Do Russian military officers have a morale problem? Some say yes.


TIMONOVO, Russia – For Pavel Petrakov, a 23-year-old lieutenant in a military unit that monitors Russian aerospace defenses, the fact that the door to his officer’s dormitory fell off its hinges was bad enough.

There were also the old blood stains and droppings on the parquet. But perhaps the breaking point was the hordes of cockroaches in the communal kitchen.

“When I went to military school I thought the military was cool, the officers were the elite of society,” said Petrakov, who was commissioned after graduating with distinction from a prestigious academy St. Petersburg military.

“I never even imagined that you could drink like that and yell at children. They are pigs at home, and they drink it at work ”, he told the North.Realities Desk of the Russian service of RFE / RL. “The most disgusting thing, because of which many shun the army, is that they treat you like a beast.”

Petrakov is one of an unknown number of military officers resigning from their posts, demoralized or disgusted, or simply tired by the conditions, physical and psychological, in which they are forced to serve.

While the problem of conscript hazing remains a stubborn and well-documented problem in the Russian armed forces, the issue of officers resigning in protest is less well known.

It comes as the Kremlin has invested billions in modernizing and modernizing the country’s arsenals and weapons systems, reorganizing command and control authorities and trying to move away from Soviet training systems, equipment and accommodation for its troops.

RFE / RL has not been able to determine to what extent such resignations, in protest or not, are for the Russian armed forces. The Ministry of Defense did not respond to RFE / RL’s questions.

But, for the record, agents who spoke with RFE / RL say the problem is a growing problem.

“Of course, not all officers are drunkards,” said Petrakov, who was reassigned to a unit closer to Moscow after complaining publicly and writing a letter to military prosecutors. “There are also some upstanding and upstanding people. But it seems only the faithful move up the ladder in their careers, the people who sign any document without really looking at it, thus covering up the bosses.”

Lieutenant Pavel Petrakov in a <a class=hostel for military personnel” data-src=”https://gdb.rferl.org/056e0000-0a00-0242-5e2b-08d9ba103ee4_cx0_cy47_cw100_w250_r1_s.jpg”/>

Lieutenant Pavel Petrakov in a hostel for military personnel

As he awaits formal approval of his release and his papers move from office to office, Petrakov rarely shows up at his duty station – just to avoid criminal prosecution for desertion.

“I don’t really serve. I appeared once a week so as not to have [jail] term, but the state pays my salary anyway, ”he said. “And there are hundreds of people like me all over Russia.”

“Rudeness, humiliation and rudeness”

Roman, 23, who asked to use only his first name for fear of reprisals from the military, attended the same St Petersburg military academy as Petrakov, but dropped out before final exams afterwards, he said. he said, having seriously injured his knee.

The doctors, military and civilian, he saw couldn’t even diagnose him, let alone treat him, he told RFE / RL.

“And whenever I had to ask for time off and listen to various nasty things, that I was a lazy impostor etc.,” he said. “It’s actually horrible when they don’t believe you and think of you as a second class person, but that’s the norm in the military.”

“Of course, it’s a shame that I never graduated, but I don’t regret that it happened: I probably would have left the army anyway, because it is very difficult to put up with rudeness. , humiliation and rudeness, but that would have taken months, ”Roman said.

He said his military academy was now pursuing him, seeking to recoup the 400,000 rubles ($ 5,500) she said she spent on her education.

The kitchen of an officers’ quarters.

After graduating from Rostov State Medical University and completing a specialized training program for military doctors, Lieutenant Pavel Zelenkov was assigned in September 2020 to a motorized rifle regiment in Klintsy, near the border Belarusian, where he was appointed head of the medical unit.

“If we’re talking about medical equipment, then there was virtually nothing. You only provide first aid and send [the patient] further up the chain of command, ”he said.

Pavel Zelenkov

Pavel Zelenkov

“The commanders consider you insignificant at best: ‘Hey, lieutenant’, like I’m not an officer,” he said. “It seems to me that this is due to their desire to assert themselves, as they were probably rotten without mercy in their early years of service.”

Zelenkov resigned after three months of service, but he was not discharged for six months. Now he works as a civilian emergency doctor.

He said he was happy that “this whole madhouse in the army is over.”

As in Soviet times, Russia still requires all males between the ages of 18 and 27 to serve in the military or do similar public service; the government in 2019 sought to move away from conscription, towards a smaller professional force, but this shift has been slow.

Russian law does not allow early resignation from a military contract at the simple request of a soldier. This can only happen “for cause” – a documented violation of the terms of the contract. An officer who prematurely terminates his contract may face criminal charges.

‘Hello! Welcome to the army! ‘

The Department of Defense does not disclose how many officers in their first years of service seek to resign prematurely.

Lieutenant Andrei Ivanov, who commanded a medical unit attached to the 1st Motorized Rifle Battalion stationed in the Russian-occupied Crimea region of Ukraine, was appointed an officer after attending another military academy in St. Petersburg.

He submitted a resignation letter in October 2019, but was not able to officially leave the service until more than a year later.

“After a month of service, I realized that there were no drugs here, and all my activity was reduced to working with weapons and personnel,” Ivanov told RFE / RL. “I submitted a resignation letter, because I want to heal people, not just exercise.”

Andrei Ivanov now works as a doctor after leaving the military.

Andrei Ivanov now works as a doctor after leaving the military.

Since entering civilian life, he has worked, alone and with a non-governmental legal aid organization, to assist other officers seeking early resignation from service. According to him, there are at least 120 people he knows who are trying to do this.

He also recorded a video called “How to resign?” and posted it on YouTube. Since its publication in September 2020, it has received over 85,000 views.

“Everyone who comes to us asking for help is such disillusioned people. Most of them came for a dream: ‘This is this job: defending the motherland,’ ”said Ivanov.

People go to military academies, study for five or six years, he said.

“So ‘Hello! Welcome to the army! And their worldview is changing, colliding with reality: terrible accommodations, endless shifts and unpaid overtime, ”he said.

“If you just let everyone who wants to go and pay more for those who stay, while removing all this idiocy and humiliation from the military, everyone will be happy in the end,” Ivanov added.


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