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Soviet Conscription

Kirill Podrabinek, who served in the Soviet army, confirmed the stories of maltreatment of young soldiers, especially the beatings and verbal abuse. "A weakling (first-year conscript) is not beaten every day, of course," writes Podrabinek, "but kicks are a daily occurrence. They don't take someone to the hospital with broken ribs every day, but bruises are commonplace, It's not every day they ship a soldier's corpse home to his parents in a zinc coffin, but the weakling is humiliated constantly."

Richard Anderson observed: "Podrabinek's testimony puts the lie to the fearsome image of the Soviet Army. Western scholars had established that the effectiveness of soldiers depends on the cohesion of small units. Men fight on the battlefield primarily because they want to maintain the respect of their fellow soldiers. When this motive is absent . . . , soldiers will at best fight indifferently and at worst tefuse to fight at all. No army so constituted that half the enlisted men maltreat the other half with the knowing complicity of their officers will fight hard, as the performance of the Soviet army in Afghanistan attests."

The discipline problems described by Myagkov and Podrabinek were not confined to ground combat units but appeared to be common throughout the Soviet armed forces.

Lieutenant Viktor Belenko, the Soviet MIG-25 pilot who defected to Japan in September 1976, described the same problems of drunkenness, brawls among soldiers, suicides, desertions, mutinies, and murders. In his supposedly elite air defense unit, men lived in filth, with no place to wash themselves and with 180-200 men jammed into barracks marginally adequate for 40.

When Belenko pleaded with a visiting political officer to help solve these problems, he was told: "You ask the Party to give, give, give, give me utopia, now. You show that you lack the imagination to grasp, the magnitude of the problem, much less the difficulty of solving it. You do not Understanld that our country cannot build complex aircraft, modern airfields and barracks all at the same time."

This practice was not uniquely Soviet or Russian. In 1945, a Western description of conditions in the Imperial Japanse Army noted that "The training they undergo for the Army is probably the most brutal in any army. This is to toughen them, or so they claim.... Corporal punishment is practiced to the fullest extent. The soldier must stand at attention while he is being slapped or kicked by his superior. If he falls as a result of a blow, he must get up and resume the position of attention, and receive more punishment.... Any man who outranks another has the right to administer punishment at any time, even if the only provocation has been an imagined slight. The lowest ranking Japanese is a one-star private, which means second-class soldier. His life is the worst. He must wash the other soldier's clothes, cook their food, and make their beds and their packs, plus doing any other dirty job that comes along. He is the constant butt of all jokes and the fall guy when anything goes wrong. After 6 months of service in the field, he is automatically promoted to the rank of a two-star private, or first-class solider. His life is made a little more pleasant by the fact that he now has the right to beat up one-star privates, which he proceeds to do with gusto. But if there are no one-star privates around, he is still the sucker..... The Japanese G.I. is brutal because it has been beaten into him to be that way."

Young Soviet officers were warned not to be too hasty in marriage, since it was difficult to find quarters and divorce rates were high. Training failures were attributed to poor leadership, poor organization of training, lack of strict daily routine, unwise use of time, disunity of officers, and a lack of competitive spirit. Dishonesty and cheating are criticized, and officers are cited for resorting to unscrupulous tactics for the sake of winning. Published letters to the editors reflect widespread abuses, such as thefts of aircraft de-icing fluids for drinking. Who but a man at the end of his rope would drink de-icing fluid from an airplane or antifreeze from a truck?

Conscription appeared in Russia many centuries ago. A well-organized army existed in the Moscow state. Permanent Service carried the nobles, and the rest of the population appeal called only in cases of special need. The main military force at the turn of XV-XVI centuries. was the cavalry, and the reign of Ivan the Terrible important role in ensuring the security of the country began to play infantry. The first permanent foot soldiers were archers. However, the full regular army appeared in the Russian state under Peter I on the basis of conscription conscription, which fell under the peasants, commoners and other taxable estate.

Further major transformations associated with the reign of Alexander II. In 1862, he freed from the duties of nobles, and later members of some other class, the merchants and the clergy. Thus, the basis of the army consisted of peasants and townspeople. However, some time later, in 1874, the Emperor of Russia introduced universal service obligations, which was subject to all of the male population over 21 years of age. In addition, from this point on appeal extended to all nationalities living in Russia.

At the beginning of the XXth century, the term of active service in the infantry and foot artillery was 3 years old, in other combat ground forces - 4 years in the Navy - 5 years. Certain categories of citizens have been granted. For example, the service life for the young people who have completed a course school 1st grade (and 6th grade school) was 2 years. Thoe totally incapable of bearing arms for health were exempt from the service. Some ministers of the church were also relieved from military service.

