Tag Archives: Dedovshchina

A Conscript’s Year

A Picture for Ufimtsev’s Demob Album

Young Komsomolskaya pravda (Chelyabinsk) journalist Sergey Ufimtsev returned from conscript service in May.  He recently published a cheerful, humorous account of time as a soldier.  He doesn’t regret his wasted year in the army.  But he describes an army that Serdyukov’s (and Putin’s) reforms have not changed substantially.  At least not his remote unit, and probably many others as well.

Ufimtsev drew his ill-fitting uniform items and was sent to Ussuriysk in the Far East.  He describes skimpy rations which left him hungry again an hour later.

Officers left Ufimtsev and other new soldiers largely in the hands of senior conscripts, the dedy.  They still exist despite the fact that one-year conscription was supposed to eliminate them.  Ufimtsev says dedy took their new uniforms and cigarettes, and threatened them at times.  But they weren’t really so bad.  He actually learned from the soldiers who’d been around for six months.

The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse.  Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.

He goes on to describe training in his air defense battalion.  He got bloody blisters from endless close-order drill, and finally received his unloaded AK-74, which he cleaned often but never fired.  It was kept with others under seven locks in the weapons storage room.

This is why Serdyukov didn’t want to buy new automatic weapons for the army.  It already has massive stockpiles of unused ones.

Ufimtsev says he and his cohorts were kept busy with non-military work.  Money to hire civilians into housekeeping jobs apparently hadn’t reached his unit.  His battery commander took most of their meager monthly personal allowance (about $13) to go to “the needs of the sub-unit.”  The soldiers, mostly farm boys or technical school graduates, wore lice-infested underwear and got to bathe once per month.  The situation improved some when a new major took command, according to Ufimtsev.

Ufimtsev’s article drew so many comments that it’s possible only to summarize.

A few readers were critical of today’s youth.  One called them dolts, who cry to mom and dad, and wimps, not defenders of the fatherland.  Another says real men should be silent about the privations of army life.

Many readers drew the obvious conclusion that the author’s experience shows Russia needs an all-volunteer army.

One reader said, in a couple of months at home, he could train soldiers better for less.  He asks, “What’s the sense in such an army?”  Several commentators remarked that generals’ complaints about a lack of money for recruiting career military professionals is a lie.

One reader put it in the context of Yevgeniya Vasilyeva and the Oboronservis scandal that brought down Anatoliy Serdyukov:

“No, they won’t do away with conscription.  There’s no money.  They lost their conscience in their 13-room apartments and can’t find it.  But then they never will.  They have to decide which of 120 diamond rings to wear today.  Therefore, there’s no money for a professional army, and there won’t be.  And so there will be an army of slaves — it’s so expedient and cheap.”

Defense News

Some Russian defense news from August 6, 7, and 8, 2012 . . .

Sukhorukov’s Press Conference (photo: Mil.ru)

Mil.ru provided a wrap on the First Deputy Defense Minister’s press-conference on GPV-2020.

Sukhorukov “particularly turned attention” to media reports that the program’s funding will be cut.  He told journalists such a step isn’t foreseen, and the government is talking only about “optimizing” the budget load between years by using good old state-guaranteed credits for the OPK.

Sukhorukov claims 95 percent of GOZ-2012 has been contracted, and 82 percent of funds disbursed.

Arms-expo.ru also covered this story.  It emphasized Sukhorukov’s statement that the rate of defective arms delivered by producers isn’t declining.

According to RIAN, Sukhorukov said Russia won’t buy more Israeli UAVs beyond its current contract.  He reiterated the Defense Ministry believes the BMD-4M doesn’t meet its requirements, and won’t buy it.

Sukhoy reports it’s now testing the new Tikhomirov phased array radar on PAK FA, T-50-3 to be exact.  See RIAN’s story.

Sukhoy also announced that its Su-35S is in “combat employment” testing within the process of state acceptance testing at GLITs.  The company says it meets all established requirements, and has flown more than 650 times.

New Navy CINC, Vice-Admiral Chirkov made an interesting visit to the State Missile Center named for Academic V. P. Makeyev on Monday.  The Makeyev design bureau is home, of course, to liquid-fueled SLBM development.  Could not find the last time this happened.  Might be prior to 2007.

