Fault Lines and Factions in the Russian Army

The army is starting to disintegrate a bit. We have to be tough and firm so military people believe that there will be reforms.“’ Thus did President Boris Yeltsin attempt to put the best face on the events of 1994, a year of disarray, decay, and dissension in the Russian military that climaxed in December’s botched intervention in Chechnya.

Nearly every aspect of military activity-from training, supply, coordination among services, strategy, tactics, morale, and fighting spirit-failed the test of battle, feeding a growing resentment among the military leaders toward Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and, more serious still, increasing the potential for a breakup of the Russian armed forces into feuding factions, In addition, with parliamentary and presidential elections on the horizon, ultra-nationalist and extremist candidates and political parties are bound to exploit these rifts to their benefit. That is why the serious trouble in which the Russian armed forces find themselves ought to be a cause for concern, not gloating, in the West. The stakes are enormous.

Even before the introduction of perestroika by former general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet army showed signs of groaning under the weight of its commitment to defend the Soviet state and Warsaw Pact. Gorbachev’s glasnost campaign then exposed the economic damage done by military overspending, the myth of the military’s superiority to other Soviet institutions, and, in some cases, its sheer incompetence. Prestige and morale among officers and enlisted men plummeted.

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