Leadership: The Russian MPs Are Coming, Again


July 13, 2011: Russia is forming a military police (MP) force. The first of the 20,000 MPs are to be in service by the end of the year, and their main goal will be to end violence, and especially hazing, in the ranks. This comes five years after deciding not to form a military police branch. Back then, the goal was the same, to reduce the violence and hazing in the ranks. But it was noted that what did this in Western armies was lots of NCOs. Alas, Russia found that creating enough NCOs, of quality similar to those found in the West, would take too long. So now it's back to Plan B.

This hazing developed after World War II, when Russia deliberately avoided developing a professional NCO corps. They preferred to have officers take care of nearly all troop supervision. The NCOs that did exist were treated as slightly more reliable enlisted men, but given little real authority. Since officers did not live with the men, slack discipline in the barracks gave rise to the vicious hazing and exploitation of junior conscripts by the senior, or simply stronger and more ruthless, ones. This led to very low morale, and a lot of suicides, theft, sabotage and desertions. Long recognized as a problem, no solution ever worked. It was believed that a Military Police branch, to investigate and prosecute hazing incidents, might do the job. But after examining how this would work, it was determined that not enough of the abused troops would be willing to come forward. Without specific cases to work on, the Military Police would not have much to do. This time around, it's believed that there are more NCOs, and troops (and their parents) that are more willing to come forward and identify the abusers.

Russia has never had military police, as many other nations did. In Russia, MP functions were taken care of by several other organizations, including traffic control troops, criminal investigators and, until the Cold War ended, civilian secret police (KGB). The Russian military believed that beefing up existing institutions was a better way to deal with the hazing. They also recognize that the basic problem is simply poor discipline. Five years ago, the Russians were energetically developing an NCO corps, and one that is now growing in size and experience. Moreover, the number of volunteer (or "contract") troops was increasing. It was believed, five years ago, that by now, some 70 percent of the troops, and all of the NCOs would be volunteers. The contract soldiers are much better paid than conscripts, and more was expected of them. The Russians were willing to see if their new NCO corps actually worked, when the sergeants are ordered to shut down the traditional hazing.

It didn't work out as expected. The hazing proved to be more persistent than anticipated. Moreover, the hazing turned out to discourage men from becoming contract soldiers. The new NCOs found themselves intimidated by the thugs in the barracks. So now, a combination of contract soldiers, NCOs, MPs and military prosecutors willing to go after the bullies will, it is hoped, kill off hazing once and for all. Maybe.



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