Several years of anti-corruption
efforts in the Russian armed forces are not, according to senior commanders,
having much impact. There were 21,252 investigations in the Russian military
last year, a two percent drop from 2005. The worst cases included 22 deaths
from hazing or abuse by superiors, and 193 suicides (often caused by the
The hazing and corruption in the military is a
complex issue. For one thing, Russia does not have military police to deal with
this sort of thing. During the Soviet period (1921-91), the KGB kept an eye on
criminal activity in the military, but was more concerned with loyalty and
espionage. The violence and hazing in the ranks was not seen as a big problem.
It is now, because Russians can vote, and the parents of young men getting
abused while doing their conscript service, are making a lot of noise over this
The 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.
The basic problem is simply poor discipline. But
now the Russian army has an NCO corps, and one that is growing in size and
experience. It's possible to exercise more control over what goes on in the
barracks. In addition, the number of volunteer (or "contract") troops is
increasing. In the next few years, some 70 percent of the troops, and all of
the NCOs, are expected to be volunteers. These soldiers are much better paid
than conscripts, and more is expected of them. The Russians want to see if
their new NCO corps actually works, when the sergeants are ordered to shut down
the traditional hazing.
Corruption became common, and tolerated, during the
1970s and 80s. When the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, corruption got worse.
With no KGB to interfere, and lots of surplus weapons and equipment to steal,
the Russian military fell apart. The armed forces were downsized, shrinking to
less than a third of its Cold War size. Most of the best officers got out,
seeking better employment opportunities in the civilian economy. Inflation,
coupled with few raises, made it almost mandatory to steal in order to get by.
It got so bad that, in the 1990s, there were cases of military personnel
starving or freezing to death, because officers had stolen the money meant for
food and fuel.
When the current anti-corruption campaign got
underway, it was discovered that over a thousand officers had criminal records,
and because of the way the current military legal system works, new laws were
needed to get rid of these men. Many of the corrupt officers are quite senior
in rank, and able to protect many of their lower ranking criminal associates.
There are so many corrupt officers and NCOs, that a "criminal atmosphere" is
present in many military organizations. Apparently it will take years, perhaps
a decade, of sustained effort to change that atmosphere.