Dedovshchina Turns Deadly in Russian Military


Paul Goble

Staunton, October 26 – An incident yesterday in a Russian military unit in the  Transbaikal during which a Tatar soldier shot and killed two officers, two other professional soldiers, and four draftees has attracted widespread attention and concern because it shows that a problem thought by many to have been overcome hasn’t been and in fact is now turning deadly.

Russian commanders first suggested that the solder involved had suffered a nervous breakdown, but their statements were soon disavowed, with ever more sources focusing on dedovshchina, the mistreatment of more junior soldiers by more senior ones and officers, as the cause.

Many Russians had come to believe that this plague was a thing of the past given that Moscow has shortened the length of time draftees serve thus reducing the differences between more senior and more junior soldiers, increased the number of professional soldiers, and instituted better mechanisms to monitor and prevent “non-standard” behavior.

But yesterday’s events show that the problem has nt been solved, that thmaose who are mistreated are now more ready to use lethal violence against their oppressors, and that at least in this case a soldier is prepared to shoot not just his fellow soldiers but also officers, crossing a line that many had thought impassable.

Investigations are ongoing, but already three things are clear.

·         First, mistreatment of soldiers even in elite units of the kind where this incident occurred is commonplace, especially in the Transbaikal where former officers say the Russian army dumps some of its more problematic officers (ura.news/news/1052404808).

·         Second, because the shooter-victim was a Tatar and most of his victims were ethnic Russians, Kommersant has suggested that “one of the possible motives of the murders was discrimination on an ethnic basis” (kommersant.ru/doc/4140503). That is worrisome because the military for demographic reasons is becoming ever more non-Russian.

·         And third, unlike in the past where dedovshchina cases involved fisticuffs or further abuse, at least one of its victims has shown himself willing to use lethal force, again something that makes it more likely that others will follow, something that will create a new climate of fear in many units.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that a Moscow commentator says that the Russian authorities must focus in on this case lest what he hopes is “atypical” become something else (vz.ru/incidents/2019/10/25/316103.html).