March 22, 2013: One bit of clothing at a time the Russian Army is getting away from its Soviet (communist) past. The latest item to go is the leather belt. This rather hefty item, made (usually) of fake leather and possessing a large brass hook buckle with a star embossed on it, has been an iconic part of Russian military clothing for a long time. This sort of belt had been worn by Russian soldiers for over a century and has continued to evolve. What also developed were a multitude of uses. In addition to being worn outside the blouse (shirt) or jacket and used to hold grenades, ammo, and other gear, troops were also taught how to use it as a tourniquet, handcuffs, and for hand-to-hand combat.
In the 1980s, when protective vests were first issued on a large scale (especially for troops in Afghanistan) it was found that the belt was uncomfortable when worn around the protective vest. As the vests have become bulkier and the need for a harness system (as used in the West) became very obvious, it was decided to retire the belt. As of 2014, they will no longer be worn. The latest Russian combat uniform looks very similar to what American troops wear.
Another traditional item of the Russian uniform was discarded recently. On its way out are the traditional Russian slip-on boots and the foot wrappings (in lieu of socks). Replacing the traditional boots and wrappings received a lot of opposition from traditionalists. Troops will now wear Western style combat boots that use laces, come in many different sizes, and are meant to be used with socks. The problem with the foot wrappings (“portyanki”) was that if you did not wrap your feet just so, slipping the foot into the “tarpaulin” boots would leave your flesh exposed to the rough inside surface of these boots. This could lead to debilitating blisters. The old-fashioned boots were widely disliked by most of the troops forced to use them. However, the number of older officers who still favored this 19th century footwear is rapidly declining. By 2014, the portyanki and the old boots that only come in two sizes will be gone.
Other reforms include creating Western style NCOs, comfortable barracks, and, eventually, the elimination of conscription. But the most noticeable changes will be the disappearance of those slip on boots and that belt.