Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 139

With regard to drug use, the army appears not to be merely the victim of broader societal ills, as the military leadership seems sometimes to suggest. Indeed, the armed forces may in fact be a breeding ground for drug addiction and drug related crime. Studies by the Defense Ministry itself reportedly indicate that more than 50 percent of those servicemen now using drugs picked up their habits only after entering the armed forces. According to one account, the spread of drugs within the armed forces is related in part to poor oversight by officers and commanders. In addition, the chaotic reform of the armed forces, which has led to deep personnel reductions, wage arrears and generally dismal living conditions for many soldiers, is said to be another factor in rising drug usage. Feelings of hopelessness have reportedly led many soldiers into using drugs (Vremya MN, May 26).

The military’s growing drug problem apparently led the prosecutor’s office of the Moscow Military District to convene a conference this spring devoted to the issue. Recommendations reached by those participating in the event included a call for tougher medical checkups at army enlistment and recruitment offices; intensified efforts to identify servicemen using drugs and to cut them off from their suppliers; improved security around military medical facilities where drugs and medicines are stored; and greater publicity–including public trials–for those servicemen charged with drug-related crimes. The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has reportedly made an appeal to the government to create a federal program called “Army Without Drugs.” Military health experts are said to be drafting a plan for the program, but the government has yet to approve it or to give an indication that funding for the program will be forthcoming.

Indeed, any serious move aimed at countering the army’s drug problems will require additional funding, and that is something which the armed forces suffer a continued short supply of. In addition, participants of this spring’s Moscow Military District conference pointed to reports describing a drug mafia which is apparently determined to maintain its lucrative drug dealing activities in the armed forces. War is a never-ending contest between offensive and defensive measures, and the drug mafia was said to be determined to take steps of its own to counter any measures that the military might take to root out drug use (Versia, April 20-26; Krasnaya zvezda, July 8). Given that funding will remain in short supply and that dismal living conditions will continue into the foreseeable future for many Russian soldiers, it seems likely that the army’s drug problem will continue for some years to come as well.