Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Are Moscow’s Security Agencies Again to Watch Over Russian Officers?

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 4 – Russia’s counter-intelligence services could play “a positive role” if they again watched over military commander and blocked the abuse of soldiers in the ranks that is currently costing more than 400 lives a year, according to a leading civilian advisor to the ministry of defense.
These structures, Aleksandr Kan’shin said last week “have the mechanism, the apparatus, and the information” needed to do so and, by reporting in a timely fashion about problems, nip in bud any abuse of more junior uniformed personnel by more senior ones (http://www.narodinfo.ru/articles/38196.html#).
And their involvement, together with that of the recently re-established Chief Directorate of Political Education, the head a commission of the Social Council at the Defense Ministry added, would give the armed services the weapons they need to fight problems imported from civilian life.
Kan’shin, who also serves in the country’s Social Chamber, is obviously influential, but it is difficult to believe that the military’s senior commanders would be happy about having to agree to the re-introduction of security service supervision over them, however noble the initial goals behind it.
Many of them remember the way in which the KGB functioned within their ranks in Soviet times, and most undoubtedly believe that the removal or at least significant downgrading of this force within their commands is one of the most important victories they have won over the last 20 years.
If Kan’shin is only speaking for himself, his proposal is unlikely to go anywhere. But if President Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin staff are behind it and are using Kan’shin as a stalking horse, then there are some more serious questions that need to be addressed.
On the one hand, is “dedovshchina” -- as the abuse of junior soldiers and officers is known -- now such a serious public relations problem that the Kremlin feels it has no choice but to address it and to do so in the only way it appears to believe will be effective – reliance on the security services.
Certainly, groups like the Soldiers’ Mothers committees have called attention to this most unfortunate aspect of Russian military life and have even demonstrated against Putin in recent weeks for allowing so many young men to die or be maimed as a result of the actions of their fellow soldiers or commanders.
If that is all Kan’shin’s statement represents, then, while one may disagree with the means that he suggests, one can clearly understand and even sympathize with both his motives and those of the people behind him – especially since the Russian officer corps has traditionally done everything it could to cover up this problem.
On the other hand, could dedovshchina simply be a convenient way to generate political support for a broader re-introduction of security service supervision of the military, something that were the question to be posed in that way would certainly be challenged not only by the military but by other groups as well.
If that is the case, then such a discussion of this possibility raises the question of whether Kremlin fully trusts its military commanders or whether, as appears to be so often the case, Putin and his colleagues from the security services are simply extending their reach for the worst of all possible reasons: because they currently can.
But if Putin is behind this idea, then he and others in the Russian political establishment could soon face something they almost certainly do not want to contemplate: a harsh reaction by angry commanders who have watched their own power and perquisites decline during the last 15 years.
Given how hard Putin has worked to present himself not only as the leader of the nation but of the “siloviki” broadly conceived, it would seem unlikely that he would take that risk – unless of course the problems with “dedovshchina” and the officer corps are greater than they appear to outsiders.

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