Category Archives: Hazing

Malfeasance, Mayhem, and Murder

We haven’t looked at the military crime blotter for a while.  And the last two weeks have been particularly rich with various types of incidents.  The sentences handed down in recent days are, of course, for crimes committed earlier.  While some criminals in shoulderboards are getting caught, it leaves one wondering how many offenses go unknown and unpunished.

  • A conscript named Sergey Avdeychik was beaten severely on the parade ground of the Pechenga-based  200th Motorized Rifle Brigade (v / ch 08275).  The Murmansk School of Music graduate’s had surgery twice, his spleen removed, and he’s still too critical to relocate to a better hospital.
  • A negligence case is being brought against the ex-commander of the Space Troops’ Command Center, Colonel Aleksandr Karpenko.  He apparently forwarded the name of an officer with a “severe reprimand” along with a list of other officers slated to receive monthly bonuses [i.e. Order 400A premium pay] for excellent performance.  As a result, Karpenko’s subordinate received 470,000 rubles illegally last year.
  •  Conscript Nikolay Dorin apparently died of meningitis in Vladivostok.  He complained of a headache, and medics treated him with some pills, but they wouldn’t admit him to the military hospital in Vladivostok because it was already overflowing with patients.
  • The Eastern MD military prosecutor tells the media he’s worried about the rise in “nonregulation relations” [i.e. dedovshchina and other violence and crime], and the deaths of servicemen.  He says his experience shows it’s not the shortening of the service term that’s to blame, but rather the more than doubling of the number of conscripts [actually, two sides of the same coin], as well as serious shortcomings in the work of some commanders.
  • Then there’s the somewhat stunning case of the former chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate for Indoctrination Work (GUVR or ГУВР), General-Lieutenant Anatoliy Bashlakov.  Now Bashlakov wasn’t some old washed-up political officer.  He’s an ex-RVSN missile regiment commander turned Space Troops officer.  Apparently while commanding the Defense Ministry’s Plesetsk cosmodrome, Bashlakov accepted a 700,000-ruble bribe from a company interested in getting the base’s radioactive waste disposal contract.  Bashlakov received a pretty steep 7-year sentence.
  • An officer of the Chelyabinsk voyenkomat got caught taking a 200,000-ruble bribe for falsifying someone’s military service record.
  •  A conscript got crushed under BMP treads in Amur Oblast.  The armored vehicle’s commander has been charged with “violation of the rules of armored vehicle operation resulting in the death of a person through carelessness.”
  • A VDV Warrant Officer named Ayrat Akbashev received a 3-year sentence for killing of one of his subordinates, a contract soldier named Artem Ovechkin.  While they were repairing a BMD, the two argued, and Akbashev threw a log being used as a prop in Ovechkin’s direction.  It hit the latter in the head, and he never regained consciousness.
  • A cellphone video showing two Khabarovsk conscripts abusing a third made its way to the Internet.  You can view the somewhat sanitized version here.  Or the grittier original here.  The two guys are apparently from the Eastern MD headquarters’ security company and the guy whose head they put in the floor urinal is a conscript cook who hadn’t paid back money they lent him.  A little military loan sharking.
  • A conscript from Dagestan, one Esedulla Navruzbekov, got 3.5 years for killing another conscript in the unhappy 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Pechenga.  Both men were in the hospital at the time, and got in a fight when Navruzbekov butted in line in the dining hall.
  • A former VDV company commander in Ryazan (v / ch 41450, the 137th Parachute-Assault Regiment), Captain Mikhail Sevastyanov received a 60,000-ruble fine for extorting money and valuables from his subordinates in exchange for not reporting them to military investigators.
  • A soldier named Aleksey Samokhvalov got a 50,000-ruble settlement from a court for damages after being beaten by his sergeant in a unit in Novosibirsk last year.  He originally asked the court for 400,000.

Levada Defenders’ Day Poll

The widely-respected Levada-Tsentr asked 1,600 Russians in 130 inhabited points in 45 regions its usual slate of Defenders’ Day questions reflecting attitudes toward the military and military service.  Its margin of error is 3.4 percent.

