The existence of special political indoctrination structures in the armed forces is an indispensable element of many authoritarian systems, something the armies of democratic states almost never possess. On July 30, the apparatus for indoctrinating military personnel returned to Russia. This is a crucially important moment for the life of the country, but the Russian authorities have tried to conceal it. To date, the only presidential decree issued on the subject related to the appointment of Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, a former commander of the Western Military District, to the post of deputy minister of defense and chief of the new Main Military and Political Directorate (GVPU) of the Armed Forces (Krenlin.ru, July 30). The actual decree on establishing the Directorate itself is absent from the official presidential website. Meanwhile, although the Ministry of Defense’s website already lists General Kartapolov as the head of the GVPU (Mil.ru, accessed September 19), the Directorate is still not indicated in the structure of the Armed forces.
However, it immediately became clear that the newborn Main Military and Political Directorate received an extremely high bureaucratic status in the Russian Armed Forces. For one thing, it is directly headed by a deputy minister. Moreover, as the name implies, it will not be included within the structure of the defense ministry but instead be an independent part of the Armed Forces. Heretofore, only the Main Directorate of Combat Training and the Main Directorate of Armament had this same status.
Although it was stated that the GVPU will be created on the basis of the Main Department for Personnel, it will be much larger and apparently resemble the enormous Soviet-era military ideological office, the Main Political Directorate (GlavPUR), which included tens of thousands officers and had the status of a Communist Party Central Committee department. The administrative structures of the new directorate should be finalized by October 1. According to Kartapolov, it will include seven departments, the military heraldic service, and a military discipline and crime-prevention section. Additionally, it will include the Department of Culture, the Military University and the Department of Citizens Applications. Reportedly, the TV and radio company Zvezda and the main defense ministry newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, which is currently in charge of the Department of Information and Mass Communications, will be also subordinated to new GVPU.
Already by December 1, deputy commanders for political indoctrination will be integrated into all units, from the company level to the command of a military district. Moreover, the political work in each military district will be headed by an officer with the rank of lieutenant general, which, according to Kartapolov, will make this position extremely attractive to the senior command staff (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 4). Kartapolov also intends to reassign military psychologists from a civilian to a military officer status. Besides political officers, the GVPU will provide a sergeant-rank political assistant to every company-level commander; and a soldier-agitator will be included in every Russian tank crew.
The press managed to obtain the draft regulations on the GVPU. One of the main tasks openly elucidated therein is the mandate to organize military and political propaganda and agitation in the Armed Forces. The new directorate will develop plans for the military-political indoctrination of all categories of personnel—from the privates to the high commanders. The GVPU staff will additionally carry out information work with the Armed Forces’ military and civilian personnel on “internal and foreign policy.” Moreover, the Directorate will organize “military-sociological research to assess the political, moral and psychological state of the military.” The GVPU is also obliged to take measures to “prevent extremism” in the Armed Forces, as well as to conduct “counter-propaganda work to protect personnel from negative information and psychological impact.” As such, the GVPU is responsible for “methodological support of military-religious work” and the “selection of candidates for appointment to full-time positions to work with religious servicemen,” thus effectively seizing a number of powers from the Church. Finally, the GVPU will provide organizational and methodological assistance to support the activities of the all-Russian youth military-patriotic movement “Yunarmy,” created in 2016 at the initiative of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Currently, more than 250,000 young people participate in the movement (RBC, September 4).
Particularly due to its involvement with military-patriotic youth movements, the new Directorate will affect not only the military, but much of the rest of Russian society. However, it is interesting how military propagandists are trying to explain this direct violation of the Russian Constitution, which prohibits the adoption of a “state ideology.” In a recent interview, Kartapolov insisted, “[T]here is an urgent need to counter the lies and slander that targeted Russia… All this changes the political consciousness of society, which in modern conditions can lead to very serious consequences. The example of some of our neighboring countries is clearly seen.” In other words, the GVPU was created because of the Kremlin’s fear that a “color revolution” could lead to the loss of control over the Armed Forces. According to Kartapolov, “spirituality and patriotism” is needed to oppose the corrupting influence of Western “enemies” (Voenno-Prmoshlenniy Kurier, September 11).
“Our ideology should be based, firstly, on the history of the Motherland and its people, and secondly, on historical and cultural traditions,” the general further asserted. This implies the adoption and dissemination of a highly simplified understanding of the history of the country—presumably a collection of historiographic and cultural myths designed to prove that Russia, for centuries, led exclusively defensive wars, as a result of which its territory increased each time. And apparently, this military and political work will be supplemented with a parochial and politicized religious education. Kartapolov perfectly illustrated this, saying quite seriously, “What is happening now in Syria can be considered another act of war for control over the Lord’s crèche.” He added, “The Revival of the Russian state, as we see, continues through the revival of the Orthodox faith” (Voenno-Prmoshlenniy Kurier, September 11). So far, the leadership of the Main Military and Political Directorate has not addressed how this ideological approach might square with Russia’s Muslim military personnel or those who are atheists or profess other faiths.
From Kartapolov’s public statements, it follows that he believes the military will give birth to a new national ideology: “The ideology that is now emerging before our eyes will first be tested in the army. If, later, it will be in demand by the state, we will be happy [to see that].” Evidently, the Putinist system is laying the foundational groundwork for militarism on the basis of clericalism; and at least some of the generals are on board.