Leadership: Russia And The Curse Of Tradition


March 12, 2014: Russian Army leaders have most definitely gotten serious about training. Not just for the paratroopers and commandos, who always had, or managed to get, the fuel, ammo and other resources needed to train, but all combat units, especially those containing a lot of conscripts (who these days only serve for a year). Much more money has been allocated for ammunition, fuel and laser-tag systems so that troops can practice shooting at each other.

The army is also installing training centers that use highly realistic computerized training equipment and software. Using software and graphics similar to that found in 3-D video games, the new computerized training systems enable more dangerous types to training to be conducted much more cheaply and without the risk of anyone being hurt or killed.

To back all this up the senior leadership is conducting a much larger number of unannounced inspections and dismissing commanders whose units fail or are not able to fix in a timely manner problems uncovered during the inspections. The problem, as always, is to get the entire military to accept these higher standards. While Russian military and political leaders (be they czarist, communist or democratic) like to speak about everyone in uniform following orders the reality has always been that local commanders, down to the division (a unit with three or four brigades plus support units) level tend to go their own way.

Even the American CIA, as late as the 1980s, was surprised to hear confirmation that there was no national standard in the Soviet military for many things. The confirmation came when some New York City cops, who were in a local reserve unit (an armored reconnaissance battalion) decided to invite recent Russian immigrants (let out as “Jews” as a good will gesture in large numbers in the 1980s) who had recently done their conscript service. The policemen realized that these Russians had up-to-date information on how combat units trained and operated. But when over a dozen of these Russians were brought together at the reserve unit training center the Russians, and the Americans, quickly discovered that every division had a different spin on some essential training methods and combat tactics. Even many of the Russians were unaware of this as the official line was that everyone did things the same way. It wasn’t that way at all. When the CIA was told (by someone from New York who heard the story from some reservists and happened to know the guy in the CIA who was in charge of the analysts who covered the Soviet ground forces) they checked it out and soon had a program where new immigrants were interviewed for useful information like this.

So now, after centuries of Russian generals each doing things their own way, the “center” is trying to impose some uniformity. But that’s secondary to the increased effort see that the troops get more needed combat training and get that training regularly. Given the level of corruption in the Russian military (and Russian government in general) just doing an effective job of monitoring and ensuring compliance with the new rules is considered a major breakthrough. Of course, many Russian soldiers are wondering how long it will take for the new training and inspection efforts to become thoroughly corrupt and useless. In Russia tradition is hard to overcome.



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