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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Exposing the Evil that is Putin

In the following brilliant column from the Moscow Times, Yezhednevny Zhurnal deputy editor Alexander Golts exposes the basic nature of the Putin regime. The consequences for Russians are quite terrifying, even if you are not one of them.

Russia's militarists have scored another victory -- over their own people. Two weeks ago, the State Duma voted in a key second reading to cancel four types of deferment from military service and amend five others. The Defense Ministry has said that reducing deferments would allow the military to call up an additional 90,000 men per year beginning in 2008. But this will come nowhere close to offsetting the shortage of recruits that will inevitably occur as Russia's demographic crisis deepens.

It is equally obvious that a huge conscript military, which the top brass are fighting tooth and nail to preserve, is simply incapable of confronting the strategic challenges Russia is likely to face in the future. An army like this can only prevail by expending enormous numbers of poorly trained soldiers, which is useless when the enemy possesses surveillance satellites, pilotless aircraft and high-precision weapons that are capable of eliminating large numbers of troops without confronting them directly.

A large conscript army is also useless in the war on terror. In the final analysis, the war on terror is waged by small groups of soldiers and the outcome most often depends on training and the initiative demonstrated by junior officers. Yet these very factors -- training and initiative -- are useless or even harmful in an army that relies on massive battle groups.

So the military in its current form is both useless and impossible for the country to sustain. Yet the government continues to expend enormous effort to prop up this myth. The self-serving calculations of the military leadership are largely responsible for this, of course. After all, the professional expertise of our generals is limited to mobilizing hundreds of thousands of men in a short time and deploying them as cannon fodder.

The question is: Why is the political leadership so willing to go along with the brass? I don't think they are worried about an officers' rebellion. The fact is that President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle conceive of the relationship between society and the state in terms of a large conscript army. Putin's vaunted power vertical mirrors exactly the hierarchical structure of the Russian military.

But this is not the most important thing. In effect, compulsory military service is the most onerous form of taxation a government can impose on its citizens. Putin and his team clearly believe the people should live in a state of permanent indebtedness to the state. And the best way for the state to call in this debt is to exploit the time, health and even lives of its citizens in the interest of national security.

Defending the fatherland, however, is not the main goal of our armed forces. The real goal is a kind of negative socialization. The regime regards everything that gives the military such a bad reputation -- hazing and humilitation, the senseless drilling and the climate of falsehood and hypocrisy -- as an ideal way to restore the "discipline" that society has lost over the last few decades. Exposure to these factors in the military is ideal preparation for life in a repressive society.

By curtailing deferments and drafting university graduates, the Kremlin will ensure that the largest possible number of Russian men pass through this human obedience school, which drills into our heads the notion that society should be organized in the same way as the military. The president makes the command decisions with the help of his staff, and average citizens are little more than foot soldiers who are expected to follow orders. The little man has no power. This is the main lesson of the negative socialization that will be drilled into the heads of most Russian men during their hitch in the service.

I don't think the Kremlin's plan will succeed in its entirety. It will probably just result in an exodus of young men from the country and bigger bribes for intake officers. But the Kremlin may well achieve its basic goal: "discipline," which amounts to social and political passivity.

But this could prove a Pyrrhic victory, because imposing a barracks mentality on the population will bring modernization to a screeching halt. Bismarck once said that Prussian schoolteachers were responsible for the victory in the Battle of Königgrätz. With fewer teachers in the classrooms -- since they'll have to spend a year in the barracks, after which few young men will have any desire to give anything back to society -- our country may lose the war of the future.

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