Are there military threats to Russia from other countries?

This one ticked up a bit this year.  “Definitely yes, most likely yes” rose from 47 percent last year to 53 percent this year.  It’s a little higher, but not way off the norm since 2000.

Is the Russian Army capable of defending the country from a real military threat from other countries?

“Definitely yes, most likely yes” ticked down a little from 63 to 59 percent, and “most likely no, definitely no” rose from 22 to 28 percent this year.

To serve or not to serve . . . would you want your son, brother, husband, or other close relative to serve in the army?

Respondents answered 36 percent yes to service, and 54 percent no to service. This was only a slight change from last year’s 34 and 57 percent – within the error margin.

If no, why not?

Interestingly, “dedovshchina, nonregulation relations, and violence in the army” declined from 37 to 29 percent in a year when, by every official account, reported cases of barracks violence increased significantly.

Should a family member serve if called up or look for a way to evade service?

Basically unchanged from last year, 46 percent say serve, and 41 percent say look for a way to avoid it.

Lastly, a question not asked every year . . . .

How widespread is dedovshchina and abuse of young soldiers by officers and older servicemen?

“In the majority of military units” has fallen over time to 39 percent, “everywhere” has declined to 13 percent.  These two answers together in 2006 were 82 percent.  “In a small number of military units” and “isolated instances” have both increased over time and represent 27 and 11 percent respectively this year.

The Results of Reform

Trud’s Mikhail Lukanin offered an interesting one last Wednesday . . . with help from other frequent commentators, he takes a swag at describing the results of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s nearly 4-year tenure as Defense Minister.

It’s interesting because it’s unclear if Lukanin’s article is intended to damn by faint praise, to be sarcastic, or was ordered by someone.  Maybe he intends to say these are just results, the good and the bad.

It’s easy to see some good in Lukanin’s first five, but his final three are pretty much unleavened.

The Army’s Become More Mobile

Lukanin quotes Vitaliy Shlykov:

“Until 2008, our army looked like fragments of the old, Soviet one, weighed down with heavy weapons, oriented toward global nuclear war with practically the entire world.”

He says even in the August war against Georgia the army was still “Soviet” — slow to stand up, with an archaic command and control structure.  But now the situation’s changed with mobile brigades that can answer an alert in 1 hour instead of days.

The Army’s Rid Itself of the Spirit of the Barracks

Valentina Melnikova tells Lukanin that the soldier’s life has changed cardinally under Serdyukov.  She says, until recently, one-third of soldiers were typically involved in nonmilitary work every day.  Now soldiers are gradually being freed from such duties as commercial firms take them on.

New Equipment Has Come to the Troops

Lukanin writes that finally a start’s been given to the largest rearmament of the army in post-Soviet times.  One that will take new weapons and equipment from about 10 percent of today’s inventory to 90-100 percent [official sources only claim 70 percent] by 2020.

Lukanin quotes Ruslan Pukhov:

“The Navy alone will receive 40 submarines and 36 new ships, and the Air Forces 1,500 aircraft in the next decade.”

Officer Pay Has Grown

Lukanin says lieutenants and majors made 14 and 20 thousand rubles per month respectively before Serdyukov’s reform,  but now 50 and 70 thousand if they receive premium pay for outstanding combat training results.  And from 2012, premium payments will be included in their permanent duty pay, and 50 thousand rubles will be the minimum base pay for officers.

Lukanin quotes Aleksandr Khramchikhin: 

“The officers of our army are actually comparable with the armies of developed countries in pay levels. “

They Didn’t Talk Reform to Death

Lukanin says experts think it’s good Serdyukov’s reform was pursued energetically, without lengthy discussion and debate.  Pukhov gives the cut from 6 to 4 military districts as an example:

“At one time, it would have taken years to transfer a huge quantity of officers and generals from place to place, but the Defense Ministry did this in just 4-5 months.”

