Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#11 - JRL 7019
Moscow Times
January 15, 2003
Revolution Brewing in the Ranks
By Yulia Latynina

Russian generals have been coming up against a new problem: Their soldiers are deserting en masse.

Until recently, soldiers deserted in ones and twos, shooting a few people and running off. In each instance, there was a very thorough investigation: The soldier had yet to be found, but nonetheless the military authorities confidently announced that the soldier in question was a drug addict, hooligan and mentally unbalanced; and that the conditions enjoyed by the soldier in his unit were exemplary -- he had everything short of senior officers serving him oysters in bed. But despite this, the bastard shot a few people and did a runner.

Now individual soldiers no longer shoot their torturers. Instead they are abandoning their units, without shooting anyone, in organized groups. Most recently on New Year's Eve, 24 conscripts deserted unit 01375 in the village of Kamenka near St. Petersburg.

True to form, on the day of the desertion military prosecutors managed to establish that it was not the officers who had been mistreating the soldiers, but quite the opposite. A gross violation of military discipline had been committed by the soldiers, and an officer had been attacked. In short, the same old story: Soldiers raising their hands against their kind benefactors.

Military prosecutors now face a genuine dilemma. The only time that our rotten state properly investigates a murder and catches the murderer is precisely when murders are perpetrated by soldiers. No hitmen or maniacs have been rooted out with such dogged persistence. And they go after them with one thought in mind: If even one soldier gets away with it today, then tomorrow garrisons across the country will be strewn with corpses.

And now that a new form of protest is spreading like the flu through military barracks, the prosecutors have to choose either to pin some completely ridiculous charges on the soldiers, or to watch the entire army disintegrate.

And what if following the unorganized shootings and the organized desertions we start to see soldiers revolting?

This form of protest was extremely common in ancient societies. But what would happen if this ancient form of social protest were to take place at a missile base, whose warheads could take out the Kremlin or, say, Washington? Who would take such a country seriously?

And what if the revolt were to occur at an ordinary military base, but was then supported by the local population?

It is strange that in our poverty-stricken country, separated into two very unequal halves by the shiny doors of armor-plated Mercedes 600s, we have completely forgotten about the phenomenon of social uprising and revolution. There was no revolution at the start of the 1990s, when the money ran out and the shop shelves were empty, nor after the default in 1998.

However, it is worth recalling that at the beginning of the 1990s, the young and penniless did not become revolutionaries but bandits. We will probably never fully appreciate the extent to which a very serious social uprising was averted, absorbed by organized crime groups; nor do we realize the number of potential Stepan Razins and Pugachyovs who instead ended up collecting tribute from kiosk-owners. Now those days are over, but the social discontent remains.

Rich people don't go into the army -- nor do the smart or the healthy. The system of bribe-taking in conscription offices is such that those who end up in the army are from the most oppressed and alienated sections of society -- but at the same time, these people are rather well-organized.

And if nothing is done, then sooner or later the most oppressed class in this country is going to take up arms -- the same ones that are handed out to them on a daily basis by their oppressors.

Yulia Latynina is author and host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.

Back to the Top    Next Article