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy told the GenProk collegium yesterday that abuse or dedovshchina in the ranks is down a third this year.  But, according to ITAR-TASS, Fridinskiy noted that general crimes exceed purely military offenses by a factor of two.  Specifically, he said murders are up by half, bribery has almost doubled, and drug offenses have increased 27 percent.

Fridinskiy also said nearly 3,000 GOZ corruption cases and losses worth 400 million rubles were investigated in the first half of this year.  He said, for example, Dagdizel received 3 billion rubles in defense orders, but hasn’t sent a single product to the military, and bought farm equipment and building materials with the money.  He cited losses in purchasing apartments for military men at inflated prices as well as the problem of unfinished housing projects.

Izvestiya claims a large number of young pilots are leaving the Air Forces because the lion’s share of increased flight hours and promised higher pay are going to their commanders and older officers.  Could this be a continuation of Igor Sulim’s travails at Lipetsk?  The paper also reports a number of cleaning companies say the Defense Ministry owes them 5 billion rubles for housekeeping work outsourced over the last year.

Army Polls

Happy Defender’s Day!

Taking a break from Putin’s defense manifesto, let’s look at this year’s opinion polls on the army’s big holiday.

Levada’s poll is not so interesting this year.  Responses to its questions generally fell within the 3.4 percent margin of error of last year’s survey

But the number of respondents who thought drafted family members should find a way to avoid serving fell from 41 to 36 percent this year. 

People also indicated a slightly greater belief that dedovshchina is more prevalent in the army.  This year 19 percent think it happens everywhere  against 13 percent in 2011.  Those believing it occurs in a small number of military units dipped from 27 to 23 percent this year.

VTsIOM’s results were actually a little more interesting.

The agency reported again this year that 55 percent of respondents felt the Russian Army is capable of defending the country against a military threat.  But on the current training of troops, 30 percent saw positive tendencies, 30 percent negative tendencies, and 29 percent said they don’t see any changes.

A surprising 68 percent, according to VTsIOM, believe the level of outfitting of Russian forces with modern arms and equipment is average or higher.  Still, 72 percent feel equipping the army with more modern weapons is needed to increase combat readiness (?!).

Some 68 percent of respondents were aware, to one degree or another, of Russia’s military reforms.  Sixty-seven percent consider them essential.

VTsIOM, unfortunately, didn’t publish its exact questions and responses to each; it just aggregates its results in a verbal description.

But it did show us one full question.  Are the transformations introduced into the Armed Forces essential or not essential for increasing the army’s combat capability?  The answers:

  • Essential but insufficient — 55 percent.
  • Essential and sufficient — 12 percent.
  • Not essential, better to end them — 8 percent.
  • Hard to answer — 24 percent.

Curious Coincidence

Danila Chaykin

IA Regnum reported today that a Russian conscript serving in Tajikistan apparently shot himself to death on January 29 while pulling guard duty.  A sad though fairly routine occurrence.  The reasons are unclear.  The unfortunate young man, Danila Chaykin, seemed to be doing well in the service.

But Chaykin wasn’t just any conscript.  He previously served alongside Ruslan Ayderkhanov in the Yelan military garrison.  You’ll recall several months ago Ayderkhanov was apparently savagely beaten before his attackers hanged him to make it look like he committed suicide.

According to the press agency, Chaykin was a witness in whatever investigation of Ayderkhanov’s death took place.  But Ayderkhanov’s case was closed when military investigators almost unbelievably concluded there was no evidence of dedovshchina or other barracks violence.  They say he hung himself for personal reasons.

Recapping Interfaks and Life.ru coverage, Lenta says military officials suggest Chaykin took his life because his girlfriend married someone else.  But his friends say he didn’t have a girl, and he was due to demob in a couple months.  Meanwhile, Life.ru claims Chaykin had six gunshot wounds on his body.

Lenta’s version says Chaykin and Ayderkhanov were friends, and the former was questioned about the latter’s death.  Then they transferred Chaykin to Tajikistan.

Transfers of one-year conscripts are pretty rare in the Russian Army, though not unheard of when it comes to manning units in Tajikistan.

It seems a really curious coincidence that Chaykin too would kill himself.  Or was it a move to silence an inconvenient witness?

