The tradition of North Caucasus mountaineers serving in the Russian army goes back 150 years. In the 1870s, the Russian Empire tried to tie the mountaineers to the Russian system of governance by forming ethnic-based volunteer battalions. North Caucasus battalions fought in Russian wars for the first time in the Russian-Turkish war of 1877–1878 (nauchforum.ru, accessed November 20). Mountaineer units then participated in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904–1905 (gazavat.ru, accessed November 20) and in World War I, during 1914–1918 (zema.su, accessed November 20).
This fall, after persistent complaints by the heads of the republics of the North Caucasus, Moscow decided to resume the military draft throughout the region (topwar.ru, August 21; see EDM, September 25). Ingushetia was initially required to supply only up to 100 conscripts. But according to Ingushetia’s Deputy Prime Minister Valery Kuksa, Moscow increased the number of draftees from the republic six-fold, to 600 people after taking into consideration a request by the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and multiple requests by Ingushetian youth (kavpolit.ru, October 1). Authorities in Ingushetia anticipate that they will dispatch up to 1,000 people to serve in the Russian army in 2015. The overall pool of people eligible for the military draft in this smallest republic of the North Caucasus is 12,000 people. Young men in Chechnya were drafted for the first time since 2001. And after a two year break, Dagestan supplied up to 2,000 conscripts (Kavkazsky Uzel, September 24).
Meanwhile, the issue of possible conflicts between the draftees and the officers, many of whom participated in the military campaigns in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, has not been addressed. Clashes between North Caucasus conscripts and Russian officers are inevitable: the young men from the North Caucasus have typically lost relatives in these military campaigns, while many of the Russian officers who served in the region also lost friends there. Back in the fall of 2001, the authorities conducted an experiment, sending 70 people from Chechnya to serve in the sports unit of the Moscow military district. After several months, all the conscripts from Chechnya were sent back home because of multiple clashes with their peers and officers (top.rbc.ru, September 21).
Apart from this issue, hazing is also a significant problem in the Russian army: the conscripts from the North Caucasus often abuse their peers from other regions of Russia. For example, in December 2006, about 150 soldiers who had been drafted from the North Caucasus, mostly from Dagestan, revolted in a military unit based on the island of Kunashir, one of the Kurile Islands. The rebels seized weapons, beat up officers and locked themselves in the barracks. In November 2009, three soldiers from Dagestan and two from the Urals Federal District forced their peers to create the word “Kavkaz” (Caucasus) with their bodies, and so on (sovsekretno.ru, September 4). Against the backdrop of these incidents involving North Caucasians, Russia’s Ministry of Defense essentially halted conscription in the region in 2012 (km.ru, June 18, 2012).
This time, the defense ministry called on the leadership of the North Caucasus republics to do everything they can to prevent a repeat of incidents in which North Caucasians terrorize conscripts from other regions of Russia. According to Russian officers, North Caucasian draftees openly refuse to obey orders of the commanders, insist on following customs that contradict military statutes, such as refusing to shave, and are under the influence of Salafist ideas (rosbalt.ru, July 3, 2013).
To prevent hazing, the government decided to make use of committees of parents as much as possible. For example, the Committee of Soldiers’ Fathers, which was set up in Ingushetia, was supposed to go to the military units at first call and explain to the soldiers that the army cannot have special religious and ethnic rules (army-hr.ru, October 1).
However, these actions did not dissuade young North Caucasians from thinking that they are entitled to dominate soldiers from other regions of Russia. This fall’s conscription campaign in Russia began on October 15, and an incident involving conscripts from Ingushetia on their way to serve in the Northern Navy in Murmansk took place three days later, on October 18. According to Ingushetia’s Deputy Prime Minister Kuksa, the railway police had to intervene to remove two young Ingush conscripts from a train in Karelia (regnum.ru, November 13). Overall, 18 conscripts from Ingushetia heading to Murmansk to serve in the Northern Navy were on the train (karelnews.ru, November 14). Ingushetia’s leadership decided that members of the parent committees should accompany the conscripts to their respective places of military service (severpost.ru, November 13). The governor of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, condemned the young conscripts for inappropriate behavior, saying that people would have a negative opinion not only of the offenders, but of “the entire Ingush people.” Yevkurov’s admonitions, however, are unlikely to influence the overall situation of conscripts from the North Caucasus.
For young people from the North Caucasus, the Russian army is a school of maturation, where they must face the total hostility of Russian officers and a government policy that regards them as potential Islamic radicals. Essentially, the Russian army is creating adversaries that will one day challenge the Russian state in the near future.