They Stopped Training Officers

Lukanin refers to Serdyukov’s halt to inducting new cadets into officer commissioning schools until at least 2012.  He says 2010 graduates were either released or accepted sergeant positions.  This led to the departure of experienced instructors, and their replacement with younger officers lacking the necessary experience.

Sergeants Almost Ceased to Exist

Contract sergeants were dispersed in 2009-2010.  The Defense Ministry considers them poorly trained, and in no way superior to ordinary [conscript] soldiers.  Now it’s counting completely on conscripts with an even lower level of training.

There’s Nothing to Defend Against China

Here Lukanin notes that some results of reform have put people on guard.  Anatoliy Tsyganok tells him tank units have been practically eliminated: 

“Now only 2,000 tanks, old models at that, remain in the army.”

In Tsyganok’s opinion, tanks are still very relevant for the defense of Russia’s border with China.

What do we make of all this?

  • It’s good that the Russian Army was restructured into smaller, more combat ready formations, i.e. brigades, and sub-units. 
  • We really have no clear picture of the extent and success of outsourcing nonmilitary tasks in the army.  Meanwhile, the “spirit of the barracks” is alive and well when it comes to dedovshchina and violence in the ranks. 
  • The promise of another rearmament program shimmers on the horizon, but it’s not delivering much yet, and there are plenty of serious obstacles to completing it. 
  • The officer pay picture has improved, but the Defense Ministry has real work to do this year to implement a fully new pay system next year.  Meanwhile, several years of premium pay have caused divisions and disaffection in the officer corps. 
  • Moving out smartly on reform was a change over endless talk, but there are areas where more circumspection might have served Serdyukov well. 
  • The Defense Ministry definitely had to stop feeding more officers into an army with a 1:1 officer-conscript ratio.  We’ll have to see what kind of officers the remaining VVUZy produce when the induction of cadets restarts. 
  • Aborting contract service cut the army’s losses on the failed centerpiece military personnel policy of the 2000s.  But something will have to take its place eventually to produce more professional NCOs and soldiers. 
  • Russia is probably right to deemphasize its heavy armor.  It doesn’t appear to have much of a place in the coming rearmament plan.  And tanks really aren’t the answer to Moscow’s largely unstated security concerns vis-a-vis China anyway.

So what’s Serdyukov’s scorecard?  A mixed bag.  Probably more good than bad, but we’ll have to wait to see which results stand and prove positive over the long term.  Definitely superior to his predecessor’s tenure.  Expect more Serdyukov anniversary articles as 15 February approaches.

Serdyukov’s Carte Blanche

In an editorial Monday, Vedomosti supported the carte blanche President Dmitriy Medvedev has apparently given Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and his military reforms.  The paper likes the reforms enough that it wants the President to think about the possible effectiveness of the ‘army method’ in reforming the MVD.  Here’s what Vedomosti had to say:

“Renaming the Army”

“Dmitriy Medvedev’s and Anatoliy Serdykov’s joint trip to a model Moscow suburban military unit went beyond the protocol of the visit.  The President’s speech in awarding outstanding military men became a new signal to officers, the army, and society:  ‘Despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary…  Everything that is now being done is directed at establishing modern and effective armed forces.  Here there are both problems and good decisions, I am following this personally as Supreme CINC.’  The Kremlin demonstrated that, despite the recent media scandal, it trusts the civilian Defense Minister, won’t bow to the generals’ and veterans’ opposition, and intends to continue its planned military reform.”

“The new carte blanche for Serdyukov for further transformation is important for many reasons.  The current minister is not the first civilian director of the military department.  However, he specifically replaced a campaign of reforming with systematic transformations.  In his inheritance from Sergey Ivanov, Serdyukov received a much truncated army of the Soviet type, not answering modern requirements.  Dedovshchina, obsolete armaments (modern equipment is not much more than 10% of the general inventory) and command and control, and manning were its main problems.  Add to this corruption among the generals which prevented equipping the army with new types of armaments and communications.  The victorious August war of 2008 showed that the victors couldn’t suppress the enemy’s aviation and artillery and were inferior to the vanquished in modern communications and reconnaissance means.”

