Dissident journalists in Russia have written a number of articles about federal soldiers being denied the combat pay to which they are legally entitled for having served in Chechnya and other “hot spots.” An April 15 article on the Grani.ru website confirmed that this abuse is taking place on a massive scale, but added an importance nuance: Disgruntled veterans have enjoyed a fair amount of success in getting the back pay that they are owed by filing lawsuits against the Ministry of Defense.
According to official figures, last year the ministry paid out some 800 million rubles (the equivalent of about US$27.5 million) as a result of losing lawsuits. (This is a remarkably high figure in a country that still lacks a truly independent judiciary, and in which the executive branch is therefore far more likely to win both criminal and civil cases than in the west.) Grani.ru found that more than half of the lawsuits against the ministry are claims for back combat pay.
In testimony last week before the federal Duma’s committee on defense, the Defense Ministry’s chief financial specialist, Lyubov Kudelina, admitted that the ministry had failed to develop a workable system for getting combat pay to its own soldiers. What often happens instead, according to Grani.ru correspondent Vladimir Temny, is that a demobilized soldier returns from Chechnya to his hometown, where the local military bureaucracy tells him that it simply lacks the funds to give him his combat pay. But that same local bureaucracy then specifically advises the ex-soldier to file suit against the federal Ministry of Defense, telling him “You have a 100-percent chance of winning.” The basic reality is that the federal ministry has far more spare cash to meet such unexpected demands than does any local command.
Thus it would appear that Russia is not the totally lawless state that it sometimes seems to be. Those veterans with the persistence, intelligence and resources to file competently prepared legal briefs have an excellent chance of defeating their own government in court. Nevertheless, Temny concluded from Kudelina’s testimony, the defense ministry is still “wracking its brains to find some way to avoid paying soldiers the money that they have honestly earned.”