Category Archives: Law, Order, and Discipline

An Ordinary Conflict

Broken glass in the barracks (photo Ura.ru)

Broken glass in the barracks (photo: Ura.ru)

Some may have seen this picture of the aftermath of a massive brawl which occurred on August 2 between 60 Tuvan contractees and 100 soldiers at the Russian Army’s 437th District Training Center (v/ch 31612). The incident says much about the Russian military effort to recruit large numbers of volunteers to serve as soldiers on contract.

The center is near the village of Yelan, 200 km east of Yekaterinburg, and belongs to the Central MD. It trains junior specialists — conscripts and contractees — to be NCOs or operate particular weapons systems.

According to Ura.ru, the Tuvans just completed three months of survival training at the center and got booze to celebrate the occasion. That particular training course comes early, so the men were relatively new contractees.

At some point, their party turned into a rampage with drunken Tuvans wielding knives and other sharpened implements and fighting 100 contractees permanently assigned to the Yelan garrison.

In the end, one officer and 13 contractees from the garrison were hurt and required hospitalization. So the Tuvans got the best of them in the melee.

What started the fight is fairly unclear. Vzglyad postulates possibilities including revanche for insults or mistreatment or a dispute between a single Tuvan and Russian officer with the rest of the Tuvans intervening for their coethnic and the garrison’s 6th company for the latter.

For its part, the MOD officially denies alcohol or knives were involved. According to TASS, several unidentified soldiers received light injuries and scrapes. But Lenta.ru point out that the MOD didn’t deny it was a large-scale fight, and it subsequently admitted that two soldiers are in serious condition.

Deputy commander General-Lieutenant Khasan Kaloyev heads the Central MD’s investigation into the disturbance. The Central MD says the disturbance wasn’t massive and calls it an “ordinary conflict.” But the district military prosecutor has opened a large investigation of his own.

Vzglyad reports that Tuvan troops were involved in a fight with a Spetsnaz unit near Irkutsk in 2015.

The news portal also cites former Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy who said, as early as 2010, investigators first observed the phenomenon of servicemen from the same ethnic group, or from the same locality, imposing their rule on the everyday life of certain military units.

Recall a 2012 post in which a newly-demobbed soldier described something worse than dedovshchina:

“The non-Russians, Tuvans and Dagestanis, in the unit and their petty exactions were worse.  Even officers feared them, according to Ufimtsev.”

Vzglyad spoke with long-time observer of the situation inside the Russian military Sergey Krivenko, who’s also a member of the RF Presidential Council on Human Rights.

Krivenko said it’s difficult to monitor the observance of the rights of servicemen inside a closed organization like the military. But he believes the level of army violence is still very high, but significantly lower now than in the 1990s and early 2000s.

He notes that soldiers come from the same regions, republics, oblasts, and cities and unite on this foundation, then act like they are welded together in any conflict. In this way, zemlyachestvo has replaced dedovshchina to some degree.

Zemlyachestvo

Zemlyachestvo (землячество) means belonging by birth or residence to one republic, oblast, or village.

It can refer to a group of natives from one place living outside its borders. The term also describes a “foreign” community or society for mutual aid somewhere other than its members’ place of origin. It is a group of Russian Federation citizens of the same nationality (in the internal RF sense) living as a minority among people of a preponderant nationality, usually ethnic Russians.

In an American sense, think of a bunch of homeboys joining a gang to defend themselves from a perceived or real external threat.

Contrast this with dedovshchina — the rule of the “grandfathers” — senior conscripts nearing demobilization lording it over younger, newer draftees, generally without much regard to ethnicity.

Krivenko blames commanders who fail to work with subordinates arriving from various cultural levels, regions, and societies. He concludes:

“If the commander worked professionally with them, he would succeed in avoiding such excesses.”

He recalls similar problems with conscripts from the North Caucasus:

“So here our command, to avoid this, simply cut sharply the call-up from the regions of the North Caucasus. This again shows there haven’t been structural changes in working with personnel.”

