Staunton, May 5 – Some Russians have suggested that dedovshchina and other problems in the Russian armed forces could be eliminated by an end to drafting soldiers from the non-Russian nationalities of the North Caucasus, but officials there say that people from the Caucasus very much want to serve, thus potentially setting the stage for new and broader conflicts.
The argument of those like Nikolay Zakharov, the military commissar of Chelyabinsk oblast, that the army should not draft “residents of the Caucasus or people from the Caucasian republics who live in other regions of Russia” is gaining support even though Moscow has disowned it (folksland.net/m/articles/view/Rossijskaya-armiya-prevrashaetsya-v-dzhamaat).
Some writers are simply supporting the idea of not drafting any Caucasians. Others are suggesting that there should be a return to tsarist practice in which Muslims were allowed to serve only on an exceptional basis or to the Soviet one in which they were largely confined to construction battalions.
And till others want to increase the powers of officers to send anyone from the Caucasus who violates the rules to special disciplinary battalions from which they will not be released until they demonstrate not only that they have learned what is appropriate behavior but also that they want to fit in to military units.
The most immediately serious result of this comment by the Chelyabinsk official has been to give new prominence to incidents of inter-ethnic conflict in military units over the last two decades and to promote more generally anti-Caucasian attitudes, with the Folksland.net article cited above entitled “The Russian Army is Being Transformed into a Jamaat.”
Now, the North Caucasians are responding. Vladimir Telnov, the military commissar of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, for example, says that “those born in the Caucasus are also citizens of Russia, just like all others and therefore must fulfill their holy obligation before the motherland” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/184668/).
“Residents of the Caucasus have always served, and in the tsarist, Soviet and Russian army, they have served well. Among them have been many gifted military men,” and as far as men from his republic are concerned, Telnov reports, “there have not been any problems in this regard.”
“For example, in the past year from Karachayevo-Cherkessia,” he continues, representatives of 27 nationalities were called into the army, and there was not a singl negative report about any of them,” a reflection of good preparation and not of any ethnic specificity or diversity.
Arsen Dzhashakkuyev, a resident of Cherkessk, added that in his view, “the declaration that residents of the Caucasus will not be drafted is the latest example of the enflaming of inter-ethnic relations. They have served in all times and distinguished themselves by the qualities needed for this.”
What possible sense, he asks rhetorically, is there any reason to discuss this in ethnic terms?
Another Cherkessk resident, Oleg Gordienko, points out that “dedovshchina and disorders will flourish wherever there is inappropriate ctions by the officers. If the officers fulfill their responsibilities as they should, then as a reul there will not be a basis for violations of the military code of behavior,” including ethnically based dedovshchina.
In short, the statement by the Chelyabinsk officer, even though it almost certainly was a trial balloon or based on a misunderstanding of a Moscow order, has had the effect of worsening rather than improving inter-ethnic relations within the military and indeed within Russian society as a whole.