Tag Archives: Sergey Krivenko

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.

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Prosecutorial Prophylaxis

In this instance, the military legal system’s effort to prevent the scourge of dedovshchina, or hazing and other violence against servicemen . . . .

Today’s Krasnaya zvezda covered military prosecutors’ special campaign to warn servicemen against breaking the ‘regulation rules of relations’ between them this month.  The paper talked to the acting military prosecutor of the SibVO’s Yurga garrison to find out what measures he’s trying.

Recall our last mention of Yurga covered its role as test bed for Defense Minister Serdyukov’s attempt to ‘humanize’ military service, so this is obviously a good spot to work to uproot dedovshchina culture.

The Yurga prosecutor said he’s used anonymous questionaires to gather a ‘sufficiently complete picture of the existing situation.’  Taking this and information from sub-unit commanders, the prosecutor proceeds to ‘individual prophylactic conversations.’  He calls such ‘prosecutorial warnings’ a very effective instrument; 18-year-old soldiers have to sign a paper acknowledging they’ve been warned about possible criminal liability for violating regulations and this may have a psychological and deterrent effect on them.

The prosecutor also conducts round tables and extra dissemination of special SibVO ‘pamphlets’ in sub-units.  More on these later.  The pamphlets include a hotline number for reporting violations of law and order (presuming that conscripts have a phone, and aren’t afraid of who’s listening to their call).  He puts up displays informing soldiers of judicial punishments meted out for various violations.  All and all, the prosecutor expects more inquiries coming into his office this month as a result of the campaign.

Moskovskiy komsomolets has a number of these ‘pamphlets’ and concludes they’re generally given to conscripts all over Russia.  They urge the victims of barracks violence not to break the law themselves, show courage, and, if absolutely necessary, hide on the grounds of the unit rather than go AWOL.  But, the paper notes, the ‘pamphlets’ don’t say how long to hide out, or how to eat while hiding.

The ‘pamphlets’ urge conscripts to tell their tormentors that they intend to go to their commander, and to believe that the law is on their side.  It exhorts them not to even think about resorting to using a weapon or committing suicide.

Moskovskiy komsomolets concludes, for all their absurdity, the pamphlets show the fundamental plague of today’s army remains the legal illiteracy of conscripts, their inclination toward violence, and the inability of their officers to cope with them.

Vesti FM interviewed ‘Citizen and Army’ coordinator Sergey Krivenko about the pamphlets.  He said at least they show the Defense Ministry acknowledges dedovshchina is a problem, and it’s growing, not declining.  He believes the pamphlets’ appearance is an indication of hopelessness; military reform is not transforming conscript service or giving conscripts adequate legal protection.

More on the Military Manpower Dilemma

Social Portrait of SibVO Conscripts (Photo: Trud)

Mikhail Lukanin wrote in Trud this week about the Defense Ministry’s unending manpower woes. 

He concluded that the first two months of this spring’s draft campaign showed there’ll be almost no way to avoid conscription.  Experts he talked to believe the Defense Ministry’s conscription plan is unrealistically high, and the armed forces will turn to inducting every student. 

The callup is supposed to run 1 April to 15 July, and take in 270,000 new soldiers.  Voyenkomaty have already sent 100,000 men—mostly from the Volga-Ural region and Siberia—to their units.  One-third of callup-aged men were screened out due to health problems, most of which were diagnosed initially when the men appeared before the military-medical commission. 

Experts consider the early part of the draft campaign the easy part.  Voyenkomaty have been dealing with young men not in school who go pretty willingly to the army, according to human rights advocate Sergey Krivenko.  

But he says in the last weeks of the draft the voyenkomaty have to meet their quotas mainly with VUZ graduates who don’t have any desire to serve.  Valentina Melnikova of the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee says: 

“Mass roundups in student dormitories have already begun.  They traditionally conduct them mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.” 

In the fall, 43,000 university and institute graduates found themselves in the army—that’s 15 percent of all conscripts. 

Demographers indicate that the number of 18-year-old men will fall, and not exceed 600,000 for the next two years.  That number equals the number of places available in higher education institutions.  Independent military-economic analyst Vitaliy Tsymbal concludes: 

“The Defense Ministry can fully meet its draft plan only by means of total conscription of students.” 

And it has done little to hide its appetite for students, according to Lukanin. 

GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov already talked to the Federation Council about drafting students after one or two years in a VUZ, and the Education Ministry reportedly didn’t object.  The extension of the current draft until 31 August means that those finishing school at 18 can now fall directly into the army, rather than taking their VUZ entrance exams.  Similarly, the ‘nonstop draft’ means VUZ graduates hoping to start their graduate studies will now fall subject to the draft. 

Of course, Smirnov has also raised cutting sharply the number of VUZy that can provide students a draft deferment.  He talks about a 50 percent cut, expanded later to a 70 percent cut in qualified VUZy.  Trud has been told all nongovernmental institutions will lose the right to provide deferments. 

Sergey Krivenko believes in every draft about 130,000-150,000 conscripts are ready to serve [his number may be high since it wasn’t so long ago that 133,000 were drafted every six months, and surely not every one of them was happy to go].  If, according to Krivenko, the Defense Ministry stuck with this number, it wouldn’t have any problem with conscription [it would certainly have fewer problems].  He continues: 

“However, the whole point is that beginning with spring 2009 the plan jumped to almost 300,000 in one callup.  Troop commanders themselves say that half of this number is simply ballast for the army.  Mainly these are guys in poor health, with a low level of education, and also inveterate hooligans.” 

