But other reports tell a different story. Amid the generals’ crowing, there was ample evidence suggesting that Russia’s military leadership has made little if any progress in rooting out the key sociological ills which in over more than a decade have helped to destroy military morale and to make service a living hell for thousands of Russian draftees. Indeed, crime and corruption in the country’s armed forces appear, if anything, to be growing, and the plight of servicemen worsening. According to one military prosecutor, for example, the overall crime rate in the armed forces last year was up 43 percent over the year before, while incidents of bribery rose nearly 80 percent. A rising crime rate among officers was a particularly ominous development; it was reportedly up 40 percent last year and rose even faster over the first two months of this year (Segodnya, May 7).
Russia’s main military prosecutor, Colonel General Yuri Demin, told much the same story in an interview last month. Although he claimed that overall crime last year was down in the armed forces for the first time in many years, that fall appeared to be attributed in large part to what he said was a significant decrease in the number of those evading military service. With that category of crime excepted, Demin’s statistics also indicated that crime rates within the armed forces are rising rapidly. Particularly worrisome was what Demin said was a 44 percent increase in cases of physical violence (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, June 15).
While he provided no details, that statistic he cited presumably refers to so-called “nonregulation regulations”–that is, barracks violence directed against draftees. The military leadership has long railed against this most pernicious of practices (at least when military leaders were not denying its occurrence). Barracks violence, some of it perpetrated by officers themselves, has reportedly left thousands of young draftees dead or injured, and has helped to turn young Russians–and many others in society–against the military and military service.
The magnitude of the disconnect between the current rhetoric of the military leadership in Moscow and real life in the armed forces was suggested by a pair of articles published recently about Russia’s Northern Fleet. One appeared in the Defense Ministry’s main newspaper and followed the Zapad-99 exercises. Pointing to the results of the exercises, it painted a relatively rosy picture of the fleet’s performance and suggested that units from the Northern Fleet could win prizes in several different categories. It said matter-of-factly that the exercises would help the fleet further improve its military readiness (Krasnaya zvezda, July 13).
Only a few weeks earlier, however, a Northern Fleet newspaper had carried an address by the fleet’s commander which showed things in a considerably different light. Admiral Vyacheslav Popov said that crime rates in the fleet were even worse this year than last, with the overall crime rate up 23 percent and the incidents of barracks brutality up 45 percent. Indeed, incidents of violence among servicemen now reportedly accounts for nearly 50 percent of all crimes committed in the Northern Fleet. But that is certainly not all. What Popov called “racketeering”–the practice whereby older conscripts forcefully extort money from the younger men–is reportedly becoming increasingly widespread. This has compelled the younger servicemen to steal from officers and warrant officers, and to steal equipment and materials from the ship for sale on shore. Indeed, according to Popov, thievery in the fleet overall has reportedly reached epidemic proportions, to the point where “combat capacity is being undermined and lives of servicemen are being jeopardized” (Murmansky vestnik, July 1).
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