Tag Archives: Dagestan

No One to Call (Part II)

Let’s continue our look at the just-completed fall draft before returning to the issue of contract service.

In Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sergey Konovalov counts 220,000 officers and 180,000 contractees at present, then quotes retired general Yuriy Netkachev:

“If we add the number of men called into the troops in the spring and fall of last year (135,900 [sic] and 218,000 lads respectively), then with authorized manning of the army and navy at one million men, undermanning is not less than 15%.  Given such indicators, it doesn’t do to talk about the full combat readiness of the troops.”

With due respect to Netkachev, this adds up to just over 750,000 men in the RF Armed Forces.  That would be 25 percent undermanning against a million-man army. 

Konovalov cites KSMR’s Valentina Melnikova on legal violations in the recent draft.  The fall call-up possibly set a record for rights violations even though it was the smallest post-Soviet draft.  Melnikova claims 6,000 violations were reported — one for every 20 men inducted.  And, according to Konovalov, prosecutorial data seems to support her number.  The main violation was simply drafting guys not fit to serve.  Melnikova believes commissariats did this consciously because it was the only way they could reach even relatively low target numbers.

Konovalov turns to military sociologist Colonel Eduard Rodyukov who worries that, following a precedent set in Chechnya, the Defense Ministry is not inducting men from Dagestan.  Only 121 were inducted against the republic’s plan for 3,320.  And those few entering the army appeared to be Slavs rather than Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, etc.

Rodyukov concludes:

“This is unjust.  In Moscow, to fulfill the call-up plan, they shave everyone for the army – both lame and near-sighted, but in Dagestan and Chechnya potential recruits are sent into the reserve [without serving as conscripts].  A peculiar Slavicization of military collectives is occurring, the structure of which doesn’t correspond to the country’s population.  But the Russian Army is not an imperial army.  It should be international [i.e. interethnic].”

Konovalov believes conscription’s been cut in other “hot” republics of the North Caucasus as well.

Let’s come back to a larger point where we started.  If conscription of Caucasians has been pared for fear of having them in the ranks, overall conscription has been cut in favor of having 425,000 professional volunteers in the army by 2017. 

The Defense Minister recently said he’d go as far as 90 percent contractees and only 10 percent conscripts in the Armed Forces if the budget allowed for it.

Viktor Baranets addresses, in understated fashion, the difficulty of going from about 180,000 contractees today to 425,000:

“But this requires enormous expenditures.  A soldier or contract-sergeant also needs, besides uniforms, weapons, and corresponding social benefits, to be given good housing (and among them there are also many who are married).”

Yes, housing was a huge downfall of the 2003-2007 contract service effort.  So was failure to recruit the right men, and make contract service truly different from being a conscript.

Baranets goes on to suggest G.I. bill-type benefits (privileged VUZ admittance, government hiring preferences, etc.) for Russia’s contractees.

But pay can’t be underestimated as the primary factor in whether the Russian Army can attract contractees this time.

In 2004, a newly-signed contractee might have gotten 10,000 rubles a month.  After accounting for inflation, the Defense Ministry will have to pay at least 20,000 today to give enlisted the same deal. 

General Staff Chief Makarov has talked about minimum pay of 23,000 — not much more than what was offered in 2004 after inflation.  As always, much depends on the supplements and bonuses an individual serviceman receives. 

Contract pay may be better than it was.  But it’s going to be, as Baranets said, an enormous expense.  We’ll have to see if it’s an affordable and sustainable one.

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Another Trouble Brigade

Today’s Presidential ukaz on military personnel changes is attracting attention because it relieved and dismissed General-Lieutenant Vadim Volkovitsky from the service.  Of late Volkovitskiy was First Deputy CINC of the Air Forces (VVS), and Chief of the Main Staff. 

General-Lieutenant Volkovitskiy

He’s a career air defender who’s been a two-star for the last ten years.  He’ll be 55, statutory retirement age next Friday.  He commanded air and air defense troops in the Urals in 2006, and came to Moscow and the VVS headquarters in 2007.

We don’t really know why Volkovitskiy’s going out right on time, but it does seem President Medvedev and Defense Minister Serdyukov have made an effort to keep senior officers from serving forever.

God-Forsaken Pechenga

Far more interesting is the President relieving Colonel Vitaliy Leonidovich Razgonov, Commander of the 200th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade based at god-forsaken Pechenga.  He’s only been commander there for 18 months. 

The 200th Brigade remains in its Cold War deployment along the Russian border with Norway.  It’s probably not what the Defense Ministry has in mind for its future Arctic brigade. 

