Attrition: There Is Tough and Then There Is Too Tough

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October 22, 2013: While conscription is generally unpopular in Russia, there are some areas where mandatory military service is seen as an opportunity, not something to be avoided. Yet young men in Chechnya have not been subject to conscription since 1992, even though the Chechens generally did quite well in the military. But the Russian Army no longer wants Chechen recruits because they have always been a lot of trouble for their commanders and in the early 1990s, that got worse, as many began to claim they were devout Moslems and demanded that the army provide them with special (halal) food, prayer rooms in the barracks, and extra time off for prayer. The usual punishments (beatings or even imprisonment) did not faze the Chechens. If beaten by NCOs or other soldiers they would get organized to eventually inflict retribution. If sent to prison, the misbehaving recruits would join groups of Chechen prisoners who tended to rule the prisons they were in and were often feared by the guards. So after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the Russian military simply stopped trying to draft Chechens or accepting them as volunteers. Those who wanted to serve had to take up legal residency in some other part of Russia and be able to get a good conduct reference from local police before the recruiters would accept them. Recently the provincial government in Chechnya instituted their own conscription (which is technically illegal) where those young Chechens who wanted to serve could do so in two special military units that only operate in Chechnya. Less than two-hundred men were involved and local army commanders were willing to cooperate (or too scared to refuse). The national government tried to reinstate conscription for Chechnya in 2001, but that effort ended after the few recruits taken proved to be as troublesome as ever and were released from the military.

There are similar, but less severe, problems with two neighbors of Chechnya (Dagestan and Ingushetia) but no one is drafted there either. Most of the people in these two areas are not ethnic Chechens but they have some of the same bad attitude and behavior problems. Most other ethnic groups in the Caucasus (Ossetians, Adygeans, Kabardians, Cherkess, Balkars, and Karachays) continue to be conscripted or allowed to volunteer for military service. 

While the army has been complaining of rampant draft dodging ever since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, they also have reasons for not wanting recruits from some parts of the Caucasus. Even before 1991, the Russian dominated army warned company (units of about a hundred troops) commanders to not allow more than ten Chechens in their unit. Experience had shown that ten or more Chechens (or other men from the Caucasus) would form a very tight, tough, and disciplined clique that would prey on the other troops in the company and cause all manner of discipline and crime problems. If you found yourself with more than ten Chechens it was best to try and transfer some of them out. That is no longer a major problem, but company commanders are still warned to be wary of troops from the Caucasus.

While the Chechens were the worst in this respect, the other Caucasus nationalities came close. But these days, the young men want to join the army and get a few years military experience, so they can qualify to become a "contract" soldier. These troops are paid a lot more and are considered "professional troops." Commanders actually prefer contract soldiers from the Caucasus, although many will admit that it's still not wise to have more than ten of them in an infantry company.

 


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