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Subject: A Russian Soldier's Story
Cato    5/19/2006 10:57:47 AM
Never been much of a Russophile(or phobe), but this is a good read, if you've got the time. Sad, really, very, very sad. Thanks, Cato The Atlantic Monthly | June 2006 A Russian Soldier’s Story Two years in the life of Kiril Bobrov—a parable of the once-proud, now-rotting Russian army by Gregory Katz ..... t three in the morning it was whisper quiet on most of the Kamenka military base, in northwestern Russia, but in the boiler room a handful of men were awake and looking for action. Two drunken soldiers named Ruha and Max, ringleaders of a group from the Caucasus that regularly tormented younger conscripts, sent some of their buddies to rouse Kiril Bobrov, a twenty-year-old private asleep in the crowded barracks. Their goal was to strip him of 400 rubles (about $14) that his mother had sent him. Everyone knew about the money, but no one knew where it was. Kiril wanted to spend it on cigarettes and sweets; Ruha and Max wanted it for cigarettes and vodka. Kiril had told them he had already spent the money, but they didn’t believe him. The other soldiers jerked Kiril awake, took him to the boiler room, and began to beat him. They demanded that he turn over the money. He refused. Ruha, his face contorted with anger, lifted a wooden chair and smashed it down on Kiril’s neck. The force of the blow broke the chair. No one knew what Ruha would do next. But the violence had peaked; it quickly subsided. The men slapped Kiril a few times and sent him back to his bunk, warning him not to tell any of the officers in the morning, or worse would follow. Kiril lay in silence, too fearful to sleep. Three hours later he reported for duty, pretending nothing had happened, though his neck felt as if it were on fire and his head hurt like hell. hen Kiril Bobrov entered the army, just after he turned nineteen, he was ready to serve. Many Russian teenagers are desperate to avoid the draft, but Kiril yearned for an escape from his drab existence—long hours spent looking after his elderly grandmother, afternoons and evenings spent shopping and cooking for her. It was a thankless task that fell to Kiril because his mother spent most of her time at work, waiting tables in a restaurant popular with tourists in the Black Sea town of Tuapse, where they lived. Advertisement When Kiril thought of joining the Russian army, he dreamed of excitement, of shooting real guns, of making friends, of being part of something he believed in—even though the army was bogged down in a terrible, endless war in Chechnya. He saw little downside to joining the army. His life was stalled anyway. He wasn’t going anywhere with his education. He had never excelled in school, his progress hindered by what seemed to be a learning disability that was never diagnosed or treated. He was not comfortable reading or writing. He had tried but failed to learn welding at a trade school. His only marketable skill was preparing food, a skill he had furthered with a year in cooking school, and something he thought he might be able to pursue in army kitchens. Having cooked for his grandmother since he was ten, he had developed a knack for using herbs and spices to add zest to usually bland Russian food, and he was adept with the local fish, crabs, and mussels. So Kiril stepped forward willingly. In this he was bucking a trend. The draft has become wildly unpopular throughout Russia, in part because of harsh, cruel conditions in the ill-equipped and underfunded army, where conscripts are paid the equivalent of about $3 a month, and in part because of the war in Chechnya, which has sapped the military of the prestige it enjoyed in the Soviet era. Many Russian men who served as military officers when the Soviet Union flourished are today unwilling to let their teenage sons set foot on a military base. Studies show that only about 11 percent of the young men who reach draft age each year actually enter the military. Those who do are generally from society’s lower ranks. Education deferrals are routinely available to teens from affluent families. Others avoid the draft by paying hefty bribes to recruitment officers in exchange for being classified as unfit. Some add a drop of blood to their urine samples, in the hope of being thought ill. Some even swallow magnesium crystals, which are said to cause painful stomach ulcers that can lead to medical disqualification. A tall, ungainly boy with floppy ears and hooded brown eyes, Kiril was influenced by a childhood spent near a military base but without a man in his life: his father had left the family when he was seven. For years Kiril had looked out his bedroom window onto the base and watched the soldiers train. He watched them go through their drills, admiring their precision. He watched them play sports and lift weights and joke around in their off-hours. “From my windows I could see that the atmosphere was really friendly,” Kiril says today in his soft, shy voice. “Th
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Yimmy    RE:A Russian Soldier's Story   5/25/2006 6:07:45 PM
It is sad to think the Russian military has come to a point where a soldier with 2 years of experience is in a so much more powerful position than one with 1 year of experience.
