Echoes of Afghanistan

12

August 28, 2014 by AK

Earlier this week, reporters from several Russian media outlets, including Novaya Gazeta, Colta.ru, and Gubernskie Vedomosti, found two fresh graves of Russian servicemen in the Pskov region, where one of Russia’s famous paratrooper divisions is stationed. From interviews with witnesses of the funeral service and burial, it became clear that the two men were laid to rest with military honors but the ceremony was low-profile. In other words, there were good reasons to believe the soldiers were killed in action in Ukraine. Leonid Bershidsky has much more on Bloomberg View.

The influential Soldiers’ Mothers’ movement has spoken out against sending Russian soldiers to Ukraine, estimating that up to 15,000 troops may be involved in the operation. That would be three paratrooper divisions so the number sounds overstated, but could be a sensible estimate of the total number of troops massed by the Ukrainian border. Also this week, Ukraine detained nine Russian soldiers who, according to the Russian defense ministry, simply lost their way and found themselves 20 kilometers from the Ukrainian border, on its wrong side. There’s no way the Kremlin can plausibly deny its involvement any longer. Oh yes, technically the Russians in Ukraine are on vacation or had their service contracts terminated days before crossing the border. But that’s not fooling anyone.

If Russia seeks to establish a land corridor to Crimea (“Danzig Corridor” anyone?), it will probably have to fight its way from Mariupol to Genichesk and the best Ukraine might be able to inflict as much damage as possible, hoping that parents and wives of Russian soldiers demand an end to the slaughter.


12 comments »

  1. Tim Newman says:

    There’s no way the Kremlin can plausibly deny its involvement any longer.

    Sadly they can because Merkel, Obama, and everyone else will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid acknowledging what has been blatantly obvious for months. And Putin knows it.

  2. JCass says:

    Oh yes, technically the Russians in Ukraine are on vacation

    …and apparently allowed to take their tanks and artillery on holiday with them.

    the best Ukraine might be able to inflict as much damage as possible, hoping that parents and wives of Russian soldiers demand an end to the slaughter.

    If sanctions don’t work, bodybags might – although I wouldn’t count on it (see the Chechen Wars).

    Sadly they can because Merkel, Obama, and everyone else will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid acknowledging what has been blatantly obvious for months.

    As someone said, it’s difficult to criticise Obama’s foreign policy because no one has a clue what it is.

    I’m really disappointed in Merkel. I used to think she was much better than Gerhard Schroeder, who spent so much effort trying not to be Bush’s poodle he ended up as Putin’s dachshund. Apparently, Merkel personally dislikes Putin and sees him as the equivalent to the Stasi agents of her youth.
    But clearly the German economy takes precedence over everything else. She also has to appease losers like the foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

    • AK says:

      Here’s why this “vacation” is important: to keep relatives from speaking out. “Your husband died while on leave (or his contract had been terminated) so he’s not entitled to a pension. But if you promise to be quiet, we’ll think of ways around this difficulty.”

      The second Chechen war was widely seen as necessary and just. Chechens in general were feared and hated. Not so with the Afghan war, which was perceived as totally unnecessary, “none of our business.” Millions of Russians have relatives in Ukraine or Ukrainian ancestry. A war with Ukraine would be experienced as fratricide.

  3. JCass says:

    The second Chechen war was widely seen as necessary and just. Chechens in general were feared and hated.

    Yes, you’ve got a point. After all, the Ukrainians aren’t led by jihadis like Basayev and Khattab. So far the only Ukrainian “terrorism” in Russia has been repainting tower blocks. No chance of Beslan.

  4. Tim Newman says:

    Perhaps not quite on topic but anyway…

    After quite a bit of searching I managed to get hold of a (translated) copy of Svetlana Alexievich’s Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War. The thing which shocked me the most was the degree of cruelty and sadism dished out to the Russian conscripts by their own side. Two instances which stand out are one where a new arrival to Afghanistan has his entire uniform and equipment stolen by his squad mates, and he is forced to buy second hand items from a market using what little money he has. And the other is when one soldier finishes his tour, he is dumped at the railway station in Tashkent from whence he is expected to pay his own way home back to the western USSR. He is subjected to some scam by the people in the ticket office who grossly overcharge him for the ticket, taking everything he has.

    I really don’t know why the Russian army needs to go abroad to seek enemies.

    • AK says:

      It’s hard to say how typical and widespread it was when the war started in 1979, but the mistreatment of first-year soldiers by second-year soldiers (“dedy”=”grandfathers” > “dedovschina”) eventually became systemic. Some officers and generals apparently thought it was a good way to manage conscripts, although everyone agreed extreme cases were unacceptable. After the horrible Sychyov case in 2005, the MoD tried to root it out but what really helped was the shortening of the service term from two years to one. Anyway, the Russian soldiers in Ukraine are not conscripts – as long as the number is capped at 10-15k, I guess Russia will avoid sending conscripts there.

  5. JCass says:

    Tim, I’m sure Alex knows a lot more about it than me, but dedovshchina (“hazing” of conscripts) in the Russian army is notoriously brutal.

    • AK says:

      It went deeper that merely hazing. A conscript submitted to abusive slavery during the first year knowing he was going to take his master’s place soon and have a slave of his own. I hear that things have improved in the army, especially as conscripts must only serve one year. Anyway, it’s mostly soldiers on contract who get posted to Ukraine. Conscripts won’t be used unless it’s a large-scale invasion involving, say, 25-30 thousand.

      • JCass says:

        Did you see the article by Pavel Felgengauer in Novaya Gazeta? I’ve started experimenting with Twitter and there’s a link and my attempt at an English summary there:

        https://twitter.com/JCassian1

        Felgengauer says that if the current campaign fails, Putin might go for an all-out invasion (20-30,000 troops plus air war). He might need to do this soon before autumn sets in: cloudy skies create low visibility for aircraft bombing, plus current conscripts are due to be demobilised on 1 October.

        I’ve not come across Felgengauer before so I don’t know how reliable he is.

        • AK says:

          I’ve followed you on Twitter. Felgengauer has been in the business of military punditry since 1991. I remember him writing in the old Nezavisimaya Gazeta in 1992-3. I don’t know how good he is but back in March 2014, he said Russia would go to war with Ukraine by May or not at all. Trouble is, Russia both did and didn’t so it’s hard to assess his call. Also, good analysts make glaring errors sometimes.

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