It’s odd too that the Ayderkhanov case — a case of patently obvious abuse –would die so quietly and completely.

Why does the Russian military, or someone higher up, want to conceal the truth about what happened at Yelan?  The authorities are very nervous about crimes that take place on a “national” [i.e. ethnic] basis.  It’s been postulated that Ayderkhanov was targeted because he was Tatar.

As recently as five or six years ago, there were people who would fight for answers and accountability.  One fears there are fewer today.  Maybe fear itself is greater now.

Cosmic Corruption

Sergey Fridinskiy

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy gave Interfaks an interview several weeks ago in which he described generally improved crime statistics in the Armed Forces.  But he also called the scale of corruption in the military nothing short of “cosmic.”

Fridinskiy told the news service the army’s crime situation is stable and even improving.  Crimes by servicemen are down 16 percent, and there are fewer crimes committed by officers.  There’s a constantly growing number of military units where no legal violations law are registered.  Last year fewer soldiers suffered violence at the hands of their fellow soldiers.  But the army’s top law enforcer doesn’t think he’ll run out of work any time soon:

“In particular areas, for example, like saving budget resources allocated for military needs, or corrupt activities, the crime level, as before, is significant.  And we’re still far from ridding ourselves of nonregulation relations.”

More than 1,000 military officials were prosecuted for corruption, including 18 general officers — one-third of whom received jail time.  Since January 2011, the GVP’s prosecuted 250 bribery cases, many more than in 2010.  Fridinskiy singled out the GOZ and commercial firms outsourcing for military units as areas where problems are “not small.”  He puts annual Defense Ministry losses to corruption at 3 billion rubles.

This is, interestingly, the same figure he cited in early 2010.

Asked about the types of corrupt schemes in the military, Fridinskiy responded:

“Mainly untargeted use of budget resources, violating the rules and requirements of conducting auctions, competitions, and contractor selection, paying for work not really performed, significant inflating of prices for military products.  There are also multifarious kickbacks, bribes, and misuse.  Generally, the banal sharing out of budget resources.  Devotees of living on state funds especially go for violations of the law.  Their scale now is simply stratospheric, I would even say, cosmic.”

Fridinskiy said the GVP’s been active in checking high-level Defense Ministry officials’ asset and property declarations.  He said called the scale of violations here “impressive.”  More often, he continued, the GVP finds evidence of servicemen and officials engaged in illegal entrepreneurship and commercial activity.  He mentioned an unnamed deputy Northern Fleet commander who failed to disclose his wife’s assets, and a Rosoboronpostavka bureaucrat who simultaneously serves as general director of a corporation.

The GVP Chief then shifted gears to talk about barracks violence which he said was down by 20 percent in 2011, with cases involving “serious consequences” declining a third.

Lastly, Interfaks asked about military police, of which Fridinskiy’s skeptical.  He emphasized military prosecutors will continue supervising army investigations, but he doubts MPs are ready to run criminal inquiries.  He repeated his familiar assertion that they aren’t a panacea; their existence won’t change the social factors behind crime among servicemen.

Would have been interesting if the news agency had asked if this year’s higher pay for officers will cut army crime in 2012.

The Sociological Center

Is the Russian Army's Combat Capability Increasing?

A nice find on Mil.ru . . . the Defense Ministry website has the Internet poll above on its front page.  If you click on Voting Results, you go to the results of all surveys conducted by the Defense Ministry’s Sociological Center.

To this particular question, 78 percent of respondents said its combat capability is decreasing.

Stepping back a bit, clicking on Sociological Center goes to a narrative explaining a little about it.  Its purpose is monitoring social processes in the military to work out scientifically-founded proposals on the morale-psychological support of military organizational development, training, and employment of the Armed Forces.  It also provides information support to commanders, staffs, and personnel officers.  The Center is charged with collecting data about the socio-economic circumstances of servicemen and their families.

The military opinion surveying effort has been around for a while.  During the first big push for contract service beginning in 2003, Defense Ministry pollsters actively asked contractees, or prospective ones, what attracted or discouraged them from signing up.

We’re not told how or when these survey questions were asked.  They’re likely Internet polls rather than more scientific random sampling. 

