Thursday, January 24, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Army Dismissal of Non-Russian Volunteers Sparks Protest

Paul Goble

Baku, January 24 – Russian officers are now dismissing from the army some non-Russian volunteers on ethnic grounds alone, an unconstitutional and illegal practice that has led one group of those removed from the ranks in this way to organize a public demonstration against it this week in the Daghestani capital of Makhachkala.
On Tuesday, more than 200 Daghestanis who had volunteered for contract service in the Russian army but were then removed from the ranks only because of their ethnicity staged a demonstration in their republic capital, the Caucasus Knot news service reported yesterday (
According to the protesters, senior commanders of the 42nd division based in Khankala have now dismissed from the service more than 500 volunteers from Daghestan over the last several years. They added that Russian officers in that unit had not, to the best of their knowledge, sacked anyone else Russian or non-Russian.
Saying they only wanted the opportunity to serve and noting that the Russian military has had problems filling its ranks because of the Russian Federation’s demographic problems, the demonstrators said that they would continue their efforts to end this practice, one that they described as “discrimination on the basis of nationality.”
The military’s treatment of these Daghstanis stands in sharp contrast to how some Russian officers have behaved elsewhere. In the Transbaikal, Russian officers have beatn Russian draftees to force them to agree to sign up as professional soldiers and to serve for longer periods of time (, January 9).
Such dismissals from the Russian army on an ethnic basis may be only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem, Caucasus Knot’s Timur Isayev said. Lachin Lachinov, the head of the “Our Caucasus” NGO, told him that some Russian officers simply were refusing to have Daghestanis under their command.
According to Lachinov, the military has developed a special but unwritten set of rules for “cleansing its ranks,” one that specifies whom of the volunteers to punish and whom to remove regardless of performance. This system, he said, has been applied in the first instance to Daghestanis, although it could be applied to others as well.
Some of those dismissed have found work in the forces of the interior ministries of the Russian Federation and Daghestan and have even won medals for their participation in counter-terrorist operations, performances that call into question the decisions of army commanders to sack these soldiers.
Moreover, the protesters said, there had not been any inter-ethnic tensions among soldiers in the units where they had served. What problems there were, they said, were the result of the attitudes of ethnic Russian officers, who regularly demonstrated that they did not like having the Daghestanis around.
That created a disturbingly absurd situation: Many of the young solders of “Slavic nationality wanted to be dismissed” so they could go home, the demonstrators reported, while “the Daghestani contract soldiers wanted to serve but were not allowed to do so.”
The protesters added that prosecutors, the FSB, and senior officials in Makhachkala and Moscow all know about this practice and have done nothing to stop it. Indeed, they said, several of those dismissed have turned to the courts over the last year but without any success to date.
Consequently, the Daghestani protesters said they have decided to organize public demonstrations in the hope that this will force someone to act and to allow them to return to the ranks. And their calculations that such actions might have an impact seem to be justified.
Magomed Tinamgomedov, who heads the military’s office in Daghestan, invited all of the demonstrators to meet with him, at which time he announced the creation of a “special commission” consisting of Daghestani parliamentarians and leaders of public organizations to look into the matter.
That commission, he added, would go to Khankala. Those whose only “crime” is their nationality will be waiting to see if that will change anything or whether this step was announced now to prevent them from linking up with of others in Makhachkala who are continuing their protests about breakdowns in communal services there.

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