Fridinskiy vs. Serdyukov on Dedovshchina

Barracks violence in Russia has risen by at least 50 percent thus far in 2010; this isn’t exactly news since the Main Military Prosecutor announced the same thing back in July.  But his comments on the situation provide an interesting contrast with what Defense Minister Serdyukov said in his interview this week.

ITAR-TASS reported on Main Military Prosecutor (GVP or ГВП) Sergey Fridinskiy’s statement that increasing the number of conscripts in Russia’s armed forces has led, as he predicted, to a rise in ‘nonregulation relations.’  And some 3,000 servicemen have suffered from hazing and other violence in the barracks.

Fridinskiy said:

“If we’re talking about nonregulation manifestations, then, of course, they worry everyone – both society and military prosecutors – since they infringe on the life and health of servicemen, and therefore we view them in the most severe way.  Amid a reduction in general criminality, the quantity of cases of barracks violence rose by almost a third over nine months of this year.”

Among the 3,000 victims, Fridinskiy reported:

“Nine men died, and another 96 suffered serious harm to their health.”

“Our joint efforts – both with commands and with civil society institutions – really allowed us not only to stop negative processes in the army environment, but even to prevent many serious consequences.  The curve of nonregulation manifestations certainly went lower.  However, since last year, the situation began to change again.  Since the fall [of 2009], we felt that the sharp increase in conscript soldiers could lead to a deterioration in legal order among the troops.  And we talked about this.  And so it happened.”

“There’s no need to fear.  And I will say that, on the whole, the crime level among the troops is declining.  Based on the results of the first eight months, the number of registered crimes fell almost 10 percent.  There are a lot of military units where there are practically no legal violations.”

Fridinskiy called the doubling of the draftee contingent one of the reasons for the growth in ‘nonregulation manifestations.’  He said more than 1,400 soldiers and sergeants were convicted of assault and battery through August.  Then Fridinskiy added a second reason – great negligence in the work of officers.

GVP data shows approximately one-third of the victims of violence are draftees in their first 2-3 months of service, and the offenders, on the other hand, have served 8-9 months.  So, Fridinskiy concludes, the informal division of conscripts into ‘seniors’ and ‘juniors’ in the barracks hasn’t gone away.

Fridinskiy noted that instead of ‘youthful boldness,’ barracks violence is now more often motivated by baser motives.  The number of ‘nonregulation manifestations’ connected with theft and extortion has grown more than 50 percent.  And he said:

“They steal mobile phones and money most often – just exactly like it happens on city streets.”

So, let’s go back to Defense Minister Serdyukov’s analysis of barracks violence.  Asked whether one-year conscription is having any effect on dedovshchina, he said: 

“There are more nonregulation instances in absolute terms.  But this doesn’t scare me, because there are more conscripts.  The situation has to level out with time.  And the statistics will begin to fall perfectly precisely.  Particularly when you account for our methods:  we are very demanding with commanders on this, even up to dismissal in cases with deadly consequences.  Human rights advocates have already begun to criticize me for dismissing many of them for nothing.” 

So Serdyukov and Fridinskiy agree there are more, and they surely know if there are more in relative terms as well.  Say incidents per 1,000 soldiers.  But they aren’t saying. 

And the argument that there’s more violence because there are more conscripts doesn’t necessarily hold water either.  Before the shift to 1-year conscription, about 130,000 guys were inducted every six months in 4 cycles over 2 years, for a total of roughly 520,000 conscripts at any given time.  The only thing that’s changed is that they’re taken in two large tranches now . . . if it’s 260,000 guys, that’s still 520,000 soldiers at any moment.

In late 2009, Serdyukov called hazing and other violence a major unresolved problem, and clearly the situation will be even worse by late 2010.  Don’t forget that dedovshchina and other violence remains the number one reason why Russian men don’t want to serve, and it’s significant it’s rising at the very moment the army’s trying to put ever-expanding numbers of guys [280,000 this fall] in uniform.  It certainly doesn’t make the job easier. 

Serdyukov’s answer above really sounds like soft-peddling an intractable problem.  He thinks this will magically “level out” by itself.  And he’s counting on commanders to rectify it, the very people Fridinskiy says are to blame.

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