Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 139

In the course of an interview given recently to the press, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev described the country’s armed forces as “combat ready, controllable and capable of ensuring the military security of the country.” Sergeev attributed these positive developments to the defense reforms adopted by the military leadership in recent years. Analysis of armed conflicts over the past decade and the “appearance of new forms and methods of warfare,” Sergeev said, “show that the Defense Ministry has made correct conclusions in determining the directions of the reorganization and development of the army and navy” (What the Papers Say, July 19).

The Russian defense minister’s remarks were part of the more general chorus the country’s military leaders have been singing of late. Although not fully discounting the army’s many problems, they have pointed especially to the triumphant dash of Russian paratroopers into Kosovo on June 12, and to a recent series of large-scale military exercises as proof that Russia’s military is not a force to scoff at. Despite the recent boasting and muscle flexing, however, the Russian armed forces remain, by most accounts, an organization wracked by a variety of social ills. Rising rates of crime, among both draftees and officers, are one of those problems. The continued prevalence of barracks violence is another (see the Monitor, July 19).

If that were not enough, recent newspaper accounts warn that drug addiction has also become a major problem for the Russian military leadership. That this should be so is no surprise. Russia’s Interior Ministry, which, along with the rest of the government, has recently launched a high-profile battle against drugs, reports that 2 million Russians regularly use drugs and that some 250,000 are registered users (IPS, July 2). Those figures, which are believed to significantly underestimate the real scope of the problem, nevertheless show a three-fold increase of drug use within the past five years alone. The vast majority of Russian drug users, moreover, are young people, including many who are part of the army’s draft-age population.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s main newspaper, not surprisingly, makes the point that drug use in the army mirrors what is going on throughout Russian society as a whole. Some 30 percent of draft age youth are said to have tried drugs, according to one report, which bemoans the fact that funding shortages have largely prohibited the Defense Ministry from testing prospective draftees for drug use. Having been introduced into the armed forces, drug use has reportedly become a significant factor in both rising crime statistics and in increasing numbers of accidents among servicemen (Krasnaya zvezda, July 8). “The current trend of dramatic increases in the number of crimes connected either with drug consumption or with illegal drug trafficking within army units is really terrifying,” Russia’s main military prosecutor, Yuri Demin, was quoted as saying this spring (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 21).

Drug use, moreover, has reportedly spread to the officers corps and to Russia’s elite military units. Several of Russia’s officer training academies have reportedly had to discipline large groups of cadets for their drug use. Ironically, one of those scandals involved dozens of cadets who were studying to become military lawyers (Itar-Tass, May 20; Vremya MN, May 26; Krasnaya zvezda, July 8). Meanwhile, the rate at which drug related crimes are being committed in Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces has reportedly more than doubled this year over last. The rate for Russia’s elite airborne troops–which train the bulk of Russia’s peacekeeping forces–has reportedly increased by some seven times over last year’s figures (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 21). The rising incidence of drug use has led some to say that defense readiness is sure to suffer as a result.