The organized involvement of citizens for military service in the Soviet era began in 1918. Terms of conscription were tightened after the Bolsheviks came to power. Resolution of 1918 "On compulsory recruitment into the Workers 'and Peasants' Red Army" had a clearly defined class character and provide for compulsory military service for workers under 18 years of age. SNK decree on the establishment of the Workers 'and Peasants' Red Army on January 15, 1918 included: voluntary recruitment; Volunteers record at least 18 years; Only the most trusted and persistent militasnts and dedicated workers, peasants and soldiers were accepted for an enrollment of not less than 6 months.

However, the first few months after the publication of this document showed that the task of manning the Red Army on a voluntary basis could not be resolved. In this regard, May 29, 1918 the Central Executive Committee issued a decree "On compulsory recruitment into the Workers 'and Peasants' Red Army." The initial term of service has been established for at least 6 months. In October 1918, the service term was increased up to 1 year.

The next step for the legislative regulation of the manning of the army was the decree of the Central Executive Committee and SNK of compulsory military service for the citizens of the RSFSR of 28 September 1922. This installed: compulsory military service; call for all men 20 years of age (later decree the Central Executive Committee and SNK of 21 March 1924 the draft age was set to 21). The term of service was defined as follows: in the infantry and artillery - 1.5 years (from 1924 to 1939 - 2 years); in Air Fleet - 3.5 years (3 years); in the Navy - 4.5 years (4 years).

September 18, 1925 adopted a law "On compulsory military service" - the first law of the Soviet state which regulated the working performance of military duties. It kept the old terms of conscription and conscription age; granted concessions on an appeal to citizens based on their marital status. Students received deferments to complete their education.

Later, in 1930, adopted a new Soviet law - "On compulsory military service" - that the defense of the Soviet Union in arms carried only workers. On the non-working classes responsible for the fulfillment of other duties - the service of the army. Thus, there remained a class approach to the execution of the citizens of military service. The Act of 13 August 1930 gave deferment for religious reasons.

The next Law "On universal military duty", which regulated the formation of the Soviet Army, was adopted 1 September 1939. It determined that the Soviet citizens, without distinction of race, nationality, religion, educational qualifications, social origin and status, were obliged to perform military service. The period of military service were as follows: for the rank and file of the ground forces - 2 years; for privates and junior officers of the Navy ships - 5 years; parts for land border troops - 3 years. The call the service was carried out from 15 September to 15 October. This law was in force almost 28 years.

Some 4 years after the end of World War II there was adopted law on which the call of male citizens was held once each year in November and December. In addition, the Armed Forces of the USSR were established new terms of service: the Army (CB) and Air Force (IAF) - 3 years in the Navy (Navy) - 4.

The last piece of legislation of the USSR on military duty was the law "On universal military duty", adopted October 12, 1967. It determined that: "All men - citizens of the USSR, irrespective of their origin, social and property status, race and ethnicity, education, language, attitude to religion, type and nature of occupation, place of residence, they are required to undergo military service in the Armed Forces THE USSR". The "Appeal" [call up] of citizens for military service was held every year all over the place twice a year (in May - June and November - December) on the orders of Defense Minister.

Later, in 1968, the term of military service was reduced to 2 years in the NE and up to 3 - in the Navy. Graduates of institutions that did not receive military training, served one year. In addition the fall and spring "appeal" was introduced.

During the Soviet era, about 75% of draft age men were actually conscripted, while the rest received deferments. Conscription took place twice yearly, in May and June and in November and December, and the young man becomes liable for call up just before his eighteenth birthday. If his deferments took him past the age of 27 he was no longer liable.

Under the 1967 Law on Universal Military Service, all male citizens must serve in the armed forces beginning at the age of eighteen. The conscription period for servicemen was two years except for sailors, which was three years. The 1967 law reduced the conscription period from three and four years, respectively, to provide more labor for the economy. A nationwide system of over 4,000 military commissariats (voennye komissariaty-- voenkomat) at the republic, oblast, raion, and city levels was responsible for conscription and veterans affairs. A voenkomat was accountable to the commander of the military district in which it was located. All males had to report to a voenkomat when they turned seventeen. The induction commission of the voenkomat gave potential recruits a physical examination and reviewed their school and DOSAAF training records.

By the late 1980s chronic corruption in the military induction process had been exacerbated by the war in Afghanistan and became an important target of the anticorruption campaign. Despite the reduction of draft deferments after 1985, draft evasion remained a serious problem. A senior Estonian official reportedly was arrested in July 1987 for accepting bribes from conscripts seeking to avoid service in Afghanistan. Since mid-i986, Pravda and the Komsomol (Young Communist League) press in several non-Russian republics have reported incidents of bribery by parents to ensure that their sons do not serve in Afghanistan. Draft evasion fed popular resentment of elite groups, who were better able to bribe their children out of military service.

