Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military

Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military

Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military

Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military


Why have Russian generals acquired an important political position since the Soviet Union's collapse while at the same time the effectiveness of their forces has deteriorated? Why have there been no radical defense reforms in Russia since the end of the cold war, even though they were high on the agenda of the country's new president in 2000? Democratic Breakdown and the Decline of the Russian Military explains these puzzles as it paints a comprehensive portrait of Russian military politics.

Zoltan Barany identifies three formative moments that gave rise to the Russian dilemma. The first was Gorbachev's decision to invite military participation in Soviet politics. The second was when Yeltsin acquiesced to a new political system that gave generals a legitimate political presence. The third was when Putin not only failed to press for needed military reforms but elevated numerous high-ranking officers to prominent positions in the federal administration. Included here are Barany's insightful analysis of crisis management following the sinking of the Kursk submarine, a systematic comparison of the Soviet/Russian armed forces in 1985 and the present, and compelling accounts of the army's political role, the elusive defense reform, and the relationship between politicians and generals.

Barany offers a rare look at the world of contemporary military politics in an increasingly authoritarian state. Destined to become a classic in post-Soviet studies, this book reminds us of the importance of the separation of powers as a means to safeguard democracy.


The fifteen years since the founding of the new, post-Communist Russian Army have been marked by the unprecedented deterioration of the once-proud Soviet military. Unprecedented, that is, because there is no similar case in world history of a dominant armed force so rapidly and so thoroughly deteriorating without being defeated in battle. As a perceptive 2001 article noted, “Russia's fall from military superpower Number Two to a country whose army can be neutralized by bands of irregulars fighting with little more than the weapons on their backs” was one of the most spectacular elements of the Soviet Union's collapse. the army's decline had actually begun during the late-Brezhnev era in the early 1980s and then had gathered momentum in the late 1980s under President Mikhail Gorbachev. the rule of Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, however, was synonymous with a virtual free-fall of the military's effectiveness and overall standards.

A plethora of articles and books published in Russia and abroad have depicted the shocking conditions in the armed forces brought about by the years of neglect, financial constraints, and competing priorities for state attention. in the 1990s officers left the service in droves to escape poor pay, lack of adequate housing, insufficient training, and plummeting social prestige. Soldiers were often compelled to feed themselves by foraging in forests and fields, their commanders rented them out as laborers, and the physical abuse they were subjected to by fellow conscripts and commanders alike frequently drove them to desertion or suicide. in the meantime, a seemingly endless string of major accidents and defeat at the hands of a ragtag guerrilla force added to the army's public humiliation.

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