Lukanin had a second article reviewing data from a survey of 7,800 conscripts in the SibVO.  Every third conscript considers serving a burden.  Only 40 percent had a secondary school (high school) or initial professional (post-secondary technical training) education; 4.5 percent had a complete higher education.  A third of the men grew up without fathers.  One in ten admitted either misusing alcohol, trying narcotics, or having a run-in with the police before coming to the army. 

More than 30 percent said they came to the army just to avoid trouble with the authorities.  Two percent said they have a negative attitude toward the army [this represents the small number of young men willing to tell the army’s pollsters what they really think to their faces]. 

Experts tell Lukanin the poll results will change as conscripts from Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other large cities begin to arrive.  A figure of 15 percent with negative attitudes toward the army is about the norm. 

Ten percent of the conscripts have health problems.  Three percent are underweight. 

The medical condition of conscripts may be worsening.  Official data say half of conscripts have health-related restrictions on their service.  And army commanders confirm that it’s hard to find draftees without some kind of defect.  ‘Ideal’ soldiers (from a physical and social standpoint) are found only in honor guards.  The deputy commander of the Moscow honor guard battalion said last fall he traveled all over Kostroma Oblast and, of 1,000 candidates presented by local voyenkomaty, he accepted only 30. 

Finally, one last story of draft-related problems . . . Nezavisimaya gazeta ran an editorial this week describing how some conscripts finishing their year of service in the DVO, Pacific Fleet, and SibVO are not being demobbed on time.  According to this report, they are being held because the DVO doesn’t have trained soldiers to take their places and participate in the operational-strategic Vostok-2010 exercise starting at the end of June.  The editorial concludes that the spring conscripts don’t even know how to handle their weapons yet, much less find a target on radar.  NG calls it a symptom of the fact that the Russian Army never has, and never has had, enough specialists.  The editors could hark back to the need for a professional army, but instead they recommend a better system of reserve mobilization.

The Contractees Are Dead, Long Live the Contractees!

Asked about professional soldiers and contract service last week, General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov said: 

“We are not switching to a contract basis.  Many mistakes were allowed, and that task which was given—construction of a professional army—was not completed.  Therefore a decision was made that conscript service needed to remain in the army.  Moreover, we are increasing the draft , and decreasing the contract part.  We’ve come to understand that a contractee has to be trained by altogether different methods than there were earlier.  Therefore now we’re taking on contract only sergeants who are studying for 2 and a half years.  We plan to reach a contract army through this.  Many people talked even in the Soviet Army about the need to train sergeants, but now we’ve thought everything through well and we’re promptly moving forward, so that in 2.5 years in our army there will be a sergeant, an assistant commander who’s capable of independently resolving an entire complex of tasks that are now resolved by officers.”

The effort to build a professional NCO corps will continue, but the experiment in recruiting career enlisted personnel—a main line of the army’s development since 2003—has failed.  The tenor of Makarov’s statement almost makes it sound as if he didn’t think or know a mixed manning system with conscripts predominating was the plan all along.  The Russian Army was always going to remain mixed, but now it will be much more one-sided in favor of conscripts.  A Vedomosti editorial pointed out that Russia’s generalitet (what remains of it) never supported contract service anyway.  The training of professional NCOs begun on a very small scale last fall will continue, but how long will it be before that effort too is abandoned?

Makarov’s announcement will only add to pressure on Russia’s dwindling manpower resources.  The start of one-year service basically doubled the semi-annual requirement for draftees from 133,000 to 270,000 or so.  Now it’s clear that conscripts are needed to fill spots contract enlisted were supposed to occupy.

Rossiyskaya gazeta and Krasnaya zvezda covered similar comments last week from new Ground Troops CINC Postnikov.  Both papers concluded that, while the effort with professional NCOs will continue, the army’s priority will be on meeting its manpower requirements through conscription.

Vremya novostey quoted Postnikov:

“The federal program to transfer permanent readiness units to manning with contractees did not achieve its intended goals.”

It didn’t succeed in making contract service prestigious, they didn’t select those who could be true professionals, they fully manned units with contractees to the detriment of quality.  Now corrections have been made in the troop manning plans.  Only those positions that determine the combat capability of units and formation will be contract.  There both pay and social conditions will be fitting – just like officers.  They will train contractees for the positions of professional sergeants, just as in the U.S.

And Izvestiya:

“. . . we can’t say that we have precisely those contractees which we wanted to have ideally.  We understood that we had to change the system of training contractees.  It’s planned to do this through the institution of sergeants – an assistant commander capable of independently resolving a whole block of tasks which officers now resolve.  For this reason they have to occupy positions directly answering for the combat readiness of army units and sub-units.  We have to increase their pay, create social conditions for living at the level of officers.”

But one basic problem has always been the jealousy of officers (who rarely get all their pay and benefits) toward contractees or NCOs who might possibly get almost as much as them. 

Novyye izvestiya quoted Sergey Krivenko, a member of the RF President’s Human Rights Council:

“Contractees were not provided housing or normal pay, or even timely indexing of their wages . . . .  Instead huge sums were invested in construction of housing, reequipping ranges and other facilities where the money could easily be hidden and stolen.”

Krivenko adds that contractees didn’t experience a change in their status, were often forced to sign contracts, and were not allowed to leave the garrison or live a normal life with their families outside the garrison.  So there was nothing to distinguish them from conscripts.

To sum Krivenko up, the army failed to find the right candidates and deliver the benefits it promised them.  So one has to be skeptical that the selections and Defense Ministry follow through on the professional NCO effort will be any better.

Krivenko believes that the army has virtually no choice but to increase the conscription term from one year to cover the lack of contract soldiers.  But simply allowing undermanning of units would have the same effect, but that might impinge on Makarov’s claims that most units are now fully manned and permanently ready.