Russia: April 26, 2001



Even with increased efforts to crack down on draft dodging, the army is still ten percent understrength. One of the major causes of draft dodging is the amount of abuse between older and younger soldiers. This custom developed during the many decades of peacetime conscription after World War II. The soldiers who had been in more than a year preyed upon the new recruits. Theft, physical abuse and a general law of the jungle prevailed. This was caused by the lack of a professional NCO corps in the Russian army. Instead of veteran NCOs, Russia relied on a larger officer corps. The officers did not live with the troops, which is customary in most nations, so they could ignore the abuses in the barracks. Moreover, the officers of the "classless" Red Army tended to treat the troops like trash. The problem was long recognized as an evil and counterproductive aspect of military service. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, there have been persistent efforts to stamp out the practice. There has been some success, and in those regions where an NCO corps has been built up and the abuse of recruits eliminated, desertion and draft dodging is much less a problem. Recruits still serve with local military units, so the presence, or absence, of the hazing varies from region to region. The establishment of discipline in units also reduces the rampant theft and resale of military equipment. This was a problem even in Soviet times, but has grown worse since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the shrinkage of the armed forces and the subsequent abundance of unneeded equipment and weapons. Under these conditions, taking and selling this stuff was seen as a fringe benefit, to make up for the poor pay, food and housing. But the main reason for the theft today is not bad attitude, but corrupt officers. As the armed forces strength was reduced, so was the size of the officer corps. But many of the best and most honest officers headed for more lucrative civilian careers. The upstanding officers who remain often feel compelled to leave the service because they feel surrounded by thieves. Reform of the military will require more than a further reduction in manpower, there will have to be a major rebuilding of ethics.