Despite the presence of psychologists, sergeants, and deputy commanders for personnel work, the commander ultimately has to do everything in indoctrinating his charges properly. According to Krivenko:

“The commander answers for everything. Really now among the troops there is no one to work with personnel in maintaining discipline, in the prevention of similar violations. If the commander is good, he manages to do all this, then such incidents don’t happen in his unit.”

But some of the problem may lie with attitudes toward contractees:

“Often officers treat men on contract service like conscripts. They almost see them as serfs.”

Krivenko says officers are currently trained to deal with a mass of conscripts, not large numbers of contractees.

The commander often ends up investigating incidents and he has little incentive to find something wrong in his own unit. He asks where the newly-created Military Police are in all this since it seems to be a perfect mission for them. There is always the issue of why senior NCOs and warrant officers can’t be responsible for good order in battalions and lower-level units.

Krivenko concludes the brawl reflects the existence of a criminal attitude among some contractees on one hand, and the fact they don’t feel safe in their units on the other. It’s the commander’s task to make sure this isn’t the case.

From this incident, two broad conclusions might be drawn.

First, the whole thing is bad for Defense Minister Shoygu who, though thoroughly Russified and one of the Moscow elite, is still Tuvan. Tuva got the 55th OMSBr (G), and possibly considerable infrastructure as well, with Shoygu at the helm of the military. Troops from the 55th were almost certainly the ones involved in the fight at Yelan. It’s possible the brigade is mono-ethnic, so this would highlight recent MOD laxness on the old Soviet practice of extraterritoriality — sending conscripts and recruits far from home to serve and not overloading units with men of the same ethnicity (unless they’re Russians). One can imagine Tuvans “feeling their oats” with a Tuvan as Defense Minister and some Russians perhaps resenting their new impudence as a result.

Second, the brawl also reflects the state of the massive effort to enlist contractees. As the MOD searches for more volunteers, the more marginal the candidates are likely to be. The military may be increasingly reliant on less qualified men. It could be recruiting more non-Russians than in the past. Finally, what happened at Yelan demonstrates simply that many Russian Army contractees are professionals in name only. It’s often hard for a 24-year-old junior lieutenant to handle a platoon of 19-year-old conscripts let alone an unruly assortment of older and tougher would-be contractees.

Trouble Brigade

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Russian MOD has pretty much accomplished two things.

First, it has generally improved service conditions for the average officer and soldier.  More money is available for this purpose than at any time since 1992.  It is financing military construction on a broad front.

Second, it has conducted a concerted and successful campaign to suppress almost all negative information about the armed forces.  It has driven once vigorous Russian military journalism to its lowest ebb.  It’s no surprise since President Vladimir Putin has done the same to civilian journalism.

Still, a Gazeta.ru piece by Vladimir Vashchenko from 29 September is reminiscent of the best in Russian military journalism.

welcome-to-boguchar

Welcome to Boguchar

Vashchenko writes (not for the first time) about v / ch 54046 — the 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Visla Red Banner Order of Suvorov Brigade.  The 9th IMRB for short.

Recall that the 9th IMRB — along with the rest of the 20th CAA — is relocating from Nizhegorod to Boguchar in Voronezh Oblast.  Boguchar wasn’t picked out of a hat.  It’s a strategic point on today’s map.  For Russia, it’s the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine.

boguchar-map

The 9th adds significant ground power to Russian forces near pro-Moscow Lugansk.

Vashchenko writes about the deaths of several of soldiers in the brigade over recent months.

On 24 September, a 35-year-old contractee killed himself.  He was an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion.  His suicide was precipitated primarily by family problems.

Earlier in September, another serviceman died after a fight with some locals, according to official reports, but a source tells Vashchenko he was run over by an officer driving under the influence.

In July, a junior sergeant was found dead.  He previously had a conflict with an officer and had already requested a transfer.  His death is under investigation by the GVP and GVSU.

In April, a conscript died just 23 days before his demob date.  With no evidence of a crime, his death isn’t being investigated.

Another conscript died in the spring of last year, but Vashchenko could unearth no details about what happened.

