Russia’s attempts at growing and reforming its armed forces have floundered due in large part to the brutal nature of life in the Russian military — something that’s held back the army’s modernization efforts in a time of increasing aggression from Moscow.
Russia has made fitful attempts at reforming its military since 1992, with the goal of transitioning it away from an older Soviet structure and turning into a truly modern fighting force.
But life in the army is so unpleasant that Russia has faced glaring shortfalls in fulfilling its military’s manpower needs.
In an upcoming report for the International Institute for Strategic Studies entitled “Russian Military Capabilities after 20 Years of Reform,” Bettina Renz notes the military’s difficulty in attracting conscripts and professionals is in large part due to the armed forces’ reputation for hazing and harassment:
[Conscription’s] image problem resulted from the fate suffered by many young draftees during the First Chechen War and poor conditions of service, particularly the notorious dedovshchina, a brutal practice of hazing and violence against soldiers that sometimes has fatal results … The low prestige of military service is not limited to conscription. The architects of the 2008 reforms were painfully reminded of this fact when attempts to create a corps of professional sergeants faltered because of an inability to recruit skilled volunteers in sufficient numbers.
The 2014 edition of the International Institute for Strategic Studies “Military Balance” report notes the Russian armed forces only reached 80% of its planned strength for 2013 — even though the country’s incursion into Crimea was close at hand.
This shortfall has been an area of concern for years, as the Russian military has failed to secure both adequate numbers of conscripts or enough contract professionals to fill various roles throughout the armed forces.
The brutality of dedovshchina undoubtedly discourages Russians from joining the military. According to a 2011 State Department report, incidents of hazing in the Russian military grew by 150% from 2009 to 2010. Reports of hazing ranged from beatings and sexual abuse to torture, enslavement, and in some cases death.
According to the State Department, Russian organisation Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers received 9,523 reports of extreme hazing and mistreatment in 2009 alone. The actual number of incidents is believed to be higher. Many instances of dedovshchina are not reported, since senior soldiers are often the perpetrators.
Conscripts currently serve within the Russian military for one year before being cycled out of duty.
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