Russia: January 16, 2004


The government is cracking down on military officers who screw up. Russia has long held senior officers accountable for the misdeeds of their subordinates. Usually commanders several layers down got relieved, prosecuted, or simply executed, for not doing their jobs. But this tradition weakened towards the end of the Cold War, a reflection that everything was screwed up, so let's all be comfortable while the empire collapses about us. The Soviet Union has been gone since 1991 and shows no signs of coming back, but Russia's armed forces, with the exception of a few elite units, are a mess. So president Putin is cracking down. Putin spent most of his career in the KGB (a combined CIA/FBI/Secret Service), an outfit that was always one of the most disciplined and effective organizations in the Soviet government. KGB reports in the 1980s about the decline of the armed forces were largely ignored. But Putin remembers, and he's out to clean house. Dozens of senior officers are being fired or prosecuted for failure to perform. Many more junior officers and NCOs are being prosecuted or just discharged. This includes soldiers who have murdered civilians in Chechnya (not counting civilians killed in the crossfire when Chechen rebels are involved) or abused (including murdering) other soldiers throughout Russia. 

Reforming the military is proving to be more difficult than anyone anticipated. The current military system appears rotten to the core. Many corrupt and brutal practices are so ingrained that only a wholesale change in personnel and training methods will cure bad habits. Along those lines, new officer training practices are being developed and the government is seriously looking at getting rid of conscription.

A lackadaisical and corrupt peacetime officer corps is nothing new, it's a "tradition" that goes back centuries. But Russia has shed ancient traditions before, and most Russians recognize that some of their more venerable military traditions have to disappear if Russia is to have adequate national defense in the 21st century.


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