A brief status analysis and morale assessment of the Russian Armed Forces by InformNapalm.
‘Our steam train is speeding forward to halt in the commune’ – from Soviet revolutionary song ‘Steam Train’ (1922)
Lately Russian media covering military topics have been swamping infosphere with cheery reports and grabby headlines about the results of military exercise Caucasus-2016, soon-to-be-formed new army and divisions aimed to reinforce south-western strategic direction, including territorial defense forces in Crimea, introduction of modified and brand-new models of tanks, and staffing of 125 battalion tactical groups with contract servicemen. At the same time, a number of Russian more or less independent media outlets published a fair amount of information pointing to serious issues in Russian defense and military industrial sectors. Russian Ministry of Finance proposed to cut military budget by 6% for the next 3 years to save 190 billion rubles. In addition to that on Sept. 5 Russia’s Prime Minister Medvedev issued new order aimed to adjust defense order appropriations for the current year. Amid these budgetary cuts government officials and army commanders often postpone deadlines of weapon delivery and deployment. Free Press and Military Review provide more details on the subject.
‘Reality is not like a movie’ – Haruki Murakami
InformNapalm’s OSINT team traced and analysed information that Russian military servicemen and their family members share on different social networks and forums. These posts, messages and comments come together in a rather interesting pattern which will be described further on. It is worth mentioning that during our monitoring we mostly focused on examining information linked to servicemen from the famous Southern Military District. That said, we assume that similar or even worse conditions and issues exist in other less glorified Russian military districts.
With the onset of economic crisis instigated by Russia’s attempts to recreate Soviet empire quality of life of an average Russian consumer took a dramatic downfall in comparison to the plentiful 2000s. Many corporations and small businesses are sliding towards bankruptcy, while unemployment is rapidly growing. Despite this there are sectors that continue to demonstrate some stability, and Russian army is one of them. Military officers and contract servicemen still get salaries that can cover their living expenses. Even though devaluation of Russian ruble makes the salary and military service less attractive, the prospects of a good employment and compensation in the civil sector are utterly bleak.
The ranks of Russian military officers are not losing many people because of the economic crisis. Although dollar equivalent of the average officer’s salary has decreased by half, industrious and corrupt commanders find alternative ways to compensate their losses. For instance, many military units of the Southern Military District, staffed with conscript soldiers, have dramatically increased ‘contributions for housekeeping needs’ of companies and battalions. Another source of extra income for officers is extortion – bribes for awards and other incentives taken by commanders, from platoon leader to battalion commander (and possibly, even brigade commander), for positive character report, commendation certificate or award recommendation. Staff officers also get their share: subsidised accommodation for contract servicemen with families is scarce, but one can get access to housing through a personal contribution of about 50,000 rubles passed to one of the officers working in the Unit Staff.
While officers find ways to maintain their usual lifestyle during crisis, life of contract servicemen is not as bright as it used to be. If previously, the salary of a contract serviceman, depending on his rank, position and time in service, used to fall withing the range of 25,000-35,000 rubles per month, which was equivalent to $ 830-1,160 before ruble devaluation, now this salary makes up only $ 380-530/mo. Of course, Russian army always offers a possibility to earn extra bonuses, but these bonuses are tied to high risks, such as field trips to Ukraine and Syria that over time become less and less attractive among military personnel.
Based on information gathered by InformNapalm some units of the Southern Military District experienced numerous early terminations of standard 3-year contracts initiated on the part of servicemen. For instance, more than 200 servicemen of the 7th Russian Military Base (09332 military unit stationed in Gudauta, occupied Abkhazia, Georgia) resigned upon the return from Rostov-Ukraine ‘field trip’ – in the period between December 2014 and February 2015. Identical situation occurred a year later, when more than 400 servicemen from the same military base decided to terminate their contracts. The same fate has befallen other units of the Southern military district – 17th, 8th and 18th Motor Rifle units stationed in Chechnya and staffed with contract personnel undergo waves of mass voluntary resignations; all of these detachments are often sent to Ukraine.
To compensate for these losses military registration offices together with Russian local authorities have bolstered their recruitment activities which, among others, cover units of the Southern Military District supplying them with new contract personnel non-stop. While in previous years the selection process was rather harsh and involved thorough medical examination, physical fitness test, assessment of prior military service experience, loyalty and reliability appraisal report, etc., now all volunteers, including those who were dismissed due to prior contract violations or persons with criminal record, get enlisted. Main population group that is attracted to contract service in the Russian Army are young men, 21-25 years old, who recently completed their conscript service and could not find a suitable job in the civil sector. Many of them already have their own families, so military contract gives them the only chance to make ends meet at the time of economic crisis and high unemployment.