But one still admires the brutal honesty of publishing these results.  They don’t accord with what Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov wants to see or hear three years after launching military reform.  They indicate how far the Russians have to go to turn around the perception, if not the reality, of life in the Armed Forces.  At the same time, getting feedback is a critical step in correcting their problems.

Your author has regrouped the survey results on various questions thematically.  In the interests of brevity, only the answer with the highest percentage is shown.

Let’s start with other combat capability-related questions:

  • How do you evaluate the Russian Army’s current combat capability?  72 percent said low.
  • Is three months sufficient to train a military specialist?  82 percent said no.
  • What effect is the humanization of service having on combat readiness?  71 percent said it is causing it to decline.
  • Are you satisfied by the media’s presentation of Armed Forces exercises?  75 percent said no.
  • How do you evaluate the present level of combat training?  74 percent said poor.
  • Can the Armed Forces reliably guarantee Russia’s security?  81 percent said no.
  • Is there now a military threat to Russia from other countries?  79 percent said yes.

Some very general questions:

  • Do you approve of the Russian Army’s activity?  62 percent said no.
  • How do you feel when you talk about the Armed Forces?  52 percent said negative.
  • Is it necessary for the media to discuss negative events in the Armed Forces?  75 percent said yes.
  • How does the media portray the activities of the Armed Forces?  64 percent said not objectively.
  • Do you agree that “A powerful army is a powerful Russia?”  80 percent said yes.

On conscription:

  • Should draft evaders be punished?  68 percent said yes.
  • How do you feel about draft evasion?  59 percent said negative.
  • Does military service promote striving for a healthy way of life?  56 percent said yes.
  • Would you want a close relative to serve in the army?  68 percent said no.

On law and order in the ranks:

  • Who should control the military police?  52 percent said the Defense Ministry.
  • Do officers have enough powers to keep order?  84 percent said no.
  • How do you assess measures to counter corruption in the army?  66 percent said they have little effect.
  • Is “dedovshchina” an acute problem?  62 percent said yes.

On personnel, pay, and benefits:

  • Should Order No. 400 premium pay continue or be discontinued?  80 percent said discontinue it.
  • How do you feel about rotating officers’ duty stations?  51 percent are negative.
  • How has Order No. 400 affected corruption in the army?  88 percent said it’s caused it to grow.
  • Is there a “cadre famine” in the Armed Forces?  83 percent said yes.
  • How do you evaluate the consequences of Order No. 400?  89 percent are negative.
  • Where should priests be located?  42 percent said in battalions.
  • Will priests help in forming healthy moral relations in the military collective?  55 percent said no.
  • How do you evaluate the effect of the military mortgage system?  74 percent said low.
  • Will higher pay in 2012 raise the social status of servicemen?  58 percent said no.
  • Will requalifying military arsenal workers increase safety?  65 percent said no.
  • Do military families live better or worse than people in your region?  77 percent said worse.
  • Are social guarantees for servicemen sufficient?  86 percent said no.
  • Has the prestige of the Armed Forces increased in the course of military reform?  59 percent said it remains at the previous level.

The responses on the army’s capabilities weren’t new.  One is surprised, however, at how negative respondents were on premium pay, how little they expect from higher officer pay, and the lack of any improved perception of the prestige of military service.

New Poll on Conscription

FOM's Poll on Conscription

The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) just published a major poll looking at Russian attitudes toward the callup and obligatory military service.  It’s 48 pages, but here are some highlights.

The poll was conducted in July, with 3,000 respondents in 204 populated places in 64 of Russia’s regions.

Fifty-two percent of respondents favor a mixed manning system combining conscription with contract service, and 23 percent favor the callup only.

Sixty-four percent support the announced plan to cut conscripts and increase contract soldiers, although only 22 percent would support taking money from education and health care to pay for them.  Survey participants on average thought 34,500 rubles was worthy pay for contractees.

Fifty-five percent liked reducing conscript service from two years to one while 37 percent did not.  In the 18-30 age group, 65% supported the shorter service term.

In the population as a whole, 29% believe one-year service has reduced dedovshchina and “nonregulation relations” against 46 percent who feel nothing’s changed by it.  There were fewer of the former and more of the latter among respondents claiming intimate knowledge of army life.

