The State of the Russian Military - Current Problems

Seminar Paper, 2008

21 Pages, Grade: A-



1. Introduction

2. Problems and weaknesses
2.1 Dedovschina
2.1.1 The cases of Andrej Sytschow and Radik Habirov
2.1.2 The curtailment of Dedovschina in the Russian army
2.1.3 The Union of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia
2.2 Lack of financial resources
2.2.1 Obsolete military equipment
2.2.3 Housing issues and the state of accommodations
2.3 Corruption
2.4 Recruiting and retaining personnel
2.5 Lack of civilian control over the army
2.6 Lack of transparent information policies
2.6.1 The case of the submarine Kursk

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The Red Army was founded on February 23rd, 1918[1] and used to be most dreaded army in the world because of its strength and reputation. Serving in the army was seen to be a very honorable task in the Soviet Union. These facts and notions have, however, changed on the course of history. Today, on February 23rd, the Russian Army Day holiday is still celebrated in the Russian Federation. According to the public opinion data base, however, the majority of Russian citizens rated the overall state of the Russian armed forces to be ‘bad’ in 2006[2].

These days, life in the Russian army is extremely harsh. Since the participation of Russian soldiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s and due to many unfavorable incidents that occurred in the past decades, the attitude held by young Russian men towards conscription has worsened notably.[3] Russia’s current military finds itself to be in a state facing a number of poor conditions that call for action: new strategies and reform plans are definitely needed. Nevertheless, the armed forces still play a traditionally significant role in Russia’s politics and society of our day.

The aim and purpose of this seminar paper is to analyze the current state of the Russian military in order to describe its multiple imminent weaknesses. Because of the limitation of its length and the distribution of topics among the participating students of the seminar, this paper will focus on the current problematic situation of the Russian armed forces. It will for the given reasons not address possible future reform plans that may enhance its situation in the short or in the long run.

2. Problems and weaknesses

The previously glorious Soviet army was cut to the number of one million soldiers after the end of the Cold War. In spite of big investments into the modernization of Russia’s armed forces (which have for the most part started under the regime of Vladimir Putin) and numerous planned reforms, Russia’s military is far from being an army of superpower. In the following part of this paper structural, financial, policy and control deficits of today’s Russian military will be outlined.

2.1 Dedovschina

One of the main problems in the Russian military is a phenomenon called Dedovschina. This Russian expression can be literally translated as the ‘rule of the grandfathers’[4] and describes the serious harassment and subjugation of junior recruits by more senior ones.

The suppression by older conscripts has probably always taken place (not only) in the Russian military system. The actual emergence of Dedovschina can, however, be connected to the introduction of the four-class-system of October 12th, 1967[5]: Conscripts that were formerly drafted for three and sailors that were formerly conscribed for four years served in the military at the same time as conscripts that were now drafted for only two years. All in all, four age cohorts were now simultaneously present in the Russian army.[6] As a consequence of this change of conscription periods, jealousy, frustration, violence and the feeling of superiority allowed an organized precedence with its own norms and positions to emerge. The one group (out of the four) that treats the younger soldiers in the worst way, are the so-called Deds[7]. They are the second ‘oldest’ and accordingly the third youngest group of recruits serving in the army. If a member of this group is not satisfied with the chore he had given to one of his younger colleagues he would punish them in the worst ways possible.

Especially as a member of a Western society one has to keep in mind that there are many differences in the structure and the distribution of tasks within the military in Russia and, for example, in Germany: In Russia, junior officers are not expected to look after the well-being of recruits in terms of nutrition, housing and treatment. This is mainly the case because they have to face an enormous amount of other issues that need to be addressed and they simply lack the time and possibilities to do so.[8] Furthermore, Russian soldiers are sent into quarantine in order to obtain their basic military training instead of being sent to what Western soldiers know as a boot camp. Additionally, the learning time in quarantine takes place in a less organized fashion.

After their time in quarantine, the new recruits are being trained by relatively young soldiers who immediately feel superior to their new colleagues. Those soldiers had naturally undergone the same procedure after having been drafted. During the training hours, they usually separate weaker from stronger newcomers and gradually introduce them to their hierarchical rules and different kinds of systematic suppression.

The harassments that describe Dedovschina have various forms and faces. Because of their usual severity they have become subject of concern to several human rights organizations.[9] Offences to be seen are the distribution of extra-military chores such as shoe-shining, patching clothes, cleaning facilities and making beds as well as servitude, physical and psychological violence including torture, rape as well as murder. In many cases, young soldiers have to pass on their -mostly already little- pay and their rationed food on to the older conscripts. Especially ethnic and religious minorities (as for example Tartar soldiers) are heavily concerned by this kind of bullying[10]. In some cases, Dedovschina becomes so severe that the affected young men to turn towards alcoholism, drug addiction and desert or even to commit suicide in order to escape the ill-treatment.

