Tag Archives: Conscripts

Health of the Force

The confluence of recent news stories makes an update on the health of Russian military forces opportune.  As elsewhere in the armed forces, the military’s medical situation seems generally better compared with two or three years ago.

According to Izvestiya, the chief of the Main Military-Medical Directorate (GVMU), General-Major Aleksandr Fisun told the Defense Ministry’s Public Council that illnesses in the army declined 13 percent in 2013.  The illness rate in 2012 had been 40 percent higher than 2011.

The MOD attributes the improvement to better living conditions for soldiers. These include heated barracks, washing machines, shower facilities allowing troops to clean up more than once a week, and socks replacing foot wrappings.

Fisun said, among conscripts, 60 percent of illnesses were respiratory in nature, while about 14 percent involved skin conditions.

Better training for commanders was another factor in cutting the number of sick soldiers.  An MOD spokesman told the paper:

“Work in early identification of illnesses was reinforced — commanders were strictly ordered to send subordinates for initial observation on just the suspicion of an illness.  The condition of everyone hospitalized was reported to [military] district commands.”

Valentina Melnikova of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers (KSM) told Izvestiya commanders have been the problem.  However, she said Defense Minister Shoygu has said any soldier not allowed to see a doctor can now turn to military prosecutors for help.

Bmpd.livejournal.com published Fisun’s pie charts from his presentation to the MOD’s Public Council.

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

Disease Incidence Among Servicemen

There are separate pies for conscripts and contractees.  Respiratory diseases, however, were the largest problem for both groups, accounting for half or more of illnesses.

Fisun also presented data on fitness for service among this spring’s conscripts.

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

Health of Conscripts in the Spring 2014 Draft

The tabular data shows an increasing number of young men are fit, or fit with insignificant limitations, to serve in the armed forces (73.4%).  Most of that improvement apparently comes directly from decreasing the number of potential soldiers considered to have limited fitness for service (21.6%).

Reasons for “liberating” citizens from serving were pretty evenly distributed among, in order, muscular-skeletal and connective tissue diseases, psychiatric disorders (drug addiction, alcoholism), digestive system diseases, circulatory diseases, nervous system diseases, and other.

KSM’s Melnikova told Interfaks-AVN that illness was still the major issue for young men facing the spring draft.  She indicated 80 percent of complaints coming into KSM concern unfit men who were drafted.

In Moscow, some conscripts with documented health conditions  were deferred until fall under additional medical observation, but others were told they have to serve now, and had to turn to the courts for relief.

Meanwhile, the GVMU is reportedly amending physical standards for Russian Spetsnaz and VDV soldiers.  It’s lowering the height requirement by 5 cm (2 inches), and increasing the weight limit by 10 kg (22 pounds), according to Izvestiya.

Spetsnaz and VDV may soon be as short as 165 cm (5’4″) and weigh 100 kg (220 pounds).  The new standards will apply for conscripts, contractees, and military academy cadets.

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops Will Be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Physical Standards for Airborne Troops to be Relaxed Somewhat (photo: Izvestiya / Kirill Zykov)

Izvestiya was told a Defense Ministry order officially putting these standards into effect is expected in 2-3 months.  Its VDV source said the increased weight limit is related to use of the newer D-10 parachute which can bear up to 120 kg, so it can support a heavier jumper along with 20 kg of gear.

Perhaps the last, best word comes from Ruslan Pukhov, independent expert and Public Council member.  According to Izvestiya, he recommends increased spending on rear support and logistics, even if it means less expenditure on armaments:

“It’s worth sacrificing a couple nuclear submarines or refraining from construction of corvettes , but don’t economize on people — on their food, medical care and pay.  Iron doesn’t fight, people fight.”

GURLS

So, Do You Have a Girlfriend? (photo: Izvestiya / Gleb Shchelkunov)

So, Do You Have a Girlfriend? (photo: Izvestiya / Gleb Shchelkunov)

A strange and ironic title.  “Do Ask, Do Tell” might be appropriate too.

By chance, two recent articles focused on the Main Directorate for Personnel Work (GURLS or ГУРЛС).

Information at Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye’s disposal indicates Defense Minister Shoygu will reorganize GURLS into a Cadre Policy Department (DKP or ДКП), like what he had at MChS.  The change would encompass everyone working with personnel issues, military education, and psychological evaluation and treatment.

Author Vladimir Mukhin concludes the Defense Ministry’s personnel structures haven’t been effective during the entire post-Soviet period.  But former Defense Minister Serdyukov, in particular, had little use for personnel work.  He dismissed the last chief of GURLS, and left the post vacant.  The chief before was convicted for bribery and sent to jail for seven years. 

Serdyukov cut personnel work officers by a factor of three, sold off cultural-educational institutions in large garrisons, and was prepared to privatize major facilities reportedly worth “several billion dollars” — the Central Academic Theater of the Russian Army, the Cultural Center and Museum of the Armed Forces.

The article in Izvestiya is much more interesting. 

Its headline says Russian officers are obligated to determine the sexual orientation of their soldiers (among other things).

This comes from “methodological recommendations” codified by GURLS at the end of last year.  They cover the spectrum of psychological work with young soldiers, from counteracting “barracks rackets” to national [ethnic] and religious issues.