This brigade has more than its share of trouble, and Colonel Razgonov’s apparent inability to control his men might — repeat might — have something to do with the change of command.  The ukaz, of course, gives no reason.

Just on Monday, Komsomolskaya pravda published on all of v / ch 08275’s problems.  The paper’s reporters say this command is unable to maintain elementary order.  The brigade’s officers complain that today’s young men are already so corrupted that the army can’t fix them, and that they don’t have any tools to deal with disorder among their men.  But KP says the soldiers don’t look disorderly during the day, but become that way at night when they’re unsupervised in the barracks.  The paper suggests the officers themselves are corrupt and disorderly at Pechenga.

Several weeks ago a conscript from Dagestan got three and a half years for killing an ethnic Russian junior sergeant in June 2010.  The command initially tried to make it look like an accident rather than murder.  Svpressa.ru suggests 4 or 5 men from Dagestan beat the victim.  The Soldiers’ Mothers Committee helped his family get the military prosecutors on the case.

Another conscript was beaten severely right on the brigade’s parade ground in early March.  According to IA Regnum, the young man — a graduate of the Murmansk School of Music — had two operations and his spleen was removed.

Last September a conscript shot and killed another conscript before shooting himself to death.  The parents of the shooter don’t believe this version of what happened, and have turned to the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee for help.

Last May, the chief of the brigade’s missile-artillery service stabbed his wife and six-year-old son to death.  He was subsequently diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic.  This can happen anywhere, but it’s interesting it happened in a place already so afflicted with misfortune.  One wonders if there isn’t more to the story.

Where does this leave us?

It’s hard to say.  All the evidence of trouble is, so to say, circumstantial when it comes to Colonel Razgonov and whether he’s up to the job or has been derelict.  We don’t have enough information.  Maybe Razgonov himself asked to be relieved.  Who knows?  But it may be that someone in the chain, in the Defense Ministry or elsewhere, recognized a situation that needs to change.  The question now is will it?

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.

The Trouble Brigade

Trouble at the Gate (photo: tv100.ru)

Things go from bad to worse for the LenVO’s troubled 138th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade, based at Kamenka.  A possibly armed standoff involving Dagestan natives outside one battalion, a suspicious suicide, two noncombat losses in live fire training at night, the list goes on . . .

At mid-day Saturday, 20 men from Dagestan’s diaspora living near the area showed up at the gate of one of the brigade’s battalions in Sapernoye.  They were seeking revenge on a lieutenant, himself a native of Dagestan, for some unidentified reason.  The unit fired warning shots, and local police came and detained some of the men, and dispersed the others.

Newsru.com put the number of men from Dagestan at 40, with 18 detained by police.

A law enforcement source told Gazeta.ru that a dispute between a former contractee from Dagestan, living in area, and the lieutenant from Dagestan was the reason for the incident, but the nature of the dispute between the two men is unclear.

The battalion commander came to the group of men, and tried to talk with them, but after some talking they again tried to get through to the battalion’s barracks.  ITAR-TASS reports he was escorting two of the men to the barracks to try to resolve the situation when the others tried to enter the base.  The commander then raised the unit’s alarm, and warning shots were fired.  The nearest police had to come from Priozersk, 50 kilometers away.  Before the incident at the gate, there was apparently a fight between two groups of Dagestan natives at a school.  The Priozersk police deny reports that the group at the gate was armed.

The LenVO Commander reportedly came to Sapernoye and talked to local elders from Dagestan.  Locally registered residents originally from Dagestan apparently tried to stop this group of men who are reportedly unregistered ‘transients.’

In Sapernoye, they say the men beat battalion commander Andrey Myshyakov; he declined to comment, but said everything was fine with him.  Newsru.com reported that he suffered moderate head injuries after the beating.  ITAR-TASS also says he was beaten and hospitalized in stable condition.  Its source is the press service of the Military Investigative Directorate (VSU) of the RF SKP.

Gazeta.ru says that police and FSB military counterintelligence officers are on the streets of Sapernoye.  The investigation into this incident continues.

There was an earlier incident, in August 2005, in which two lieutenants found a conscript from Dagestan dressed in civilian clothes in a local bar.  When they ordered him back to the barracks, the situation escalated into nearly three nights of fights at the bar.  Four lieutenants were beaten, and the Dagestan natives apparently called for reinforcements from their kinsmen in St. Petersburg.

Also over the weekend, the 138th Brigade revealed the reported suicide of a conscript who was working as a bookkeeper for the brigade.  He had an honors degree from the Kaluga Budget and Finance Academy.

