1:07 pm, April 22, 2022
In 2008, Russia launched a major reform of its armed forces. Besides the modernization of equipment and armament, it was a matter of improving the workforce and professionalizing the units. Fixed effects on 1 Million Men. In fact, military professionals, soldiers and officers, totaling more than 700,000 people, are still supported by about 260,000 conscripts. About 130,000 men between the ages of 18 and 27 are called up for each of the two annual calls, and compulsory military service is currently twelve months in length.
In the context of the war that Vladimir Putin’s regime launched against Ukraine on February 24, it is important to return to the composition of the Russian army, especially from an ethnic and social point of view, because these aspects often escape consideration. observers. However, they reveal the very structure of Russian society today.
A globally respected institution
Along with the presidency and various security services, the military is traditionally one of the most respected social institutions in Russia. Today, the majority of Russians trust their armed forces, believing that they are largely capable of protecting the country in the event of a military conflict. This view was shared by 60% of respondents in January 2014, before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the Russian military involvement in Syria. The percentage would have risen today to 89%.
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In May 2021, 61% of Russians, according to figures from the Levada Center, an independent polling institute, agreed with the statement in which it came “Every man is real” He must perform his military service. 24% (42% between 18-24 years old) considered it so “The duty that must be performed by the state”, Even if it can conflict with individual projects. Only 12% of respondents said that military service was such ‘Unnecessary and dangerous’ And it must be ‘Avoided at all costs’. However, these numbers are only a facade that hides complex social realities.
Historically a multinational army
The official formula, which wants Russia to present itself as a “multiethnic and multi-denominational state”, also applies to military affairs.
There were culturally non-Russian regiments within the imperial armies and throughout the 19th century were part of the Tsar’s personal guard. During the First World War, the original cavalry division, known as the “savage division”, consisted almost entirely of volunteers from the Muslim peoples of the Russian Empire.
Like the Soviet Union, the Red Army was also multinational. World War II also affected the entire population of the Soviet Union. Since the armed forces were based on forced conscription, the Soviet authorities took the “ethnic factor” seriously, whether it was the distribution of conscripts according to the region of the camp, restricting the number of soldiers representing “aggressive” nationalities (Caucasians in particular), or even the use of Soldiers as military interpreters (eg Tajiks during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan).
As early as 1979, the Soviet regime even requested the presence of two special forces divisions known as “Islamic Brigades” in Afghanistan. Although these practices are clearly less applied in Russia today, the multi-ethnic component is still a feature of its armed forces.
Overrepresentation of minorities in the Russian army
The current war in Ukraine makes it possible to measure its reach, although complete official data are not available.
A week after the launch of what Moscow calls a “special military operation”For example, journalists from the Russian branch of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty analyzed the content of several Telegram channels that published information about Russian soldiers killed or captured in Ukraine. The results of the analysis revealed that about 30% of the surnames were similar to those worn by people of “non-Russian” minorities, mostly from Islamic culture. So there will be an overrepresentation of minorities among the soldiers, who make up roughly 20% of the general population of Russia.
A similar observation was made by the independent researcher Kamil Galev, who managed to get into the list of wounded soldiers who were sent to a hospital in the Russian Rostov-on-Don region, located on the border with Ukraine (Donetsk and Luhansk regions). However, these data remain incomplete and do not allow us to say with certainty, as Galeev does, that the Russian army has become “Minorities”. Official sources confirmed the casualties of the Russian army on April 5, 2022 (1083 people), that the soldiers and officials killed in Ukraine came from all regions of Russia.
On the other hand, sending soldiers of “non-Slavic” origin to wage war in Ukraine might be a strategic choice by the Russian authorities, given the family ties that exist between many Russians and Ukrainians. We also know that the Russian state sets annual quotas to avoid having too many recruits from the North Caucasus regions, for fear of breeding ethnic unrest within the regiments. Russian term zemliatchestvo It comes to describe these mutual aid societies, which consist of recruits from the same area of origin and form informal hierarchies that coexist with military discipline.
