Vienna, July 8 – Russian soldiers in Altay kray beat 44 draftees from Daghestan on Sunday and Monday, the latest indication of the continuing deterioration of inter-ethnic relations in the Russian military and one that suggests that there is a very real danger that in some units command and control could be close to breaking down.
Exactly what happened in that isolated garrison remains a matter of dispute. According to the Soldiers Mothers Committee in Daghestan, the draftees from that North Caucasus republic were called out and set upon by Russian troops who beat them so severely that the Daghestanis are “afraid they will be killed” if they return to their units.
Reportedly, some of those who attacked the Daghestanis used chains to inflict injury, and in the wake of these clashes, approximately 50 Daghestani soldiers in the Altay kray garrison have declared a hunger strike, saying that they “will not eat or drink until ‘they’ are transferred to another unit” (http://islamnews.ru/news-19514.html)..
But military prosecutors in the Siberian Military District to whom the Daghestanis had complained said the violence was the result of “an argument which grew into a fight” in which “no one suffered seriously,” although they acknowledged that “several soldiers were given medical help” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/156306).
The prosecutors in the region added that they were looking into the situation and that senior officers were checking to see what commanders on the scene might have done to prevent such “non-standard” relations among soldiers. Depending on what they learn, some officers may be disciplined (www.dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/12793/).
Because of the numbers of soldiers involved and because of the media-savvy behavior of the Daghestani Soldiers Mothers Committee, this particular event, however murky and disputed the details, has attracted wide attention from Russian news agencies and Moscow media outlets over the last 48 hours.
And that has had the effect of calling attention to the way in which relations among various ethnic groups in the Russian military have deteriorated over the last few years and to the likelihood that both anger among the officer corps at downsizing and problems with the latest draft cycle are likely to make the situation far worse in the coming months.
This week, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that the number of crimes committed by Russian officers had increased by a third over the last year, a reflection he suggested of an insufficiently high level of knowledge about the law and the effectiveness of command and control (grani.ru/Events/Crime/m.153560.html).
His subordinates pointed out that the number of soldiers who had been victims of the actions of their officers had risen to 1082, but that includes only those who suffered as a result of the actions of 280 officers who were convicted of such crimes. The actual number almost certainly was higher (www.nr2.ru/society/239718.html).
One of the reasons for this rise in crime and especially of such actions against subordinates is a sense many officers have that they will not be punished for anything that they do, but another and perhaps more immediate reason is that many officers see their future disappearing as a result of the downsizing of the military and their poor prospects outside it.
According to a survey conducted by the SuperJob portal, 34 percent of Russian firms say that they do not want to hire former officers because “the army deprives people of the ability to think and show initiative” and because former officers they have hired in the past have not worked out (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-07-08/111512/).
These problems are not confined to the officer corps. Not only has the current draft cycle been one of the most criminalized in recent years, but half of those drafted during it have had problems with the law. More than 100,000 of the draftees have suspended sentences, and another 50 to 70,000 have been incarcerated (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4A541F2D95FF8.html).
The criminal backgrounds of the draftees, the criminalized way in which the draft itself has been conducted, and the anger of the officers are combing to create an explosive situation. The Soldiers Mothers Committees warn that conditions in the Russian army are now like those during the Chechen war (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-07-08/111514/).
And Kasparov.ru commentator Yuri Gladysh argues that “the contemporary Russian army has finally been transformed into a black hole,” in which a draftee “instantly loses almost all his civil rights” and thus becomes part of “an army of slaves without rights” whose behavior is unlikely to be professional (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4A541F2D95FF8.html).
But perhaps the best testimony of just how dangerous this situation is becoming was provided by Dmitry Artemyev, a Russian soldier who deserted from his unit and sought refuge in Georgia. He said that he “had run away not from [his] own country but from the brutal hazing [‘dedovshchina’]” in that country’s army (grani.ru/War/Draft/m.153515.html).