Upon their arrival at a military base new contract servicemen face many surprises – the reality proves to be much grimmer than it was presented during the recruitment process. Among the issues that contract soldiers have to deal with are low chances to get subsidised housing, poor living conditions, and, of course, ‘voluntary’ obligation to participate in illegal field trips abroad. As a result, after just two or three months of service many contract servicemen choose to terminate the contract due to violation of its conditions. Those who stay afterwards often regret they did not join their colleagues.
The fate of conscript soldiers is miserable. For many of them one year of service turns into a real nightmare. Conscripts are harassed by old-timers – contract soldiers, and get robbed by officers. Penalty fees are applied to misbehavior – any act going beyond army regulations, from consuming alcohol to unauthorised use of mobile phone. In addition this, as it was already noted above, soldiers have to make housekeeping contributions ‘to support their units’.
More complex shady scams exist at the level of brigade, army and district staff commanders. For instance, at the 4th Russian military base (66431 military unit stationed in Tskhinvali, occupied Samachablo region, Georgia) on the pretext that newly arriving soldiers are not on the payroll list yet, their compensation for the period of first 1-3 months disappears into thin air. The average salary of soldiers serving at military bases is about 11,000 rubles (approx. $ 170). If you multiply this amount by the number of conscripts arriving to replace the previous group during the rotation period, e.g. by 1,000 new conscripts, the pocketed amount will be equal to 11 million rubles ($ 170,000), and this is only the sum that disappears in one month in one military unit tied to just one salary scam.
Traditional Soviet-style hazing is also not uncommon in the units of the Southern Military District, its typical attributes are: violent fights, domineering of a certain group of soldiers coming from the same region, bullying, extortion, etc. Mortality rate among conscripts is high, too. For instance, the 4th military base registered 6 cases of death over the period of several years (officially, the causes of death were 5 accidents and one suicide).
Ethnic conflicts form another issue that contaminates Russian army. Over the past several years this problem has become more pronounced again. An ugly incident to illustrate this occurred in February 2016 at one of the motor rifle brigades in Chechnya, when a fierce fight broke out between servicemen from the Northern Caucasus (Chechens, Dagestanis and Kabardins) on one side and ethnic Russians (or those who associate themselves with ethnic Russians) on the other side. Russian propagandistic media passed this incident for an ordinary domestic conflict. However, according to our sources, command of the Southern Military District got the order from the General Staff to get rid of unruly contract soldiers from the Northern Caucasus through early termination of their contracts, replacing them with loyal and no less fit for combat ethnic groups – Tuvinians (living in southern Siberia), Buryats (south-central Siberia, eastern shore of Lake Baikal) and Kalmyks (south-western part of Russia).
Some issues of inter-ethnic relations in military units of the Southern Military District were discussed in earlier publications – Ethnic diversity of Russian occupation forces in Crimea dated March 30, 2014 and Introduction to the National Battalions of Russian Southern Military District Currently Engaged in Ukraine dated August 29, 2014.
‘The Emperor Has No Clothes’
All details described above lead us to the conclusion that, regardless Kremlin’s bombastic rhetoric and bloated delusion of grandeur, the real situation in the Russian Armed Forces, as well as in the country in general, is not as bright and prosperous as it is portrayed by Russian propaganda. Russia’s latest actions remind the behaviour of a trapped animal. In the pursuit of former Soviet military power restoration the country is gradually moving towards demise.
Forming of new military divisions is unlikely to strengthen combat power of Russian army, on the contrary, it may weaken it. According to our sources, the 58th Army of the Southern Military District will undergo a new reform in December 2016. This reform will involve reorganization of several motor rifle brigades stationed in Chechnya into regiments. This plan means headcount reductions, downgrading of units and combining them into a new division. A quick reference to history will remind us how Soviet military divisions used to operate. To a great extent they were understaffed, lacked junior enlisted personnel, and instead of focusing on combat training practiced the art to show-off during various military parades. During day-to-day operations all available resources were committed to maintain vast infrastructure and inventory stocks of these giant detachments, including the infamous warrant officers with pilfering habits, tasked to ensure cushy life for commanders of all levels, from regiment and division to army, military district and above.
On closer examination Moscow’s recent maneuvers look like a grand bluff, when the Kremlin proclaims the revival of former military power and, on one hand, is trying to threaten international community, while, on the other hand, is desperately looking for the way out of the deadlock. That said, the Kremlin likes to give unparalleled perks of a lavish lifestyle to a limited number of government officials and military commanders, yet labels mere mortal Russians as expendables who can potentially satisfy Moscow’s ambitions to build ’Great Russian World’ (whatever it takes!). This does not mean that we should choose to underestimate the enemy, but sometimes it is worth to remember that the devil is not so black as he is painted.
This material was prepared based on OSINT investigation by Irakli Komaxidze
Translated by SpringSpirit
Edited by Christina Dobrovolska
Information was specially prepared for InformNapalm volunteer intelligence community website. An active link to the source for any reprint of other use of the material is required.
(Creative Commons – Attribution 4.0 International – CC BY 4.0)
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