Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

From Decline to Disintegration: The Russian Military Meets the Millennium

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

From Decline to Disintegration: The Russian Military Meets the Millennium

Article excerpt

History shows us that when empires collapse, regimes change, and states form, the armed forces inevitably play a crucial role in determining the outcome. In Russia, this historical lesson seems to have been turned on its head: Observers have been astonished by the passivity of the Russian military. It has not actively resisted the breakup of the Soviet Union, nor has it been at center stage trying to affect the democratization process. Perhaps even more surprising, it has failed to resist its loss in status both domestically and abroad and has allowed its material interests and organizational integrity to be severely compromised through extensive budget cuts. The evidence suggests that soldiers seem resigned to the armed forces' progressive fragmentation and disintegration.

These observations have given rise to a degree of complacency. Many analysts of Russian politics have concluded that a disintegrating Russian army cannot pose an immediate political threat to the current political regime or be an important player in the international arena. As a consequence, most policymakers here and in Russia have felt justified in putting Russian military reform on the back burner while they attend to more pressing issues such as managing the economy.

While it is unlikely that the Russian military will launch a coup in the next decade or purposely attack a NATO member, there are significant changes in the nature and functioning of the Russian armed forces that merit attention. To cope with the deterioration of their organization, the new economic hardships in which they find themselves, and pressures from domestic political actors who have encouraged increased military involvement in politics, Russian soldiers are taking independent actions and forging new political and economic alliances that undermine the ability of federal/state officials to implement both domestic and foreign policy. These changes are significant because not only do they have the potential to affect the future of stability and democracy in Russia, but they can undermine the Russian government's ability to follow through on its commitment to international security agreements.

Some of the new trends in Russian civil-military relations appear in recent interactions in four spheres: electoral politics, center-periphery relations, the official and non-official economy, and foreign policy.

The Russian Military and Elections

There has been increasing involvement of military officers in partisan politics. There is, of course, a Soviet precedent for this behavior. Under communism, soldiers were encouraged to be members of the Communist Party, and they always showed up at political rallies in their uniforms. When the Russian army was being formed, there was discussion about whether restrictions should be placed on military involvement in electoral politics. Some legal measures were taken to limit military involvement, but they were never enforced.

In the 1993 parliamentary elections, the Ministry of Defense did not actively encourage soldiers to run for office. It did, however, invite political parties to publish their positions in the Defense Ministry's official newspaper, Krasnaia Zvezda. Only four of thirty party lists did not have military officers on them. In the end, eleven military officers were elected to the Duma, nine from single-mandate districts and two from party lists. From studies of voting patterns at polling locations on military bases, some analysts concluded that the majority of the military vote had gone to protest movements such as Zhironovsky's Liberal Democratic Party. Some put the estimate as high as 70 percent, others as low as 33 percent. The assessments of the Ministry of Defense were more ambiguous because although some officials denied a high level of support for protest candidates, saying that the data sample represented only 1 percent of the entire military vote, others claimed that the vote was an indication of military support for new politicians who had more "patriotically oriented" policies. …

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