“Serdyukov’s attempts to establish control over expenditures on purchases for the army met severe resistance from rear services officers and generals.  Not long ago he acknowledged to journalists:  ‘When I came to the Defense Ministry, speaking plainly, I was surrounded by large amounts of thievery.  Financial licentiousness, the impunity of people whom no one had checked out (…) was so deeply ingrained that it had already become a way of thinking.’  The minister confirms that the transparency of the defense order is a ways off.  The unnecessary secrecy of the military budget is interfering with this.  Meanwhile, progress in the struggle against traders in shoulderboards is obvious.  In 2006, corruption cases were started against seven generals, in 2007, when Serdyukov became minister, — against 16, in 2008 — against 20, in the first half of this year — against eight more.”

“Besides this, the Defense Ministry put up for sale unneeded property and facilities which were being illegally rented out to enrich a few people, and didn’t allow for building apartment blocks for officers needing housing on these grounds.”

“On the whole, it’s possible also to consider organizational transformations a success:  the transition to a more modern system of command and control and the reduction in the excess number of generals and higher officers.  In 2008, of 249 generals and admirals who underwent certification [аттестация], 50 were dismissed, and 130 sent to new places of service.  One can’t avoid mistakes in cutting and dismissing officers, but those deprived of a sinecure cried loudest of all about the collapse of the army and treason.”

“The struggle with barracks hooliganism goes on with varying success.  According to the Main Military Prosecutor’s data, in 2006, more than 5,800 people suffered beatings from fellow servicemen, in 2009 — 3,000.  And for the first five months of 2010, 1,167 soldiers suffered from dedovshchina — 1.5 times more than the analogous period of 2009, of them, four died.  The cause is not only in the growth — because of the cut in the service term — the number of new conscripts went from 123,000 in the fall of 2006 to the current 270,600.  Generals, having botched the program costing 84 billion rubles to transfer to contract, now are forced to call up those with criminal records.  Military police will remain a paper tiger for ‘dedy’ and ethnic clans.  We note that Serdyukov hasn’t forsaken a professional army, but put off its creation until the time when the Defense Ministry will be able to select and not collect contractees through deception and duress.”

“Nevertheless, it’s notable that over 3 and 1/2 years, the reform, being conducted by independent managers without legal changes and loud renamings, has really moved forward.  It’s possible it’s worth the President considering the effectiveness of the army method in reforming the MVD.”

Recommended Reading

Take a few minutes and read two posts from Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia —Russian Commander Appeals to Mufti to Help Restore Order in His Unit and Russian General Staff to Experiment with ‘Mono-Ethnic’ and ‘Mono-Religious’ Units.

Goble reviews recent problems with insubordination and violence by conscripts from Dagestan at an air base in Perm.  The situation is similar to others written about on these pages.  The second article reports on rumors the army is ready to entertain the idea of single-nationality units to forestall some of these problems.

Not long ago Tatar parents actually argued for monoethnic units to protect their conscript sons from ‘dedovshchina on nationality grounds.’  Once again, conscripts from Dagestan were the perpetrators of the violence in many cases.

The possibility of ethnic units to control zemlyachestvo in the army runs counter to the Defense Ministry’s current policy of letting more conscripts serve closer to home if possible.  Presumably a unit of men from Dagestan wouldn’t serve anywhere near their homes.  At the same time, such a unit could be the source of many problems with the locals in a predominantly Russian area.

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.

Serdyukov Offers Access to Military Units

Varying media accounts of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s meeting Thursday with defenders of conscript rights lead one to think they attended different meetings.

But the Defense Minister deserves praise for facing some of the army’s sharpest critics.  And for apparently saying he wants to meet them routinely, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  His predecessors rarely did.

The headline story from the meeting was Serdyukov’s offer for civilian activists to accompany conscripts through the induction process until they reach their place of service, and settle into their units.  He also offered fuller access to the military’s bases.

