Young Komsomolskaya pravda (Chelyabinsk) journalist Sergey Ufimtsev returned from conscript service in May. He recently published a cheerful, humorous account of time as a soldier. He doesn’t regret his wasted year in the army. But he describes an army that Serdyukov’s (and Putin’s) reforms have not changed substantially. At least not his remote unit, and probably many others as well.
Ufimtsev drew his ill-fitting uniform items and was sent to Ussuriysk in the Far East. He describes skimpy rations which left him hungry again an hour later.
Officers left Ufimtsev and other new soldiers largely in the hands of senior conscripts, the dedy. They still exist despite the fact that one-year conscription was supposed to eliminate them. Ufimtsev says dedy took their new uniforms and cigarettes, and threatened them at times. But they weren’t really so bad. He actually learned from the soldiers who’d been around for six months.
The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse. Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.
He goes on to describe training in his air defense battalion. He got bloody blisters from endless close-order drill, and finally received his unloaded AK-74, which he cleaned often but never fired. It was kept with others under seven locks in the weapons storage room.
This is why Serdyukov didn’t want to buy new automatic weapons for the army. It already has massive stockpiles of unused ones.
Ufimtsev says he and his cohorts were kept busy with non-military work. Money to hire civilians into housekeeping jobs apparently hadn’t reached his unit. His battery commander took most of their meager monthly personal allowance (about $13) to go to “the needs of the sub-unit.” The soldiers, mostly farm boys or technical school graduates, wore lice-infested underwear and got to bathe once per month. The situation improved some when a new major took command, according to Ufimtsev.
Ufimtsev’s article drew so many comments that it’s possible only to summarize.
A few readers were critical of today’s youth. One called them dolts, who cry to mom and dad, and wimps, not defenders of the fatherland. Another says real men should be silent about the privations of army life.
Many readers drew the obvious conclusion that the author’s experience shows Russia needs an all-volunteer army.
One reader said, in a couple of months at home, he could train soldiers better for less. He asks, “What’s the sense in such an army?” Several commentators remarked that generals’ complaints about a lack of money for recruiting career military professionals is a lie.
One reader put it in the context of Yevgeniya Vasilyeva and the Oboronservis scandal that brought down Anatoliy Serdyukov:
“No, they won’t do away with conscription. There’s no money. They lost their conscience in their 13-room apartments and can’t find it. But then they never will. They have to decide which of 120 diamond rings to wear today. Therefore, there’s no money for a professional army, and there won’t be. And so there will be an army of slaves — it’s so expedient and cheap.”