take a few minutes and read two posts from Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia —Russian Commander Appeals to Mufti to Help Restore Order in His Unit and Russian General Staff to Experiment with ‘Mono-Ethnic’ and ‘Mono-Religious’ Units.

Goble reviews recent problems with insubordination and violence by conscripts from Dagestan at an air base in Perm.  The situation is similar to others written about on these pages.  The second article reports on rumors the army is ready to entertain the idea of single-nationality units to forestall some of these problems.

Not long ago Tatar parents actually argued for monoethnic units to protect their conscript sons from ‘dedovshchina on nationality grounds.’  Once again, conscripts from Dagestan were the perpetrators of the violence in many cases.

The possibility of ethnic units to control zemlyachestvo in the army runs counter to the Defense Ministry’s current policy of letting more conscripts serve closer to home if possible.  Presumably a unit of men from Dagestan wouldn’t serve anywhere near their homes.  At the same time, such a unit could be the source of many problems with the locals in a predominantly Russian area.

Fridinskiy vs. Serdyukov on Dedovshchina

Barracks violence in Russia has risen by at least 50 percent thus far in 2010; this isn’t exactly news since the Main Military Prosecutor announced the same thing back in July.  But his comments on the situation provide an interesting contrast with what Defense Minister Serdyukov said in his interview this week.

ITAR-TASS reported on Main Military Prosecutor (GVP or ГВП) Sergey Fridinskiy’s statement that increasing the number of conscripts in Russia’s armed forces has led, as he predicted, to a rise in ‘nonregulation relations.’  And some 3,000 servicemen have suffered from hazing and other violence in the barracks.

Fridinskiy said:

“If we’re talking about nonregulation manifestations, then, of course, they worry everyone – both society and military prosecutors – since they infringe on the life and health of servicemen, and therefore we view them in the most severe way.  Amid a reduction in general criminality, the quantity of cases of barracks violence rose by almost a third over nine months of this year.”

Among the 3,000 victims, Fridinskiy reported:

“Nine men died, and another 96 suffered serious harm to their health.”

“Our joint efforts – both with commands and with civil society institutions – really allowed us not only to stop negative processes in the army environment, but even to prevent many serious consequences.  The curve of nonregulation manifestations certainly went lower.  However, since last year, the situation began to change again.  Since the fall [of 2009], we felt that the sharp increase in conscript soldiers could lead to a deterioration in legal order among the troops.  And we talked about this.  And so it happened.”

“There’s no need to fear.  And I will say that, on the whole, the crime level among the troops is declining.  Based on the results of the first eight months, the number of registered crimes fell almost 10 percent.  There are a lot of military units where there are practically no legal violations.”

Fridinskiy called the doubling of the draftee contingent one of the reasons for the growth in ‘nonregulation manifestations.’  He said more than 1,400 soldiers and sergeants were convicted of assault and battery through August.  Then Fridinskiy added a second reason – great negligence in the work of officers.

GVP data shows approximately one-third of the victims of violence are draftees in their first 2-3 months of service, and the offenders, on the other hand, have served 8-9 months.  So, Fridinskiy concludes, the informal division of conscripts into ‘seniors’ and ‘juniors’ in the barracks hasn’t gone away.

Fridinskiy noted that instead of ‘youthful boldness,’ barracks violence is now more often motivated by baser motives.  The number of ‘nonregulation manifestations’ connected with theft and extortion has grown more than 50 percent.  And he said:

“They steal mobile phones and money most often – just exactly like it happens on city streets.”

So, let’s go back to Defense Minister Serdyukov’s analysis of barracks violence.  Asked whether one-year conscription is having any effect on dedovshchina, he said: 

“There are more nonregulation instances in absolute terms.  But this doesn’t scare me, because there are more conscripts.  The situation has to level out with time.  And the statistics will begin to fall perfectly precisely.  Particularly when you account for our methods:  we are very demanding with commanders on this, even up to dismissal in cases with deadly consequences.  Human rights advocates have already begun to criticize me for dismissing many of them for nothing.” 

So Serdyukov and Fridinskiy agree there are more, and they surely know if there are more in relative terms as well.  Say incidents per 1,000 soldiers.  But they aren’t saying. 

And the argument that there’s more violence because there are more conscripts doesn’t necessarily hold water either.  Before the shift to 1-year conscription, about 130,000 guys were inducted every six months in 4 cycles over 2 years, for a total of roughly 520,000 conscripts at any given time.  The only thing that’s changed is that they’re taken in two large tranches now . . . if it’s 260,000 guys, that’s still 520,000 soldiers at any moment.

