Staunton, October 15 – A Russian military commander at a base near Perm whose officers have lost control over his troops, in part at least because a quarter of them are Muslims from the North Caucasus who are insubordinate or clash with ethnic Russians, has appealed to a local mufti for assistance in restoring order.
But while some outlets, such as the Movement Against Illegal Immigration, have played this event up as some kind of “a Muslim revolt” (dpni.org/articles/lenta_novo/17623/), the situation in Perm was more complicated and is likely to be more widespread given the increasing share of draftees made up by men from historically Muslim nationalities.
The two reports about what has occurred that provide the most nuanced coverage are an article by Sergey Ishchenko in “Svobodnaya pressa” (svpressa.ru/society/article/32098/) which is based on interviews with the principals involved and a report on a military affairs site (topwar.ru/1789-na-voennoj-baze-razgorelsya-islamskij-bunt.html) drawing on Perm media.
According to Ishchenko, Colonel Dmitry Kuznetsov “was forced to turn to the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of the Kama Region with a request to help call the faithful to order” after the soldiers from the North Caucasus refused to obey orders to perform certain tasks and formed “micro-collectives” which attacked soldiers of other nationalities.
Kuznetsov told a meeting of the inter-religious council in Perm on Monday that he “would not deny that conflicts are taking place” and that “they arise both on a religious and on a specifically ethno-national basis.” At the same time, he said, “we have done everything that we could do within the limits of the law.”
Prosecutors are currently “working in the unit,” the colonel continued, and “they are investigating the criminal cases. They will punish the guilty but unfortunately, that alone will not resolve the problem completely.” Consequently, he said he was seeking help from the religious authorities generally and Muslim ones in particular.
Khalim Sharafeyev, an advisor to the Perm muftiate for social and economic policy, said that the problems the colonel was describing reflected the fact that the young people “had managed to evade the control of commanders,” do not “recognize any power over themselves,” and permit themselves to violate the rules and sometimes to attack other soldiers.
When challenged about their refusal to carry out some task, he said, the Muslim soldiers sometimes invoke Islamic prohibitions against this or that kind of activity. Commanders often don’t know what Islam requires, and non-Muslims are infuriated by such claims, something that he said that has the result of sparking anti-Islamic attitudes.
Sharafeyev said that the first thing that needed to be done was to study the culture of the young people involved and make sure that officers know what the Koran prohibits and what it does not. Then, “jointly with the command, it is necessary to ‘neutralize the leaders’” and thus direct the energy of the soldiers in a useful way.
And finally, the MSD representative said, “there needs to be mediation, that is, the peaceful resolution of personal conflicts” among soldiers and officers. That too will require joint work by Muslim leaders and Russian officers, and Sharafeyev promised that “we will work on that.”
Military prosecutors, however, suggested that “the situation is not as simple as it may look from the side.” That is because, they say, “at a minimum, “half of the criminal cases” involve “soldiers of Slavic nationality” for a variety of violations of the law including “exceeding the authority of their office.” That reality must be addressed as well.
Yet another perspective was offered by Aleksandra Vlakina, head of the Council of Relatives of Military Personnel in Perm. She suggested that what had taken place was less “a revolt” of Muslim troops than a willingness of Col. Kuznetsov to involve the legal authorities in cases of violence among soldiers rather than seeking to cover them up as many officers do.
She also suggested that many of the problems arose from the way in which commanders treat all soldiers and in the Perm unit from overcrowding in the aging barracks. Blaming nationality or religion may get more attention, she pointed out, but these factors may be less significant than more mundane ones.
However that may be, there have been increasing incidents of clashes between soldiers of traditionally Muslim nationalities and ethnic Russians, and appended to Ishchenko’s article is a list of five major conflicts of that type in the Russian military from December 2006 to August 2010.