Vashchenko writes that social networks of mothers with conscript sons report Boguchar has a bad reputation as a formation where officers extort money from their young charges.

The author talked to several men who serve, or served, in the brigade.  Some came to him after reading his August story about Boguchar.

One told of sleeping two men to a couch because of the lack of proper bunks.  He also had to buy his own uniforms.  A friend in his unit had to pay to go to the infirmary about a problem with his knees.

An emotional ex-soldier told Vashchenko, “It’s a ‘hole,’ not a unit!”

Another claimed the brigade keeps two sets of medical records.  One for inspections indicating all soldiers are perfectly healthy, and a second set detailing their true maladies.

He told Vashchenko that anti-terrorist drills in the brigade were a joke.  Its perimeter was porous, and it never passed.  A man acting the part of suicide bomber walked around the brigade and could have “exploded” several times.

He said the brigade’s command made sure to intimidate the troops before inspections to ensure none would tell their guests about real conditions in the formation.

He said officers looked at soldiers like cattle, cattle that gave them money once a month.  Soldiers were abused if they didn’t pay “for the company’s needs” on time.  They even had to pay 500 rubles to receive their demob.

The command used certain soldiers to “supervise” others and keep them in line. One group were troops from the material support battalion.  They ran the brigade’s canteen which was really a mobile “trading post” for the financial benefit of unit commanders.

Vashchenko’s interlocutor says his service in Boguchar dissuaded him from signing up as a contractee.  He sums it up:

“I believe the army certainly has to be harsh, at times even cruel, just not like there.  You know under pain of death I wouldn’t go into battle or on reconnaissance with a single one of our officers.  And this given that I served after getting a higher education, but imagine what happens with kids of 18 who don’t yet have a strong psyche.  To me the army and conditions like Boguchar turn little boys not into real men but into scum and vermin that follow a one-way road — prison, alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Vashchenko also talked to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia.  She traveled recently to Boguchar and called the situation “monstrous” with men living in tents and 4,000 personnel relying on a single water source.  But she hasn’t received complaints about abuses in the brigade.

A Different Take

On Topwar.ru, Roman Skomorokhov offered a spirited refutation of Vashchenko’s article on the 9th IMRB.  He writes that he visited the brigade six weeks ago.  According to him, Vashchenko simply repeats lies and throws mud on the army.

Skomorokhov claims security is good, and it’s not possible for an intruder to wander around the base.  Conditions are not ideal, he admits, but it’s not like the 1990s.  Boguchar is a hardship post at the moment, but one that is vitally needed to defend Russia’s southwestern frontier.

Moreover, Skomorokhov says, those now living in tents will be housed in newly-built barracks before winter.

There are injuries and deaths (outside of combat or training) and crimes in every army.  So what’s different about the Russian case?

The difference is a pervasive effort to suppress reporting of such incidents, or explain them away if they do make it into the news. Considerably more energy is expended on this now than ten years ago.

The brigade wants to keep incidents in the brigade.  The military district wants to keep them in the district.  The MOD wants to keep them in the MOD.  The Kremlin wants to keep them from gaining traction in the foreign media.  Remember the case of Andrey Sychev

Russians don’t want anyone to think their armed forces are not as modern, not as lethal, not as scary, not as well-financed, or not as orderly as they present them.  And this Potemkin village mentality has served them well.

The problem is, when fooling the bosses or the outside world about what is really happening, one also fools oneself.  And one is found out eventually.  

Look at the Baltic Fleet.  Its entire command was purged in June for this reason.  The MOD announced that high-ranking fleet officers were dismissed for: 

“. . . not taking all essential measures to improve the housing conditions of personnel, the lack of concern about subordinates, and also misrepresentations of the real state of affairs in reports.”

The Kremlin is not stupid.  It has always had its own channels of information inside the Russian military.  What does it do with what it learns?  The Baltic Fleet case might have been nothing more than serving notice on the rest of the military to clean up its act.  