In late 2009, Serdyukov called hazing and other violence a major unresolved problem, and clearly the situation will be even worse by late 2010.  Don’t forget that dedovshchina and other violence remains the number one reason why Russian men don’t want to serve, and it’s significant it’s rising at the very moment the army’s trying to put ever-expanding numbers of guys [280,000 this fall] in uniform.  It certainly doesn’t make the job easier. 

Serdyukov’s answer above really sounds like soft-peddling an intractable problem.  He thinks this will magically “level out” by itself.  And he’s counting on commanders to rectify it, the very people Fridinskiy says are to blame.

Serdyukov Offers Access to Military Units

Varying media accounts of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s meeting Thursday with defenders of conscript rights lead one to think they attended different meetings.

But the Defense Minister deserves praise for facing some of the army’s sharpest critics.  And for apparently saying he wants to meet them routinely, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  His predecessors rarely did.

The headline story from the meeting was Serdyukov’s offer for civilian activists to accompany conscripts through the induction process until they reach their place of service, and settle into their units.  He also offered fuller access to the military’s bases.

RIA Novosti  quoted him:

“We want to propose an option for accompanying conscripts:  take part in the callup commission, and then go with them to units and see how they are billeted.” 

He added that he is prepared to let civilian representatives into all military units, with the exception of an unknown number of secret ones.

According to ITAR-TASS, he said:

“The Defense Ministry on the whole is interested in public organizations having access to military units.”

So Serdyukov bowed to greater civilian involvement, if not control or oversight, and also stumped for his efforts to ‘humanize’ conscript service in the armed forces.

His offer was interesting for the catch it included . . . these civil society representatives have to participate in the callup commission before they can go with new soldiers to their units. 

Maybe Serdyukov thinks they won’t take up the offer.  Maybe he thinks, if they do, they’ll dirty their hands in the difficult work of deciding who has to serve, or doesn’t, and where.  Maybe sorting through far-from-ideal candidates and still trying to meet manpower quotas will temper their criticism.

But it may give conscript rights activists even better insight into induction process problems and abuses than they already have.   We’ll see.

Serdyukov touted efforts to enable conscripts, especially those with dependent parents and children, to serve as close to home as possible, rather than sending them as far away as possible like in the past.

But Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers (SKSM or СКСМ) believes no one is fulfilling Serdyukov’s order to assign draftees closer to home:

“In military commissariats no one pays attention to this.”

According to Lenta.ru, Serdyukov cited his other innovations – introducing a rest hour after lunch, lifting virtually all restrictions on the use of cell phones by conscripts, giving them a chance to earn a weekend pass, and freeing them from all housekeeping and maintenance chores in their barracks, units, and garrisons.  But neither Serdyukov nor the media could say how widely these initiatives have been implemented. 

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Serdyukov wants to revive moribund parents’ committees introduced several years ago, but found impractical when young men served in remote areas far from home.  If they’re closer to home, their parents might be able to visit their units.  Serdyukov also mentioned the 4-year-old Defense Ministry Public Council.  Krasnaya zvezda reported that Melnikova is heading its working group to coordinate its activities with other public and human rights organizations.  Serdyukov expressed the hope that such a unification of efforts will be beneficial.

IA Regnum reports that Petersburg’s Ella Polyakova gave Serdyukov a detailed report on violations of conscript rights complete with statistics, concrete examples, and proposals to better protect them.

Polyakova would like to remove examining physicians from the callup commission, and from the control of the voyenkomat.  She said their qualifications need improvement also.  She objected to Serdyukov’s cuts in military medicine and called for better psychiatric assistance for conscripts in their units.

Polyakova says Serdyukov’s officer cuts have worsened the situation in the barracks.  Sergeants who were supposed to replace officers are ill-prepared for greater responsibility, and barracks violence has spiked as a result.  The Main Military Prosecutor’s figures support her.  Sergey Fridinskiy recently reported that hazing and other barracks violence increased 50 percent in the first five months of 2010.

Newsru.com reported Tatyana Kuznetsova’s concern about the army stretching its definition of fitness and taking men who should be deferred or exempt for health reasons:

“But, as we know, right away, having just reached the troops, many guys turned up in hospitals which were overflowing.  Like in a war, they laid in three rows, on the floor, in corridors.  These boys were called up sick, with chronic illnesses that weren’t discovered during the callup.  They weren’t discovered on purpose.”

