Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 109

One indicator of the ongoing deteriorationof the Russian armed forces has been the disturbing increase inthe number of incidents in which soldiers go on unexplained anddeadly shooting sprees. One such event occurred on June 1 in theRussian "peacekeeping" force in Georgia’s break-awayAbkhazia region, where a 20-year-old contract sergeant, ArturVagonov, killed ten men in his unit and seriously wounded threeothers before taking his own life. Most of the victims were shotas they lay sleeping in their bunks. According to his colleagues,Vagonov did not drink and was not known to have contacts in eitherthe Abkhazian or Georgian camps.

A high-ranking military team is investigating the incident. Thedeputy commander of the Ground Forces — Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Sokolov– flew to Abkhazia from Moscow on June 2, where he joined thecommander of the peacekeeping forces and the chief of staff ofthe Volga Military District.

Of course, the military alone cannot redress the societal andeconomic ills that are at the root of the malaise within the armedforces. These investigators are likely to propose the same typeof "radical" yet ineffective measures that have followedsimilar incidents in the past. Not long ago the defense ministerhimself reportedly called together his senior subordinates afteranother soldier had shot six of his buddies. After a brain-stormingsession this group is said to have decided not to let soldiersstanding guard duty carry weapons and to no longer show "Rambo-type"movies in military units. (Itar-Tass, June 2; Komsomolskayapravda, June 3)

Vagonov’s plight would seem to reflect one of the traditionalweaknesses of first the Soviet and now the Russian armed forces– the lack of a strong non-commission officer corps. In Aprilof this year he had signed a contract to serve in the peacekeepingforce. At that time he would have finished, at most, his 24 monthscompulsory service. Within days he was in a potential combat zoneserving as a deputy platoon leader — but without the experience,training, or maturity of his counterparts in most Western armies.

Regional Summit Carries Historic Symbolism.