However, one cannot ignore the large presence, or even the overrepresentation, of people of “non-Russian” ethnic or cultural origin in the regular armed forces, not to mention the Chechen battalions deployed in Syria (mainly military police) and then in Ukraine (mainly of the National Guard), who show boundless devotion to their commander Ramzan Kadyrov.
Several factors explain this situation, revealing the current state of the army and Russian society as a whole.
Demography, social mobility and economic stagnation
The first factor is demographics. During the period from 2018 to 2020, a natural increase was observed in only 17 regions of Russia, out of a total of 85 regions (taking into account the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which were illegally annexed in 2014). Of these 17 regions where the birth rate is higher than the death rate, the autonomous regions formed on the basis of “non-Russian” ethnicity are the majority. This trend is long lasting and confirmed over a longer period, especially since the 1990s and 2000s.
In addition to the Muslim republics of the North Caucasus (Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Chechnya), three Siberian republics are part of them: Yakutia (Sakha), Buryatia and Tuva. It is therefore not surprising that these lands provided a large number of recruits, commensurate with their population.
The second factor highlighting the significant presence of ethnic minorities in the Russian army is due to the fact that military service constitutes a characteristic means of social mobility for these “non-Slavic” youth, who may be stigmatized in populated areas. By ethnic Russian. A similar trend can be observed in other countries, for example in the United States where there are a large number of blacks in the armed forces. Moreover, the possibility of obtaining a stable job attracts a certain number of foreign citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 who speak Russian (especially nationals of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia): since 2010 they have had the opportunity to join the forces The Russian armed forces signed a five-year contract, renewable in the event of obtaining Russian citizenship.
An army of the poor?
Added to this is a third factor that is difficult to underestimate: the mentioned Autonomous Communities are marginal and economically disadvantaged regions, like many of the “ethnic Russian” regions. These areas often have high unemployment rates and low income levels, especially when compared to the country’s major cities. These economic and social inequalities translate into divergent attitudes toward compulsory military service.
In fact, many young people from relatively wealthy backgrounds have a negative image of military service and the military in general, despite the above statistics. Many young people in big cities are accustomed to the conveniences of urban life and consumer society, and do not feel ready to sacrifice their lives for the homeland. They thus resort to maneuvers to avoid conscription: pursue university studies to obtain a temporary exemption; Paying a doctor for a forged exemption certificate and his discharge; Or, in the worst case, seek an alternative civil service in the form of community service (in a hospital, for example).
The average salary of a professional soldier – 32,000 rubles (about 380 euros) according to the figures of the Russian Ministry of Defense, which is less than the official average salary offered by more than 50,000 rubles (600 euros) – is not likely to attract large numbers of people from the middle classes educated, even if, in practice, income is supplemented by increasingly important social guarantees (housing, military pensions, loans at preferential interest rates, access to cultural and sports facilities).
On the other hand, military service is more attractive to people from less privileged backgrounds. While some simply do not have the financial means to avoid conscription, others see enlistment as a stable, paid career prospect, especially since the military’s social status has improved significantly since the 2000s. This is particularly due to the increase in defense spending (official figures may have been underestimated), to improve discipline leading to a reduction in hostile practices (Didovshchina), as well as reducing the length of military service (which has decreased from 24 to 12 months since 2008).
Notwithstanding the stereotypes of masculinity that portray the military as a “School of Life for Real Men”, These changes led many young men from peripheral Russia, from small towns and the countryside, to join the ranks of the soldiers, of their own free will. Unexpected situations can arise, for example, when the citizens of the North Caucasus are willing to pay (sic) admission among the conscripts in order to think about a future in the professional army.
If today it is difficult to measure the effects of these ethnic and social factors on the behavior and outcome of the war in Ukraine, they must be taken into account to better understand the current state of Russian society. The large presence of minorities is also linked to the growing role of Islam in Russia, and the social composition of the Russian army is in line with the condition of the Russian working classes, which are affected today by feelings of weakness and impotence, and there is no doubt tomorrow with new poverty.
This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.