Some MPs Fail First Test

Denis Mokrushin pointed out an interesting item from Lifenews.ru about new military police recruits in the Urals who recently paid 3,000-ruble [$45] bribes to their company commander.

Aleksandr Tsoy

Aleksandr Tsoy

32-year-old Captain Aleksandr Tsoy reportedly demanded 3,000 rubles from each of the 112 recruits under his command for retraining as MPs.  In exchange, Tsoy promised good living conditions, but he also threatened them with failing the training if they didn’t pay.  He certainly helped them fail their first test in any event.  In all, 106 paid the young officer a total of 318,000 rubles [$4,700] — the equivalent of several months pay for him.

Tsoy was relieved of duty during the investigation.

It’s interesting and inauspicious that only six trainees refused to pay. The Russian military should be worried that Tsoy apparently didn’t think he’d get caught.

A Conscript’s Year

A Picture for Ufimtsev’s Demob Album

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.”

Defense News

Some Russian defense news from August 6, 7, and 8, 2012 . . .

Sukhorukov’s Press Conference (photo: Mil.ru)

Mil.ru provided a wrap on the First Deputy Defense Minister’s press-conference on GPV-2020.

Sukhorukov “particularly turned attention” to media reports that the program’s funding will be cut.  He told journalists such a step isn’t foreseen, and the government is talking only about “optimizing” the budget load between years by using good old state-guaranteed credits for the OPK.

Sukhorukov claims 95 percent of GOZ-2012 has been contracted, and 82 percent of funds disbursed.

Arms-expo.ru also covered this story.  It emphasized Sukhorukov’s statement that the rate of defective arms delivered by producers isn’t declining.

According to RIAN, Sukhorukov said Russia won’t buy more Israeli UAVs beyond its current contract.  He reiterated the Defense Ministry believes the BMD-4M doesn’t meet its requirements, and won’t buy it.

Sukhoy reports it’s now testing the new Tikhomirov phased array radar on PAK FA, T-50-3 to be exact.  See RIAN’s story.

Sukhoy also announced that its Su-35S is in “combat employment” testing within the process of state acceptance testing at GLITs.  The company says it meets all established requirements, and has flown more than 650 times.

New Navy CINC, Vice-Admiral Chirkov made an interesting visit to the State Missile Center named for Academic V. P. Makeyev on Monday.  The Makeyev design bureau is home, of course, to liquid-fueled SLBM development.  Could not find the last time this happened.  Might be prior to 2007.

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy told the GenProk collegium yesterday that abuse or dedovshchina in the ranks is down a third this year.  But, according to ITAR-TASS, Fridinskiy noted that general crimes exceed purely military offenses by a factor of two.  Specifically, he said murders are up by half, bribery has almost doubled, and drug offenses have increased 27 percent.

Fridinskiy also said nearly 3,000 GOZ corruption cases and losses worth 400 million rubles were investigated in the first half of this year.  He said, for example, Dagdizel received 3 billion rubles in defense orders, but hasn’t sent a single product to the military, and bought farm equipment and building materials with the money.  He cited losses in purchasing apartments for military men at inflated prices as well as the problem of unfinished housing projects.

Izvestiya claims a large number of young pilots are leaving the Air Forces because the lion’s share of increased flight hours and promised higher pay are going to their commanders and older officers.  Could this be a continuation of Igor Sulim’s travails at Lipetsk?  The paper also reports a number of cleaning companies say the Defense Ministry owes them 5 billion rubles for housekeeping work outsourced over the last year.

Curious Coincidence

Danila Chaykin

IA Regnum reported today that a Russian conscript serving in Tajikistan apparently shot himself to death on January 29 while pulling guard duty.  A sad though fairly routine occurrence.  The reasons are unclear.  The unfortunate young man, Danila Chaykin, seemed to be doing well in the service.

But Chaykin wasn’t just any conscript.  He previously served alongside Ruslan Ayderkhanov in the Yelan military garrison.  You’ll recall several months ago Ayderkhanov was apparently savagely beaten before his attackers hanged him to make it look like he committed suicide.