Each year over 2 million eighteen-year-olds reported to voenkomat induction commissions. They have reported in the spring and the fall depending on whether their birthdays were in the first or second half of the year. Based on quotas assigned by the General Staff's Main Organization and Mobilization Directorate, the voenkomat either assigned recruits to one of the armed services or granted deferments.

Assignments were based on the physical attributes, education, skills, and political background of individual conscripts. The services that required technical abilities or high reliability, therefore, received conscripts with the highest qualifications. For example, the Airborne Troops accepted only recruits that had been fully trained in parachute jumping by DOSAAF. By contrast, the Ground Forces and the Rear Services have had to take less qualified inductees. Overall, however, 90 percent of servicemen have had a secondary education.

The voenkomaty granted about one-quarter of eighteen year -old men deferments from service because of ill health or family hardship. Eighteen-year-olds were also exempted from service if they were enrolled in a higher education institution. They were required, however, to participate in the reserve officer training program of that institution. Those who had participated in such training programs could serve as little as a year of active duty after graduation.

In 1982 education exemptions were restricted to those enrolled in a list of universities approved by the Ministry of Defense. Young men not conscripted into the armed forces at eighteen remained liable to induction until age twenty-seven. The number of men deferred and later conscripted was probably small, however. Deferments were reportedly obtained from some induction commissions for a bribe of 1,000 rubles. The practice has been common enough that the Law on Universal Military Service mentions punishment for granting illegal deferments. Soviet law did not provide for a conscientious objector status. In 1987, however, a pacifist group called Trust took advantage of Gorbachev's policy of glasnost' to protest compulsory service in the armed forces.

On the day before beginning to serve in the armed forces, Soviet conscripts traditionally attended an induction ceremony in which local CPSU officials and veterans give patriotic speeches. The next day, they were transported directly to the military unit in which they will serve their two- or three-year tours of duty. Neither the conscripts nor their families know its location beforehand. After one month of basic training that reviews their premilitary training, conscripts took the military oath in their regiments. In the oath, conscripts swore to guard state and military secrets, to master the craft of war, to protect state property, and to defend the homeland and government without sparing life or blood.

Soviet troops lived under harsh conditions and strict discipline. The practice of stationing troops in isolated areas outside their home republics or regions and the system of internal passports kept the desertion rate relatively low; the location of Soviet troops far from their home region also enabled them to be deployed more easily against a rebellious local population. Troops had about an hour per day of "free" time, much of which was used for additional political training and mandatory sports activities. Leave and temporary passes were not issued as a matter of course. New conscripts could also expect to be harassed by soldiers in their second year of service. Such hazing occasionally spilled over into physical abuse and theft by senior soldiers against first-year troops. Conscripts were paid between 3 and 5 rubles per month, the equivalent of about US$10. Low pay for conscripts conserved the Ministry of Defense's resources, but soldiers often became burdens for their families, who sent them money.

The rate of alcoholism among military personnel was reported to be higher than in society as a whole, a fact that could be attributed to the boredom and isolation of life in the barracks. In addition, the expense and difficulty involved in obtaining alcohol often resulted in petty corruption and the sale of military supplies on the black market. Soldiers were confined to the stockade for minor infractions of this type. They were sent to penal battalions for more serious offenses, and time spent there did not count toward their discharge.

Units trained six days every week in winter and summer cycles. The majority of parade drill, tactics, weapons, chemical defense, political, and physical training took place in garrison. The armed forces strictly limited live firings of weapons, field exercises, days at sea, and flight time. The average serviceman might participate in several three-day regimental exercises and possibly one larger exercise in the military district in a two-year tour of duty. In addition to their military training, units were often called on to help with harvesting.

The semiannual turnover of conscripts, one-quarter of total military manpower, meant that new inductees were constantly being assimilated into the armed services. This turnover and the two-year service term made it difficult to train and retain specialists to work on sophisticated weapons systems. Semiannual discharge orders from the minister of defense released troops completing their active duty and automatically enlisted them in the reserves. These troops also had the option of reenlisting as extended service soldiers or applying to become noncommissioned officers. Few did so, however. On returning home, released conscripts had to register as reserves with the voenkomat and report to it changes in their residence, health, education, or family status until their reserve obligation ended at age fifty.

Given the kinds of ethnodemographic changes underway in the USSR, the Soviet armed forces would over time be obliged to draw on progressively larger numbers of non-European conscripts - primarily from Central Asia and the Caucausus - if they were to remain at their present size. The language, technical skills, training, and morale problems associated with what is privately referred to in Soviet military circles as the yellowing (ozhelteniye) of the Soviet armed forces raised the prospect of major organizational adjustments.




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