I have stated several times before in this column that Moscow’s secret war in eastern and southern Ukraine is having a devastating impact on Russia’s armed forces. It not only throws into question the results of the successful military reforms that former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov carried out in 2008-2011, but it is doing so much more quickly than I would have imagined possible. The site Gazeta.ru published a sensational investigation reporting that dozens of soldiers from the 33rd Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade stationed in Maikop left their military unit last fall and now stand accused of desertion. The contract soldiers claim they had to leave the Kadamovsky training area due to inhuman living conditions and pressure from superiors to go serve as volunteers in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk people’s republics in Ukraine. As expected, the Russian military command vehemently denied everything. However, even official data indicates that the Maikop Garrison Court convicted 62 soldiers in the first half of 2015 on charges of “leaving their units without permission,” but convicted only about half that number, 35, on the same charges in the four years between 2010 to 2014. What could have caused such a surge in desertions? It is also worth noting that the 33rd Brigade was formed in 2005 by presidential decree and was intended to become an elite mountain unit.
I don’t know the bona fides of the paper or the author, but it is certainly a plausible argument that the low level war with Ukraine is causing great distress in the Russian Army.
From the ashes of the USSR, and after disastrous campaigns in Chechnya, the Russian army strove mightily to transform itself into a professional military, much like ours. While it still relies on conscription, a growing percentage were, in recent years, contracted enlisted soldiers, much like ours. But the strain of combat is apparently not as well endured in the Russian army as the American. Life is tough in Russia under the best of circumstances. Fighting a war with little popular support doesn’t help.