The FOM poll showed strong support for a number of Defense Ministry initiatives to “humanize” conscript service.

Fifty-four percent were critical of draft evaders, but 34% were sympathetic toward them.

Finally, buried deep in the results, participants were asked for their views on the state of affairs in the Russian Army in coming years:

  • 19% said it will improve.
  • 19% said it will worsen.
  • 35% said it will stay the same.
  • 26% said hard to answer.

However, when asked to compare military service conditions today against those 10-15 years ago, more respondents said they are easier (39%), and many fewer said they are harder (14%), by comparison with Russians asked the same question in 2002 (just 6% and a whopping 64% respectively).

The Ayderkhanov Case (Part II)

According to Newsru.com, Aleksandr Vlasov concluded the traumas on Ayderkhanov’s body were inflicted while he was still alive, and the GVP’s statements about hitting the tree are a fiction without objective confirmation. 

Meanwhile, Ayderkhanov’s relatives organized a round-the-clock vigil at his grave to prevent anyone from stealing his body [i.e. the evidence].  Apparently, some people came looking for his grave on October 18, according to IA Rosbalt.

Ayderkhanov’s aunt told Radio Svoboda that he was full of life and not the type to commit suicide.  Nor was he likely to have conflicts with other soldiers.  She described what happened to her nephew as not just a beating,  but torture.  She said she knew the Yelan garrison had a bad record of conscript abuse.

Post-Mortem Photos

Ura.ru writes that this is the third army tragedy in the last six years for Ayderkhanov’s home village Araslanovo and its 800 inhabitants.  The grandson of a local reportedly hung himself while serving in 2005, and another boy ran away from his unit and was found frozen to death in 2008.

In late September, 500 people from Araslanovo (as well as nearby Shemakha, Mezhevaya, Tashkinovo and Skaz) signed an appeal asking President Medvedev to get to bottom of Ayderkhanov’s murder, and accusing his officers of concealing it.  The appeal asks if someone can really commit suicide after such savage punishment?  It notes Ayderkhanov wanted to serve, and even considered staying in the army as a contractee. 

The appeal asks when disorder in the Armed Forces will end, and claims everyone knows such a state of affairs exists not just in Ayderkhanov’s unit but in many others as well.  Finally, the appeal says the people of these villages are stopping the fall draft until order’s established in Ayderkhanov’s unit, and those guilty of beating and killing him are punished.

Despite some sympathy with the cause, the local military commissar has warned that draft evaders will be punished.

According to Ura, some locals believe Ayderkhanov was killed because he was Tatar.  Others who previously served in V / Ch 55062 say the unit was rife with nationalism, dedovshchina, and extortion.

It’s interesting and sad (perhaps not surprising though) that no wider social or political outrage – similar to what occurred in 2006 after the Andrey Sychev case — has developed over Ayderkhanov.

The Ayderkhanov Case (Part I)

Ruslan Ayderkhanov

Here’s what looks like a case where the beating death of a conscript is being passed off as another suicide in the ranks.  We addressed this here, and the tragic Ayderkhanov case broke into the news just 11 days later.  This sad story deserved attention sooner than your author was able to give it.

Thursday Newsru.com reported Ayderkhanov’s body has been exhumed for additional medical examination to determine the cause and circumstances of his death.  Official examiners as well as one independent expert, Aleksandr Vlasov, will take part in the process which, according to RIA Novosti, should take two weeks.

Newsru recapped the basic facts.  On August 31, the 20-year-old Ayderkhanov went missing from V / Ch 55062, part of the Yelan garrison, located in Poroshino, Chelyabinsk Oblast.  His body was found hanging from a tree in nearby woods on September 3.

The military authorities were quick to label this an obvious suicide, but his relatives were suspicious about injuries all over Ayderkhanov’s body.  He had teeth knocked out, a broken leg, a missing eye, a knife wound in his chest, and burns, bruises, and abrasions.

The Yelan garrison’s military prosecutor opened an Article 110 “Incitement to Suicide” investigation, but just as quickly announced there were no facts indicating violence or the “violation of the regulations on mutual relations” [i.e. abuse] against Ayderkhanov.  The prosecutor concluded the soldier was simply depressed about the death of his mother last winter. 