After having grown accustomed to cruel and violent behavior, many soldiers act extremely violent towards civilians, too. As seen in Georgia in 2008, Russian soldiers committed pointless brutal murders, killed children, raped women and started burning civilian property.[11] Of course, it can be argued that similar war crimes have also happened when soldiers of military regimes that do not face problems similar to Dedovschina entered foreign territory. It is, however a fact, that human beings that undergo long periods of maltreatment are more likely to commit similar offenses than those who did not have to face such circumstances.

According to the Russian jurisdiction, 800 soldiers died on duty in the year of 2006. According to the NGO Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia, this number is even higher: The NGO estimates 2.000 dead and 50.000 injured soldiers per year – either due to accidents caused by obsolete weapons or, and this applies most of the cases, because of Dedovschina[12].

Naturally, the described cruelty of Dedovschina has negative effects on the state of the Russian military: it turns soldiers against other soldiers, non-commissioned officers and junior officers and it gnaws at the military’s aptitude to attract ‘the country’s best and brightest’[13]. Thus, it affects combat readiness, unit cohesion, motivation and the strength of the troops[14], which was inter alia seen during the Afghan War. Also, it has negative effects on the discipline needed in order to handle complex military weapon systems and in order to understand strategic missions.

2.1.1 The cases of Andrej Sytschow and Radik Habirov

One of the cruelest examples of Dedovschina which received high media attention all over the world is the case of Andrej Sytschow. He was beaten and possibly sexually abused by six drunken elder soldiers on New Year’ Eve 2005/2006. Even though he had expressed his severe pain, he was only sent to hospital a couple of days after the incident. Consequently, both of his legs and his genitals had to be amputated. His mother was only informed about her son’s suffering after the first leg had already been ablated. The Russian military tried to brush the case under the carpet; army doctors claimed that Sytschow’s legs had to be amputated because of pre-existing medical conditions. It was also said that they were not aware of any similarly brutal incidents.[15]

Only six months later, however, another 19-year old soldier, Radik Habirov, was brought to hospital. The young man –who was found to be in excellent physical condition when he was drafted and who used to be an eager sportsman- was now in a state of coma and barely weighed thirty kilograms[16]. Earlier, he had tried to commit suicide in order to escape the harassment he had to face by his colleagues in the Russian army. Today, Radik only acts in response to loud sounds that remind him of beating and to clapping noises. When his father sought justice for what had happend, all he got in response was a brief official statement by the Russian base command declaring that ‘Private Habirov had no known psychological problems while in service which could have led to him committing suicide.’[17] The family has not received any compensation from the state whatsoever. The father now has to look after his son on his own, sometimes with the help of a babooshka.


[1] Compare without editor(2008):Red Army, in:, 18.03.2009

[2] Compare the public opinion foundation data base(2006): The State of the Armed Forces, in:, 06.04.2009

[3] Compare without editor(2009): Russische Streitkräfte, in:, 03.04.2009

[4] Human Rights Watch(2004): THE WRONGS OF PASSAGE: Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of New Recruits in the Russian Armed Forces, in:, 05.03.2009

[5] Compare without editor(2009):Dedovschina, in:, 05.03.2009

[6] Compare Herspring, D(2005):Dedovschina in the Russian Army: The Problem that won’t go away, in: Journal of Military Studies, p. 607 and following

[7] Compare ibd. P.611

[8] Ibd.

[9] Compare Human Rights Watch(2004): THE WRONGS OF PASSAGE: Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of New Recruits in the Russian Armed Forces, in:, 05.03.2009

[10] Compare Odom, W.(1998):Collapse of the Soviet Military, p.48 and following

[11] Compare Hardin, L.(2008): Amid promise of peace, Georgians live in terror, in:, 06.04.2009

[12] Compare Deutsche Welle Online(2008): Wehrdienst in Russland bleibt Folter für die Rekruten - trotz Halbierung der Dienstzeit, in:,2144,3768688,00.html, 05.03.2009

[13] Herspring, p.610

[14] Compare THE WRONGS OF PASSAGE: Inhuman and Degrading Treatment of New Recruits in the Russian Armed Forces, in

russia1004/russia1004.pdf+dedovschina+combat+readiness+unit+cohesion&cd=1&hl=de&ct=clnk&gl=de, 05.03.2009, p.52 and following

[15] Compare Brössler, D.(2006):Wehrlos in der Armee, in: Die Süddeutsche, in:

panorama/528/371341/text/, 05.04.2009

[16] Compare Mamchur Y.(2006): Russian Army Desperately Needs Reform, in:, 07.04.2009

[17] Ibd.

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The State of the Russian Military - Current Problems
Diplomatic Academy of Vienna - School of International Studies
Seminar: Russia, Ukraine and the CEEC
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ISBN (Book)
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Life in the Russian army is extremely harsh. New strategies and reform plans are definitely needed. Nevertheless, the armed forces still play a traditionally significant role in Russia’s politics and society of our day. The aim and purpose of this seminar paper is to analyze the current state of the Russian military in order to describe its multiple imminent weaknesses.
internationale politil, international relations, russia, military, dedovschina, politik, russland, soldaten, soldiers, armee
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BA Julia Christin Bauer (Author), 2008, The State of the Russian Military - Current Problems, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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