All in all, it’s clear that, no matter how often they get together, Defense Minister Serdyukov and human rights activists will continue to disagree about the state of the army and how to change it.

According to IA Regnum, when Serdyukov said there’s no money for contract service, the activists asked him to explain:

“. . . how much money is being expended from budgets at all levels to fulfill the conscription plan in the ranks of the armed forces, as a result of which young men who are sick, invalids, and psychologically unstable end up in the army.  And next compare this with the amounts of expenditures to dismiss conscripts from the army after several months for health reasons, and to pay compensation to the families of those who have died or become invalids in peacetime.”

Story of a Noncombat Loss

Albert Kiyamov (photo: Chita.ru)

A recent case illustrates why most Russians don’t want their sons – especially talented, well-educated ones – to serve in the army.  It’s a tale of senseless violence and abuse going beyond dedovshchina , bullying, or hazing.  And it highlights how contract service makes sadistic riff-raff into unprofessional NCOs, and tormentors of the conscripts they’re intended to lead.  

For their part, more VUZ graduates are ending up in the army given the military’s need for higher numbers of draftees and its tighter enforcement of conscription rules.  The army believes more educated conscripts will make service safer, but it may just make them the victims of violence in the ranks. 

The investigation into the May death of a conscript named Albert Kiyamov in Transbaykal Kray recently ended with the filing of criminal charges against company sergeant Sergey Lugovets. 

Kiyamov was a promising graduate with a degree in nuclear physics, who’d been picked for a job in the Scientific-Research Institute of Nuclear Reactors.  But he got called-up in April.  According to Newsru.com, his family thinks his poor vision should have made him unfit to serve. 

Lugovets enlisted in the army despite a suspended sentence for theft in Volgograd Oblast, and became a sergeant in the headquarters company of the 36th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade in Borzya (v/ch 06705).  According to Utro.ru, he quickly established ‘his order’ in the company.  And he picked Kiyamov to be his main victim. 

Kiyamov endured days of beatings and humiliation from Lugovets before jumping to his death from a fourth-story barracks window on May 14. 

According to Newsru.com, the command told Kiyamov’s family it was a simple suicide, but they refused to accept this, believing – based on the number of bruises and abrasions on his body – he’d been beaten, then thrown from the window.  The SibVO military prosecutor at first denied observing evidence of prior beatings on Kiyamov’s body.  But an investigation ensued. 

Sergeant Lugovets didn’t deny his guilt, but claimed he was trying to ‘teach’ Kiyamov how to conduct himself around his ‘seniors.’  He faces a possible 10-year sentence for “violating regulation rules of relations between servicemen, entailing serious consequences.” 

The unit’s officers were attending an exercise at the time of this incident, and military investigators gave them a warning to eliminate the kinds of violations that led to Lugovets’ abuse of Kiyamov.  

Vitaliy Cherkasov, Director of the Transbaykal Legal Defense Center, told Newsru.com about a similar incident in Borzya more recently, but, in this case, the soldier sustained serious injuries, and survived to be discharged from the army.  A legal defense group told Utro.ru the Kiyamov tragedy was possible because the Defense Ministry allows men with criminal records to sign up for contract service [of course, it drafts some with criminal records too]. 

Units in Borzya, and the Transbaykal generally, have a substantial history of problems with violence and abuse in the ranks.  On the positive side, investigators are getting to the truth in some cases, but too late for kids like Albert Kiyamov.

Prosecutorial Prophylaxis

In this instance, the military legal system’s effort to prevent the scourge of dedovshchina, or hazing and other violence against servicemen . . . .

Today’s Krasnaya zvezda covered military prosecutors’ special campaign to warn servicemen against breaking the ‘regulation rules of relations’ between them this month.  The paper talked to the acting military prosecutor of the SibVO’s Yurga garrison to find out what measures he’s trying.

Recall our last mention of Yurga covered its role as test bed for Defense Minister Serdyukov’s attempt to ‘humanize’ military service, so this is obviously a good spot to work to uproot dedovshchina culture.

The Yurga prosecutor said he’s used anonymous questionaires to gather a ‘sufficiently complete picture of the existing situation.’  Taking this and information from sub-unit commanders, the prosecutor proceeds to ‘individual prophylactic conversations.’  He calls such ‘prosecutorial warnings’ a very effective instrument; 18-year-old soldiers have to sign a paper acknowledging they’ve been warned about possible criminal liability for violating regulations and this may have a psychological and deterrent effect on them.