According to the press agency, Chaykin was a witness in whatever investigation of Ayderkhanov’s death took place.  But Ayderkhanov’s case was closed when military investigators almost unbelievably concluded there was no evidence of dedovshchina or other barracks violence.  They say he hung himself for personal reasons.

Recapping Interfaks and Life.ru coverage, Lenta says military officials suggest Chaykin took his life because his girlfriend married someone else.  But his friends say he didn’t have a girl, and he was due to demob in a couple months.  Meanwhile, Life.ru claims Chaykin had six gunshot wounds on his body.

Lenta’s version says Chaykin and Ayderkhanov were friends, and the former was questioned about the latter’s death.  Then they transferred Chaykin to Tajikistan.

Transfers of one-year conscripts are pretty rare in the Russian Army, though not unheard of when it comes to manning units in Tajikistan.

It seems a really curious coincidence that Chaykin too would kill himself.  Or was it a move to silence an inconvenient witness?

It’s odd too that the Ayderkhanov case — a case of patently obvious abuse –would die so quietly and completely.

Why does the Russian military, or someone higher up, want to conceal the truth about what happened at Yelan?  The authorities are very nervous about crimes that take place on a “national” [i.e. ethnic] basis.  It’s been postulated that Ayderkhanov was targeted because he was Tatar.

As recently as five or six years ago, there were people who would fight for answers and accountability.  One fears there are fewer today.  Maybe fear itself is greater now.

Cosmic Corruption

Sergey Fridinskiy

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy gave Interfaks an interview several weeks ago in which he described generally improved crime statistics in the Armed Forces.  But he also called the scale of corruption in the military nothing short of “cosmic.”

Fridinskiy told the news service the army’s crime situation is stable and even improving.  Crimes by servicemen are down 16 percent, and there are fewer crimes committed by officers.  There’s a constantly growing number of military units where no legal violations law are registered.  Last year fewer soldiers suffered violence at the hands of their fellow soldiers.  But the army’s top law enforcer doesn’t think he’ll run out of work any time soon:

“In particular areas, for example, like saving budget resources allocated for military needs, or corrupt activities, the crime level, as before, is significant.  And we’re still far from ridding ourselves of nonregulation relations.”

More than 1,000 military officials were prosecuted for corruption, including 18 general officers — one-third of whom received jail time.  Since January 2011, the GVP’s prosecuted 250 bribery cases, many more than in 2010.  Fridinskiy singled out the GOZ and commercial firms outsourcing for military units as areas where problems are “not small.”  He puts annual Defense Ministry losses to corruption at 3 billion rubles.

This is, interestingly, the same figure he cited in early 2010.

Asked about the types of corrupt schemes in the military, Fridinskiy responded:

“Mainly untargeted use of budget resources, violating the rules and requirements of conducting auctions, competitions, and contractor selection, paying for work not really performed, significant inflating of prices for military products.  There are also multifarious kickbacks, bribes, and misuse.  Generally, the banal sharing out of budget resources.  Devotees of living on state funds especially go for violations of the law.  Their scale now is simply stratospheric, I would even say, cosmic.”

Fridinskiy said the GVP’s been active in checking high-level Defense Ministry officials’ asset and property declarations.  He said called the scale of violations here “impressive.”  More often, he continued, the GVP finds evidence of servicemen and officials engaged in illegal entrepreneurship and commercial activity.  He mentioned an unnamed deputy Northern Fleet commander who failed to disclose his wife’s assets, and a Rosoboronpostavka bureaucrat who simultaneously serves as general director of a corporation.

The GVP Chief then shifted gears to talk about barracks violence which he said was down by 20 percent in 2011, with cases involving “serious consequences” declining a third.

Lastly, Interfaks asked about military police, of which Fridinskiy’s skeptical.  He emphasized military prosecutors will continue supervising army investigations, but he doubts MPs are ready to run criminal inquiries.  He repeated his familiar assertion that they aren’t a panacea; their existence won’t change the social factors behind crime among servicemen.

Would have been interesting if the news agency had asked if this year’s higher pay for officers will cut army crime in 2012.