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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Military Meltdown: The Nightmare Called "Serving Your Country" in Russia

When we examine service in the Neo-Soviet army, it begins to seem that President Kennedy's famous statement "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" was rather childish and even obscene, at least where Russia is concerned.

In the 3.5 years since the March 2003 invasion the United States has sustained 2,604 military casualities as a result of the fighting in Iraq.

By comparison, in just the two years (1994-1996) during which the so-called "First Chechen War" was fought, Russia (which did not have to project its power across an ocean and which was fighting a much smaller adversary) sustained at least 5,835 military casualties, by the government's own admission (their figure is widely viewed as sensationally conservative). Since then, the so-called "Second Chechen War" which is still ongoing and should rightly be called "Putin's War" since it began as Putin assumed the prime ministership, is estimated to have killed at least as many. ITAR-TASS reported in February 2003 that 4,739 Russian soldiers were killed in Chechnya in 2002 alone. At that time, Soldiers' Mothers of Russia estimated the total Russian casualties to be more than 11,000. Russia also butchered a far larger share of the civilian population in Chechnya than America has done in Iraq.

As horrifying as these figures are, other facts are more horrifying.

In the United States, even with far less than one-quarter as many casualties, there is open opposition to the war, serious talk of changing parties in the White House because of it, and a plethora of sources of exact information about casualties. In Russia, there is no way of knowing for sure even the number of soldiers who have been killed during any given time period because the Kremlin refuses to make information available, and lies brazenly when it does speak. The Russian people are neither demanding that the war be halted nor even that accurate information about the catastrophe be provided, much less are they talking about removing the current party of power from the Kremlin. Like the emperor with his new clothes, it seems they prefer not to know, to think.

And unbelievably it gets worse, much worse. As the New York Times reports, it isn't enough for the Russian military to barbarically slaughter thousands of Russian soldiers in a war of conquest, nor is it enough for them to lie brazenly about the results to the families of those soldiers. In addition, the Russian military needs to heap on top the obscenity of the unreformed "dedovshchina" cast system by which new recruits become slaves of more senior ones, often giving up their lives as a result. Last year, the Times reports, at least 292 Russian soldiers were killed by dedovshchina (the Russian military, of course, refuses to report accurate data; it admits that 16 soldiers were directly murdered by acts of dedovshchina and claims that the rest committed suicide). The Times states: "On Aug. 4, [it was] announced [by the chief military prosecutor] that there had been 3,500 reports of abuse already this year, compared with 2,798 in 2005, a figure that could reflect a rise in the reporting of cases. Already this year, dedovshchina has killed 17 soldiers, compared with 36 soldiers who have died in combat in Chechnya this year." Even shocking horror stories, such as a recent sensational case where a victimized soldier lost both legs and his genitals to amputation, seem to have no effect on fundamental reform; the Times states: "despite the outrage over the case, the ministry appears to have shown little interest in rooting out dedovshchina itself, only those abuses that come to light."

When the Times went looking for historical data on the dedovshchina, it apparently couldn't find anything useful from the Russian military or the Russian press. Instead, it relied upon a 2004 study by Human Rights Watch which warned Russia that the dedovshchina system was spiraling out of control. It is, of course, an indescribable outrage that the best information about this Russian nightmare should come from a foreign source even while "President" Putin is obliterating the ability of NGOs like Human Rights Watch to function in Russia. Soon, the country will be absolutely blind, just like the USSR, to the gross malfeasance of its government, and the Russian people will be responsible as they favor Putin with stratospheric approval ratings even while he concludes his crackdown on information.

Let's be clear: Dedovshchina exists because the Russian people have allowed universal conscription of their young men in peacetime, and simultaneously allowed their government to pay soldiers slave wages, if they pay them at all. This creates a vice from which neither the soldiers nor the military itself can escape, and when anyone points this out they are silenced. Poverty has bred contempt for military service, and this has bred violence, which has been magnified many times by the general lack of morality and rule of law in Russian society itself. The Russian people are responsible not merely for destroying their own sons' lives but for destroying their country's military establishment, even as they continue to wallow in a pit of paranoid xenophobia.

So now you must ask yourself, Russia-watcher:

How can this country possibly hold itself out to the world as brave and courageous, given such craven cowardice before its own government, even when the lives of its children are on the line? Would it not be more accurate to describe the Russian reaction to Nazi invasion as an expression of hatred for foreigners rather than an expression of fortitude?

And how can this country, capable of such barbaric obscenity, possibly be viewed as a viable member of a group like the G-8?

The world is waiting for your answer.

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