Friday, August 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Ethnic Divides in Russian Army Take Dangerous New Turn

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 14 – Ethnic and religious differences have long been a source of tension within the Russian armed forces, and many Russians now openly expressing fears that President
Dmitry Medvedev’s backing for having priests, imams and other religious leaders work in the services will only what many call incidents of “religious dedovshchina.”
But however that may be, today, reports on a particular case in a regiment of the 58th Russian army stationed in the North Caucasus that suggests inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions among soldiers and officers may have become a threat to unit cohesion and command and control (
The independent website says that yesterday it received information that an ethnic Ossetin officer named Mirzoyev, about whom the site said it had no additional information, has called for all ethnic Ingush serving in that army’s 503rd regiment on a contract basis to be discharged from service because they could not be trusted.
Apparently, continues, Mirzoyev made this statement after one soldier of Ingush ethnicity fired on others in the military unit in which he had been serving and then on an automobile from which other soldiers had fired back. The soldier in question, whose name is Buzurtanov, was detained by military police shortly thereafter.
In response, according to one of the soldiers in the unit, Mirzoyev gave an order that “not one Ingush should be [in the unit] in the future.” The Ingush soldiers who heard this immediately appealed to acting Ingush President Rashid Gaisanov, who, the website continues, “directed one of his assistants to conduct an investigation.”
Soldiers in the unit, presumably of Ingush nationality, reported that they had been asked to prepare reports on what had happened and to sign them, but one of them who “was supposed to sign the report, “suddenly” left the unit. These soldiers also said that the leadership of the regiment had reported that we [Ingush} are siloviki by day but militants by night.
And one of their number told that “it was suggested to those serving who were of Ingush nationality either to resign or to transfer to another region.” The first of these options would leave many of the soldiers unemployed; the second would mean that they would be working far from their home republic.
The Ingush site said that it had no more information as of today but that its correspondent is “carefully following the development of events” in this regime in order to learn the fate of Mirzoyev and of the Ingush soldiers under his command and that the site itself will carry further stories about this incident.
Because is an Ingush organization and because it has the reputation of standing up to the powers that be, it is no surprise that Ingush soldiers involved would turn to it to get their story out. But precisely because it is both, many will be inclined to dismiss this report as exaggerated or even invented.
Unfortunately, given the ability of commanders to block coverage of problems in their units and the reluctance of much of the mainstream media in Moscow to report on such things, lest they anger the government, no other news outlet or group, except possibly Kavkaz-uzel and the Soldiers Mothers Committee, is likely to do a follow up.
But ignoring this story even though it has not yet been confirmed by additional sources would be a mistake on at least two grounds. On the one hand, such ethnic and religious fissures within the military are a serious threat to command and control. And on the other hand, Ingushetia already has more militants in its population than any other republic except Daghestan.
As ethnic specialist Igor Rotar wrote earlier this week, according to the data assembled by the Russian intelligence services, “about 80 percent of the militants” Moscow now faces in the North Caucasus “are Daghestanis and Ingush. [And] the most unsettle situation is in Ingushetia” (
If the report is correct – and that website’s record for accuracy is extremely good – then the attitudes of many “non-militant” Ingush may be converging on those of the militants and the attitudes of others to that trend may be contributing to its acceleration -- yet another development that will further undermine Moscow’s tenuous control there.

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