Investigators have reliably determined that he didn’t kill himself because of poor relations with other servicemen, and his family and friends say there’s no way he’d have hung himself.  St. Petersburg’s ‘Soldiers’ Mothers’ believe his ‘suicide’ could be connected with his work in the brigade’s finance section, where nothing happens without machinations.  They believe he may have learned about irregularies in the formation’s finances.

On the night of 8-9 April, two 138th brigade lieutenants were killed in a tank fire accident on its Bobochinskiy Range.  Apparently, a junior sergeant commanding a tank lost orientation and fired into the rear part of the range, directly hitting its central fire control point and killing the two officers.  A host of investigators continues to examine the circumstances.  The press noted a September 2008 incident in which an MRL fired off range, putting one rocket within 50 meters of a highway, damaging a vehicle but not harming its occupants.

Finally, the aftermath of sergeants beating conscripts in the brigade this fall . . . recall that the Defense Ministry did a vertical stroke on the brigade’s leadership for this, 8 officers were dismissed, but that’s not all.

It’s come to light since that, on his way out, the soon-to-be ex-brigade commander and other dismissed officers managed to receive hefty bonuses of 2-3 million rubles.  Officers who kept their posts got nothing.  For his misuse of his soon-to-be ex-post and the brigade’s finances, the former brigade commander could get 4 years in prison.

Major Beating at Shilovskiy

According to Kommersant, prosecutors have charged an artillery battalion commander from a motorized rifle brigade based below Novosibirsk with exceeding his authority by beating four conscripts from Dagestan.  A senior investigator from the Military-Investigative Department of the Prosecutor’s Investigative Committee for the Novosibirsk Garrison reports that the incident occurred last November at the Shilovskiy range when Major Nikolay Levyy beat two draftees from Dagestan in his office, then smashed their cell phones.  Levyy had been critical of the pair on more than one occasion. 

Two more natives of Dagestan got it from the major in front of the formation.  The investigator determined that Renat Magomedov got the worst of it when the major asked whether Magomedov would fight for the battalion or his own people if he had to choose, and Magomedov responded for his compatriots.

After this, the investigator reported, Slavic servicemen proceeded to beat all four soldiers from Dagestan.  Major Levyy looked on without intervening.  That evening, the events spiraled into a larger fight.  Russian servicemen herded dozens of Caucasian servicemen into one barracks and locked them  down.  Overnight, the unit’s officers managed to quiet the disturbance, and all soldiers from Dagestan were later sent to other units.

Major Levyy was relieved of duty pending the outcome of his case.  He did not admit his guilt, but also refused to incriminate himself by giving evidence.  The events involving the other fighting are still under investigation.

The media accounts note that this is not the first mass fight between Caucasians and Slavs at Shilovskiy.  The last one occurred on 8 January 2007 when officers had to fire warning shots to break it up, according to Kommersant.  Law enforcement only found out when one soldier turned up in the hospital with a ruptured spleen several days later.

Some press reminded readers of the early July 2009 incident in which 200 Russian and other soldiers reportedly fought with 44 conscripts from Dagestan at Aleysk, also in the SibVO.

Some thoughts on this news item . . .

The major smashing the soldiers’ cell phones is interesting.  Commanders say they don’t like soldiers having them because new conscripts have them taken away by older soldiers, contractees, and officers.  Commanders say cell phones jeopardize their units’ secrecy and security.  But they probably don’t like them because cell phones are a lifeline to call for help in cases where conscripts are being abused or mistreated.  This tends to get the commander in trouble, one way or the other.

Would the major ask a soldier from Dagestan if he would fight for his battalion or for his compatriots if there weren’t already some pretty serious interethnic violence, conflicts, and tensions in his unit?

Shilovskiy is basically a SibVO arms and equipment storage base left  unchanged despite the army’s ‘new profile.’  Levyy, like other Russian officers, probably faced the reality that there are now fewer officers, warrants, and contract sergeants to supervise increased numbers of conscripts.  The commander also faces more demands from his superiors, the SibVO, Genshtab, and Defense Ministry today with the push for the ‘new profile.’  It likely breeds frustration that drives higher levels of officer crime from year to year.  It’s interesting that it’s the battalion commander himself using his fists against soldiers, and not their own battery commanders, captains, or lieutenants.

A major in Levyy’s position is damned if he doesn’t and damned if he doesn’t.  If he acts, he has few levers at his disposal—where are the new military police, the guardhouses, the old military commandant?  So he resorts to his fists and something akin to prison camp order.  And if he doesn’t act, he can’t keep order at all and the situation just gets worse.

There are lots of other incidents involving conscripts from Dagestan either giving, or taking, beatings in the armed forces.  And we’ll look at some in days to come.  But interethnic tensions in the Russian Army don’t always involve just soldiers from Dagestan.