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mustavaris    Rule of the grandfathers..   5/26/2006 5:03:22 PM I just don´t understand how they can treat their soldiers like scum.
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Nichevo    RE:Rule of the grandfathers..   6/15/2006 11:37:11 PM
As a Finn (correct?) I would think you'd be much closer to it. The moujiks crave the knout, right? It was ever thus. Some of my folks left Russia because they didn't want their sons to go into the army for 25 years.
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mustavaris    RE:Rule of the grandfathers../Nichevo   6/21/2006 5:48:58 AM
"As a Finn (correct?)" Yes I am a Finn- "I would think you'd be much closer to it. The moujiks crave the knout, right? It was ever thus. Some of my folks left Russia because they didn't want their sons to go into the army for 25 years." I don´t know, Russians are so weird. I know many Russians, got Russian friends but when talking about some things I just cannot handle nor comprehend the way they think. Sometimes it feels like that the value of human life is near zero. I guess that it´s a nation of masochists and sadists, in a way. The tradition of humiliation and human degradation is strong, but now people are challening it more than ever. What I have been told, the brutality is one of the main reasons why many are leaving their country. Be it hazing in the military, street violence, family violence or random crimes and police brutality. Everything has gotten worse since the fall of Soviet empire, but the resistance is strong and I believe that there are some genuine efforts to get rid off those abuses. At the moment any sane Russian does his best to avoid military service, none of my friends have been voluntarily in the army...It used to be 2..3 years, but might be one year less by now or soon. Anyway, at the moment couple of guys who play in my friends are working really hard to get themselves into university - with a tongue in cheek I´d say that thanks to military, Russian men put a lot of effort into education. Anyway, Russians just love strong leaders and discipline, and like eastern nations they do not worship the individualism nor think that collective punishments are wrong. [a caricature, but true to some extent]
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S-2    RE:Rule of the grandfathers../Cato & Others   6/21/2006 9:05:12 AM
I read the article and must say that NOTHING has changed. Victor Suvorov was pretty much standard reading as a young U.S. Army officer-INSIDE THE RED ARMY & THE LIBERATORS. Both these books detailed exactly what's described in Cato's article. Soviet junior officers were no more concerned then than their current officers are now, even though life may be harder for those officers today. Under Soviet command, the soldier was drafted for two years. Their lives were measured in six month cycles. The first six months was spent in basic training. Entire age groups would be swept up on these cycle dates. The rule of thumb prior to entering- get dead drunk with your friends and beat the crap out of everybody whom you had a score to settle prior to reporting-your friends helping, of course. You in turn had done your role for them, and would again upon release. Basic training was not unusually harsh, except for the diet. Physical training without a shirt, regardless of weather conditions. Everybody slept outside in the winter for one night with their greatcoat and nothing else once a year. Private to general. Awful. But upon reporting to your unit things changed. All that Cato's article described occurred in the Soviet Army. The second six month cycle was a living hell. Junior officers absent and drinking with their peers until reveille, or near so, while senior enlisted ran the barracks-a veritable torture chamber. As you entered the third six month cycle, roles reversed as you now beat the crap out of the men behind you. Why? Doing at the behest of the oldest group (fourth/last six month cycle), who ruled the roost and would beat you mercilessly if you didn't enforce the system. Finally in the last cycle you enjoyed the splendors of lassitude at the expense of all others below you. Where were the N.C.O.s? "Instant" sergeants with no leadership, soldier skills, or real authority-which rested instead with the senior enlisted and junior officers. The Soviet Army had no PROFESSIONAL NCO corps. These men, instead, were identified in basic and sent to an N.C.O. academy, where they were trained. They lived separate from the enlisted upon assignment and didn't dare interfere with the system. No prestige or earned authority. Cato, sorry. But it's been that way in the Soviet, and now Russian Army. Honest. Same ol' way of doing business in the barracks. As for dodging service-also the same, though not nearly as effective then as now. Komsomol membership was a prerequisite for college. Party affiliation by your father could lead to similar avoidance. Finally bribes as the last resort. As few had money in the state society, if you weren't Komsomol or your father a party member, you served-and were brutalized. Russia IS sad. All across eastern Europe, except the Belarus, things are changing slowly (or rapidly)-even Romania. Not Russia. Worse. HIV, heroin, and still drunkeness and political ineptness, but more crime. "Anyway, Russians just love strong leaders and discipline, and like eastern nations they do not worship the individualism nor think that collective punishments are wrong." Mustavaris may have it right. I don't know. Russia frightens me today in ways that the Soviet Union did, but worse. There once was a system that could be studied, with some predictability of behavior. Now I'm not certain. Chaos seems to rule like never before.