The prosecutor also conducts round tables and extra dissemination of special SibVO ‘pamphlets’ in sub-units.  More on these later.  The pamphlets include a hotline number for reporting violations of law and order (presuming that conscripts have a phone, and aren’t afraid of who’s listening to their call).  He puts up displays informing soldiers of judicial punishments meted out for various violations.  All and all, the prosecutor expects more inquiries coming into his office this month as a result of the campaign.

Moskovskiy komsomolets has a number of these ‘pamphlets’ and concludes they’re generally given to conscripts all over Russia.  They urge the victims of barracks violence not to break the law themselves, show courage, and, if absolutely necessary, hide on the grounds of the unit rather than go AWOL.  But, the paper notes, the ‘pamphlets’ don’t say how long to hide out, or how to eat while hiding.

The ‘pamphlets’ urge conscripts to tell their tormentors that they intend to go to their commander, and to believe that the law is on their side.  It exhorts them not to even think about resorting to using a weapon or committing suicide.

Moskovskiy komsomolets concludes, for all their absurdity, the pamphlets show the fundamental plague of today’s army remains the legal illiteracy of conscripts, their inclination toward violence, and the inability of their officers to cope with them.

Vesti FM interviewed ‘Citizen and Army’ coordinator Sergey Krivenko about the pamphlets.  He said at least they show the Defense Ministry acknowledges dedovshchina is a problem, and it’s growing, not declining.  He believes the pamphlets’ appearance is an indication of hopelessness; military reform is not transforming conscript service or giving conscripts adequate legal protection.

Dedovshchina in RF Army Up 50 Percent — GVP

A translation, no commentary . . .

“MOSCOW, 21 Jul – RIA Novosti.  The level of dedovshchina [violent hazing usually perpetrated by senior soldiers] in the Russian Army grew 1.5 times for the first five months of this year compared with the same period in 2009, according to analytical information provided to the RF Federation Council by the Main Military Prosecutor (GVP).  1,167 servicemen have suffered from nonregulation manifestations in 2010, four have died, and more than 90% of offenses were committed by conscript servicemen.”

“As the GVP notes, the number of corruption-related crimes is also growing.  Material losses from them amount to almost a billion rubles this year.” 

“At the same time, the GVP notes that the general crime level in the state’s military organization has declined by more than 12% over five months this year compared with the same period of 2009, and by almost 15% in the armed forces.”

“In particular, the amount of evasion of military service declined by almost two-fold.”

More Drugs, Extremism in the Army

According to ITAR-TASS, Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy today warned colleagues at an inter-governmental meeting on military-patriotic indoctrination that anti-drug measures among minors are not having the intended effect, and: 

“Based on last year’s results, the growth of crime connected with illegal trade in narcotic and dangerous substances in the troops (of all power structures) exceeded 70 percent.” 

For his part, Deputy Defense Minister, State Secretary Nikolay Pankov agreed that drug-addicted youth pose a threat not just to the army, but the whole country.  He added: 

“The ‘drug addiction’ diagnosis is becoming customary for draft commissions.” 

At the Draft Board (photo: Newsru.com)

And as if on cue, today from a Ural region draftee assembly point in Yegorshino came the story of 100 young men who arrived recently high on marijuana in hopes of being deferred from conscript service for dependence on narcotics. 

The voyenkomat reported nothing like 100 guys showing up before the draft board in a state of ‘narcotic intoxication’ has previously happened. 

A voyenkomat representative said: 

“There’s never been such a thing, we are sure this is a particular feature of the current draft.  The young guys intentionally used narcotics in order not to end up in the army.” 

According to Newsru.com, a State Narcotics Control officer for Sverdlovsk Oblast is investigating the ‘stoners’ who came from Nizhniy Tagil, Yekaterinburg, and Pervouralsk.  The voyenkomat said these men would be returned to their towns for additional medical observation and rehabilitation. 

ITAR-TASS reported more of Pankov’s comments on a different subject.  He said: 

“In Russia, nearly 150 extremist youth groups are active, the participants in them live mainly in big cities.” 

Pankov didn’t rule out that young extremists could spread from large cities to small towns and lightly populated areas, saying: 

“This is highly probable.  All this comes into military collectives and leads to the growth of nonregulation relations, so-called ‘dedovshchina.'”  