The Main Military Prosecutor stated categorically there was no evidence of a beating, and any injuries on Ayderkhanov’s body were from banging against the tree on which he hung himself.  The GVP categorically rejected the idea of exhuming and examining the body again.

Radio Svoboda quoted GVP directorate chief Aleksandr Nikitin:

“There is evidence that his death was not a result of violent actions.”

RIA Novosti continued from Nikitin:

“A close examination of the place of death and Ayderkhanov’s body was conducted.  The investigation established that there are not any traces of violence which could have caused the serviceman’s death on the body.”

Ruslan Ayderkhanov

Nakanune.ru quoted a Central MD spokesman:

“According to preliminary data, no facts of nonregulation relations have appeared.  But if the guilt of officials is proven, they will be punished in the most strict way.”

According to Radio Svoboda, after the GVP proved no help, Chelyabinsk’s human rights ombudsman approached Aleksandr Vlasov.  Vlasov has stated his professional opinion that Ayderkhanov was struck at least 18 times while he was still alive.

Part II tomorrow.

Suicide Watch (Part II)

Let’s look at more unusual suicide cases (or reported attempts).  Recall the story of Albert Kiyamov – beaten by a sergeant and pushed to his death from a barracks window in May 2010.  There’s still no word on the investigation or charges against the sergeant.  And there was a similar case reported in the same brigade after Kiyamov was killed.

While these seemed like isolated incidents, defenestrations apparently aren’t aberrations.  The authorities are hard-pressed to determine whether young soldiers are jumping or being pushed to cover up other crimes and violence. Suffice it to say the line between suicide and murder in the Russian Army is blurry. 

In late August, a conscript was beaten and thrown from the fourth floor of a barracks in the 35th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade.  According to Newsru.com, the victim’s father, rights defenders, and other conscripts say two soldiers tried to take his personal items, uniform articles, and boots before beating and pushing him off the building.  He survived the fall, but broke his arms and legs. 

The military prosecutor determined there were “nonregulation relations” in the unit, and charges have been filed against the perpetrators.  But the prosecutor claims the victim jumped to escape his attackers, according to IA Regnum.

In mid-July, a conscript in a Railroad Troops brigade in Stavropol apparently argued with a major before the officer hit him several times with the butt of a rifle, according to Newsru.com.  The soldier then, according to the prosecutor’s account, jumped from the fifth story of his barracks sustaining numerous injuries including several broken bones.  His parents said he’d told them about this particular officer.  In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion, the major quickly acknowledged using force against the conscript, and was relieved of duty.  But no charges of forcing someone to attempt suicide.

In late May, a conscript hung himself in a unit in Mari El.  He was beaten before this because he refused to give other soldiers 1,000 rubles.  The victim’s parents believe these men killed their son.  The case is being investigated under Article 110 “Incitement to Suicide.”

In early February, a conscript in a unit near Orenburg was found dead in his bunk with a knife in his chest.  Two junior sergeants apparently killed the young man in a fight, then tried to make it look like suicide.

In mid-January, a conscript shot himself twice on a firing range at the training center in Yelan.  The confused incident has been classified variously as an accident, suicide, and murder.  According to Komsomolskaya pravda, the victim told his family he’d been forced to sign a request to serve in a unit in Tajikistan.

While most Russian Army suicide victims are conscripts, there are other cases, and other circumstances.  In mid-March, a warrant officer from a Moscow unit shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself.

Finally, a last poignant case, in early September, a young man jumped from the roof of a nine-story apartment block in Orel just days before he was due to report to his unit near Moscow.  It’s unknown why he killed himself or what he felt about going to serve.

Despite reducing conscription to one year and “humanizing” military service, the Russian Army remains a violent, dangerous place.  Conscription keeps it a lumpen army in which there are few limits, and the strong prey on the weak pretty much without restraint.  The violence remains a significant reason why those who can still avoid serving.

The Defense Ministry no longer publishes its monthly and yearly statistics on “noncombat losses,” crime, and accidents in the Armed Forces.  But it seems the suicide rate is as high as it was two, three, or four years ago – 20 some per month, and 200 or 250 suicides annually.  Still basically a full “suicide battalion” every year.  There’s just not enough public or political outrage to change the situation.