RIA Novosti  quoted him:

“We want to propose an option for accompanying conscripts:  take part in the callup commission, and then go with them to units and see how they are billeted.” 

He added that he is prepared to let civilian representatives into all military units, with the exception of an unknown number of secret ones.

According to ITAR-TASS, he said:

“The Defense Ministry on the whole is interested in public organizations having access to military units.”

So Serdyukov bowed to greater civilian involvement, if not control or oversight, and also stumped for his efforts to ‘humanize’ conscript service in the armed forces.

His offer was interesting for the catch it included . . . these civil society representatives have to participate in the callup commission before they can go with new soldiers to their units. 

Maybe Serdyukov thinks they won’t take up the offer.  Maybe he thinks, if they do, they’ll dirty their hands in the difficult work of deciding who has to serve, or doesn’t, and where.  Maybe sorting through far-from-ideal candidates and still trying to meet manpower quotas will temper their criticism.

But it may give conscript rights activists even better insight into induction process problems and abuses than they already have.   We’ll see.

Serdyukov touted efforts to enable conscripts, especially those with dependent parents and children, to serve as close to home as possible, rather than sending them as far away as possible like in the past.

But Valentina Melnikova of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers (SKSM or СКСМ) believes no one is fulfilling Serdyukov’s order to assign draftees closer to home:

“In military commissariats no one pays attention to this.”

According to Lenta.ru, Serdyukov cited his other innovations – introducing a rest hour after lunch, lifting virtually all restrictions on the use of cell phones by conscripts, giving them a chance to earn a weekend pass, and freeing them from all housekeeping and maintenance chores in their barracks, units, and garrisons.  But neither Serdyukov nor the media could say how widely these initiatives have been implemented. 

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Serdyukov wants to revive moribund parents’ committees introduced several years ago, but found impractical when young men served in remote areas far from home.  If they’re closer to home, their parents might be able to visit their units.  Serdyukov also mentioned the 4-year-old Defense Ministry Public Council.  Krasnaya zvezda reported that Melnikova is heading its working group to coordinate its activities with other public and human rights organizations.  Serdyukov expressed the hope that such a unification of efforts will be beneficial.

IA Regnum reports that Petersburg’s Ella Polyakova gave Serdyukov a detailed report on violations of conscript rights complete with statistics, concrete examples, and proposals to better protect them.

Polyakova would like to remove examining physicians from the callup commission, and from the control of the voyenkomat.  She said their qualifications need improvement also.  She objected to Serdyukov’s cuts in military medicine and called for better psychiatric assistance for conscripts in their units.

Polyakova says Serdyukov’s officer cuts have worsened the situation in the barracks.  Sergeants who were supposed to replace officers are ill-prepared for greater responsibility, and barracks violence has spiked as a result.  The Main Military Prosecutor’s figures support her.  Sergey Fridinskiy recently reported that hazing and other barracks violence increased 50 percent in the first five months of 2010.

Newsru.com reported Tatyana Kuznetsova’s concern about the army stretching its definition of fitness and taking men who should be deferred or exempt for health reasons:

“But, as we know, right away, having just reached the troops, many guys turned up in hospitals which were overflowing.  Like in a war, they laid in three rows, on the floor, in corridors.  These boys were called up sick, with chronic illnesses that weren’t discovered during the callup.  They weren’t discovered on purpose.”

All in all, it’s clear that, no matter how often they get together, Defense Minister Serdyukov and human rights activists will continue to disagree about the state of the army and how to change it.

According to IA Regnum, when Serdyukov said there’s no money for contract service, the activists asked him to explain:

“. . . how much money is being expended from budgets at all levels to fulfill the conscription plan in the ranks of the armed forces, as a result of which young men who are sick, invalids, and psychologically unstable end up in the army.  And next compare this with the amounts of expenditures to dismiss conscripts from the army after several months for health reasons, and to pay compensation to the families of those who have died or become invalids in peacetime.”