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Low morale in the Russian military

Pavel Felgenhauer’s always excellent defense column in the Moscow Times notes that the army is dissatisfied with Russia’s government:

Last week, newspapers discussed the results of secret opinion polls made by the Defense Ministry and leaked to the press. The Kremlin is deeply unpopular among military men, and only 20 percent of officers supported government policies as of early January.

And why?  Well, here’s one reason:

Another reason for mass discontent is that the recent pay hikes are special bonuses that do not affect officers’ base pay. These one-time payments do not add anything to pensions and place the well-being of officers’ families at the mercy of their commanders and the finance officers of their military units.

And here’s another:

There are few new arms or equipment, and the number of fatal accidents is growing, while much of the almost $20 billion allocated for procurement since 2000 has apparently been misappropriated. In Chechnya, the military uses old T-62 and T-54/55 tanks in combat — vintage tanks from the 1950s and early 1960s — because there are no spare parts left to keep newer T-72 and T-80 tanks operational.

The standard perception of the Russian military is that, like the Soviet military, it will never interfere in domestic politics – it will simply stand by, and allow events to play out – a theory borne out by events in the early 1990s.

So, it would be pretty fair to say that discontent in the Russian military is not going to prompt a coup against Russia’s government.  Where it is a cause for concern in the Kremlin is that it reduces still further the chance that Putin’s administration could rely on the army for support in the face of any mass protests.

As things stand, should protestors take to the streets of Moscow demanding the government’s resignation, there is no way that the army would be prepared to crack down heavily on the people of Russia.  If – and it’s still a big if – the people of Russia were to take to the streets, the chances of their protests ending in a bloody crackdown are significantly reduced because of discontent in the military.


  • I’m ready to assume the military wouldn’t interfere but you can’t ignore the “vnutrennie voyska,” or “internal troops” — a huge army under the command of the MVD, the Police Ministry. Plus, FSB’s anti-riot units.

  • I think most Army officers, although professionally inferior on average to their Soviet predecessors, are still instinctively averse to the Army being used a police force. But they would not rebel against their military superiors either, although the generals should be responsible for the fact that the fast-growing fedral defense expenditures literally disappear into thin air.

    The cadre of the internal troups may have a different mentality, and it does not take a large force to dispel even hundreds of thousands demonstrators. A handful of well-paid professionals would be enough. Or of poorly-paid amateurs who would enjoy beating up the officially designated bad guys and rob the detainees of their pocket money.

    Then again, why would people take to the streets? Most feel there’s nothing to protest against: everybody complains how bad things are but few believe that government policies, no matter how good, can change that, just like they can’t make the summer last longer. The problems the country faces are so fundamental that no government and no political or economic reforms will help. A lot of people feel the country is doomed. Hence the pessimistic sentiment despite strong GDP growth.

  • True, but I’d imagine that they are afflicted by the same low morale as the regular military. Their pay is also low, their children have to survive on low student grants, their grandparents have to live on a pitifully low pension.

    And, although I don’t know for sure, I’d be surprised if their equipment and general conditions are much better than that of ther regular army.

    How committed do you think the grunts of any particular branch of service are to their masters?

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