As they put it, “disorderly sexual relations” qualify as a sign of nervous-psychological instability on par with alcohol addiction, running away from home, suicidal tendencies, and stealing.

Officer-educators (officer-indoctrinators) should get to know a soldier, ask about his sexual experience, if he has a girlfriend, and whether her fidelity is important to him.

A physical inspection of the soldier to look for tattoos is recommended:

“The reasons for having tattoos could attest to a low cultural and educational level.  If the influence of external motivations is established, for example persuasion, coercion, then this will attest to the compliance of the young man, his inclination to submit to another’s will.”

“. . . knowledge of tattoo symbols will help the officer best organize work with a specific individual.  Special attention should go to tattoos on areas of the face, the genitals, the buttocks.  They can attest not only to specific personal attitudes, but also to possible sexual deviations.”

A military psychologist from GURLS tells the paper the army remains a bastion of traditional views on sexuality:

“In closed military collectives, sexual minorities introduce unnecessary tension, negatively influence the moral atmosphere.  Soldiers begin thinking not about their service, but about extraneous things.”

An assistant battalion commander for personnel work says he can’t talk with every young soldier; this is up to company and platoon commanders.  But the perplexed officer asked rhetorically:

“Will they inspect genitals for tattoos?  And how do you ask about the first sexual experience?  ‘When did you try a woman for the first time, greenhorn?  Answer straight, don’t weasel.’”

He claimed he had one gay contractee who came to the army looking for more partners.

Other officers told Izvestiya they aren’t in a hurry to follow GURLS’ guidance. 

Before Serdyukov introduced the “new profile” reforms, companies had deputy commanders for indoctrination work, and battalions still had a staff psychologist.  Now there’s only the deputy battalion commander for personnel work, and companies have four officers — the company commander and three platoon commanders.

A Rock and a Hard Place

Russians in Tajikistan (photo: RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

Conscripts or contractees?  It’s difficult for the Russian Army to get the right kind of conscripts, where it needs them.  But, over time, it hasn’t been any easier to obtain long-term contract enlisted either. 

Last week, Izvestiya wrote about army plans to replace conscripts currently serving in its 201st Military Base in Tajikistan with contractees. 

An officer in the formation told the paper it’s too costly to keep 3,000 conscripts in Tajikistan, and, by the end of 2012, the Russian Army will replace half with contractees.  A GOMU source tells the paper replacing all 3,000 at once is “unrealistic.”  Contractees will reportedly serve on three-year deals getting 30,000 rubles per month.

The situation for Russians in Tajikistan, the officer says, is strained, and Tajik authorities regularly detain conscripts for one reason or another.  As an example, he cites the case of a conscript driver who killed three Tajiks last January.  Thus, he concludes, it would be easier with “professionals” – contractees –  who “know what they’re doing, and can be responsible for their actions.”

But there’s no reason to think contractees will avoid trouble any better than conscripts.  The first contract experiment proved that.  Contractees are more costly and just as difficult to control, if not more than their conscripted brother-soldiers.

According to Izvestiya, the 201st now has 5,500 personnel, including the 3,000 conscripts.

An old Krasnaya zvezda report says, in early 2007 – at the height of the first, failed attempt at introducing contract service – the military base had 7,000 servicemen in all, about 60 or 65 percent contractees.  Its two maneuver units had 50 percent or fewer in their ranks.

Back then, the Defense Ministry daily said the military was all set to send conscripts in place of hired soldiers.  It was hard to convince older, experienced men to go to Tajikistan because of the difficult living conditions and prospects for serving on contract in Russia.

As Izvestiya’s interlocutor intimated, relations between Moscow and Dushanbe are a bit strained right now, prompting some to wonder out loud if manning the 201st won’t become a moot issue.

Exercise Casualties

Russia’s fall exercises took a toll on some conscripts participating in them.  Three were killed in Union Shield-2011 at Ashuluk, and two more may have died during Tsentr-2011.

Life.ru reports a conscript died on September 26 from injuries sustained in a fall from a railroad platform while loading equipment during Union Shield-2011.

According to IA Regnum, at Ashuluk on September 24, an automated command and control system operator, a draftee, was found dead in a KamAZ.  An officer and two conscripts had to wait for help overnight when their vehicle broke down.  One of the conscripts apparently died during the night. 

On September 20, a Russian attack aircraft fired an errant air-to-surface rocket that flew several kilometers from its intended target before exploding, killing one soldier and injuring a second.  IA Rosbalt also noted Ashuluk was the scene of an August 23 ordnance accident that killed eight soldiers.

News outlets and military spokesmen are publicly disputing whether two tank crewmen died of carbon monoxide poisoning while President Medvedev and Defense Minister Serdyukov reviewed the concluding phase of Tsentr-2011 at Chebarkul on September 27. 

According to Novyy region, a Chelyabinsk rights activist says two conscripts died and the military is trying to cover up the accident.  Another source says the two men are hospitalized in critical and serious condition respectively.  The army says the men were poisoned by powder gases during training before Tsentr, and will soon be discharged from the hospital.  The Central MD’s press-service says the exercise was conducted without incidents, accidents, or equipment failures.

Military prosecutors are investigating at least some of these incidents.