This is just one reason the army’s always preferred country boys from the ‘sticks’ rather than city guys.

The topics of drugs and nationalism in the army, if not taboo outright, have been little discussed.  Some honest talk about these problems might be the first step in solving them.

Russians Don’t Want to Serve in the Army

Three polls are better than one.  Three different opinion polls find Russians prefer their sons and brothers not serve in the army by a margin ranging from fully one-half to nearly two-thirds of those queried.  Press reporting on these polls didn’t do them justice, so here’s another take on them.

Look first at Levada-Tsentr, the most independent and well-respected Russian polling firm.  Levada’s published numbers on yes-or-no to army service date back to 1998, when 84 percent said they’d prefer their relatives not serve in the armed forces.  This no-to-service number declined to 77 percent in 2004, and to 53 percent in 2008, before increasing again to 57 percent of respondents indicating a preference against service this year.  The corresponding yes-to-service numbers start from a low of 13 percent in 1998, rising to 35 in 2007, 36 in 2008, and 34 percent this year.

So, in late January-early February 2010, 57 percent said don’t serve, 34 percent said serve.  Presumably, 9 percent just didn’t answer either way even though that wasn’t a choice in Levada’s survey.

Levada also asked, ‘if not, why not?’  Respondents could choose from multiple ‘why not’ reasons.  ‘Dedovshchina, nonregulation relations, violence in the army’ was the top ‘why not’ answer with 40 percent in 1998 and still 37 percent in 2010.  It’s interesting that the 2006 number spiked to 49 percent, probably because the poll came right after the notorious Sychev abuse case broke.

Levada’s next top 5 ‘why not’ answers:

  • ‘Death/injury in Chechen type conflicts’
  • ‘Denial of rights and humiliation of servicemen by officers, commanders’
  • ‘Difficult living conditions, poor food, health dangers’
  • ‘Moral decay, drunkenness, drug abuse’
  • ‘Collapse of the army, irresponsible policy of the authorities in relation to the army’

The number of those picking these declined by nearly, or more than, half over the 12-year period, 1998-2010.  But dedovshchina, hazing, abuse, violence, whatever you call it, persisted.

Since 1998, Levada has also asked whether Russians prefer conscript or contract service, and they’ve consistently answered contract, but the gap has narrowed since the mid-2000s to 54 percent for contract and 39 for conscript in 2010.

Similarly, for three years, Levada asked Russians whether a family member should serve, or seek a way to avoid serving, if drafted.  This one’s pretty much a toss-up this year, with 46 percent saying serve, and 42 percent saying find a way to avoid serving.

Levada also published two years of responses on whether Russia should preserve a million-man army or cut it and use the savings to equip the army with the newest weapons.  The gap on this question went wider this year with 36 percent favoring the million-man army and 50 percent the smaller, better equipped one.

Levada always asks about threats to Russia and the army’s ability to defend the country.

On threats to Russia from other countries, the poll tends to go up or down by 10 percent from year to year, but has still been pretty consistent over the last decade.  In 2010, 47 percent said there are definitely or likely threats to Russia (48 percent said this in 2000).  This year 42 percent said there are most likely or definitely not threats to Russia (vs. 45 percent in 2000).

On the army’s ability to defend Russia, the number also goes up or down by 10 percent from year to year.  In 2010, 63 percent said definitely or most likely yes it can defend Russia.  This figure was 60 percent in 2000, and 73 percent in 2008 and 2009 (perhaps still high from victory in the war with Georgia).  So it seems the number returned more to the norm this year.  Those who said it definitely or most likely can’t defend Russia was just 22 percent this year.  It had been 38 percent in 2005, and 31 percent in 2000.

But back to the mainline question on serving or not serving in the army . . . .

The All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM or ВЦИОМ) asks the same basic question as Levada—effectively, would you want your son or brother to serve in the army?  It’s the same question because Levada and his close associates went on their own when the Russian government moved to assert control over this inconvenient organization in 2003.

In VTsIOM’s mid-February poll, 50 percent said no-to-service and 36 percent yes-to-service.  Unlike the yes-no on Levada’s survey, VTsIOM allows for ‘I find it difficult to answer’ and 14 percent indicated that (but in Levada’s poll 9 percent didn’t answer, so there’s not a great difference here).  VTsIOM also breaks its responses out by sex.  Women were not surprisingly less likely to say yes-to-service than men and somewhat more likely to say no-to-service. 