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mustavaris    RE:Rule of the grandfathers../Cato & Others   6/21/2006 10:04:38 AM
"Mustavaris may have it right. I don't know. Russia frightens me today in ways that the Soviet Union did, but worse. There once was a system that could be studied, with some predictability of behavior. Now I'm not certain. Chaos seems to rule like never before. " Well, in my opinion Russia hit the bottom in late 90´s when their economy crashed again. Since that they have been improving and life has been getting better. The number of people living under the poverty line has been halved in last few years, for example and what pensioners really get with the little they have hasn´t been this much since Soviet times and state wages are paid on regular basis and taxes mostly collected... In worst period it was something like 30% they managed to collect, if my memory serves. So they are rising, and NGOs like Soldiers´Mothers and independent medias have made this problems more known and harder to neglect. My brother travels to Russia few times a year due to his work and he has been telling that Russia is advancing for the first time in many many years... Crime, disease and corruption are serious problems, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and average life in Russia is improving.
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PeregrinePike    Parallel Professional Divisions   6/21/2006 12:28:56 PM
IIRC an Economist article a few month back mentioned the Russian Army operating two systems in parallel: one conscript, another professional. The minimum ORBAT would be the Division. As of early this year four Divisions were fully professional - from private up. The conditions there were supposedly radically different from the conscript forces. Though based mainly in European sector (Russia maintains it needs the conscripts not for Europe, but Asian man-power intensive deployments), one experimental unit was rotated into Chechnya for a two-year stint. Watch for those developments.
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S-2    RE:Parallel Professional Divisions/Peregrine Pike Reply   6/21/2006 7:21:55 PM
I'll do so. Please post if you find relevant stuff. Very interested to see what comes of it all. I remember years ago before the collapse of the Soviet Union (but during glasnost/perestroika), Adm. Crowe, then Chairman, JCS, toured Ft. Irwin NTC with his Soviet counterpart. Quite amazing at the time, and remember we had then made a rather indelible impression upon this Soviet Marshal. I'll keep my eyes peeled, but please post any relevant stuff you see.
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olive greens    RE:Parallel Professional Divisions/S-2 Reply   7/1/2006 3:54:15 PM
Sorry for the delay, I hadnt looked at Russia board for a long time until someone popped it up today. Here is the promised article: Russia's top brass has long talked of shifting the balance between conscripts and contract troops in the 1.2m-strong armed forces. In 2008 the conscription term is due to be cut from two years to one; by the end of 2008, 70% of all troops are meant to be volunteers. A planned professional corps of non-commissioned officers might even tackle dedovshchina. At the barracks of the Tamansk division outside Moscow, which is evolving into an all-volunteer unit, privates say that conditions are much better than elsewhere: they sleep ten to a room, rather than 100. Officers say that contract soldiers are more interested in their pay than in bullying.
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Abr    Re: A Russian Soldier's Story   7/10/2006 6:57:44 PM
The hazing in Soviet/Russian army became an issue after 1969, when the goverment decided to allow joining the army of those who had previously been to jail. They brought their "laws" in. The reason for that decision was a demographic crisis in Russia after WWII. Described here still is an extreme case of hazing and I would not say that you will find it at every Russian military base.
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