VTsIOM also cross-referenced responses to its yes-or-no-to-service question by the respondent’s evaluation of the Russian Army’s condition.  So, of those who said the Russian Army’s condition is ‘very poor,’ 67 percent also said no-to-service.  But 54 percent of those who said its condition is ‘very good’ still favored no-to-service.

VTsIOM’s ‘if not, why not’ data is a little different from Levada’s.  It only gives data for 2000, 2002, and 2010.  Like Levada, in 2010, the number one reason was ‘Dedovshchina, nonregulation relations, violence in the army,’ but with 75 percent of respondents picking it in this closed, multiple choice question.  Otherwise, its list of top ‘why not’ answers tracked closely with Levada’s.

VTsIOM also collected data on responses by geographic region and educational attainment, though it didn’t fully publish it.  For instance, Russians in Siberia and the Volga basin are more likely to say yes-to-service than the average Russian, according to VTsIOM.  Poorly educated [undefined] respondents said yes-to-service slightly more than half the time.

Educated [undefined] Russians said no-to-service at a 57 percent clip.  And southerners and northwesterners said no at 56 and 55 percent respectively.

Early last October, SuperJob.ru conducted a poll on the issue of service.  But it limited its respondents to Russians with sons, and its question to whether they would want their sons to serve in the army.  SuperJob.ru also broke out respondents whose sons have already served (6 percent) and it also allowed for a ‘I find it hard to answer’ option (11 percent).  That said, this poll’s responses were 63 percent no-to-service and 20 percent yes-to-service.

SuperJob.ru also broke out its data by sex, age groups, and educational attainment.  The age group data was interesting for the 45-55 and the above 55 groups.  Respondents in those groups reported that their  sons had already served at the rates of 22 and 23 percent respectively.  This is a good indication of the general rates at which young Russian men serve (about one-fifth) or manage to avoid serving (about four-fifths) one way or the other.

Russians with higher education were more likely to say yes-to-service (25 percent) and those with only secondary or technical degrees were more likely to say no-to-service (66 percent).

Some of what SuperJob.ru’s respondents said:

‘Yes, I would’ – 20 percent.

  • ‘All men in our family served, and he is no exception.’
  • ‘I myself am an officer.’
  • ‘Why not?’
  • ‘A good school for life.’
  • ‘Let the lad grow.’
  • ‘Yes, I would.  But in my region, so there’s a chance to see him more often.  And on the condition that there’s access to the Internet and mobile phones.  Even more desirable would be if there they taught some kind of profession:  telephone operator, driver, draftsman, etc.’
  • ‘Of course, this is the obligation of every man.’
  • ‘Avoiding army service is shame for a man.’
  • ‘My first son didn’t serve, and should have.’
  • ‘Who can’t survive the army won’t survive in life.’

‘No, I wouldn’t’ – 63 percent.

  • ‘My husband and I gave 30 years to the service, and now don’t have anything.  And we raised two sons without the state’s help.  And now when they are grown, it turns out, they have a debt to the state!  When will the state pay its debts to us?  Enough, we’ve already served ten years for each child.’
  • ‘My brother served, after which he said he would never send his son to the army.’
  • ‘I’m afraid for my child.’
  • ‘I served 25 years myself.  Today year-long service in the army is wasted time for a man with higher education, even during [financial] crisis conditions.’
  • ‘I prefer to get a higher education in a VUZ with a military faculty.’
  • ‘Service needs to be on contract.’
  • ‘What we have is not an army.’
  • ‘There’s still no order in the ranks of our army even among officer personnel, so I wouldn’t want my sons to serve.’
  • ‘I’m afraid for his life and health.’
  • ‘To lose a year of your life is too expensive a present for Russia.’
  • ‘Why put a moral invalid in my family?’

‘I find it hard to answer’ – 11 percent.

  • ‘I want my son to go through training for life, but I don’t want this experience to consist only of beatings.’
  • ‘My son is still young.  And I don’t know what will be in 12 years when he will have to go into the army.  It could be they won’t be conscripting any longer and everything will be volunteer, but it could be, to the contrary, they could ‘shave’ everybody no matter what.’
  • ‘Every young man needs to go through this school to feel like a man and, if necessary, stand up for his country.  However, when kids come back from the army with ruined health, even in peacetime, you begin to think, is this necessary?’