DOES THE ARMY NEED GUARDHOUSES?

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The Narofominsk Court recently jailed Senior Lieutenant Mikhail Gasilin for two years for assault and battery. Mikhail Gasilin is a company commander from whom 16 soldiers and sergeants escaped on December 3, 2002. Colonel Alexander Prokhorenko, Military Prosecutor of the Alabinsk Garrison, said: “Unfortunately, this is not the only instance in my experience.”

Colonel Sergei Bulakovskii, a representative of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court, drew more concrete conclusions. According to him, the share of servicemen jailed for violence has increased by 200%. As a rule, military prosecutors initiate criminal proceedings against sergeants, warrant officers, and officers. Bulakovskii thinks that this tendency is connected with the fact that commanders cannot exert disciplinary pressure on their subordinates. For instance, they cannot arrest servicemen. As is known, the Russian President signed a decree in summer 2002 to cancel a range of military regulations, according to which commanders had the right to arrest their subordinates.

How should the Army solve this problem? Colonel-General Nikolai Kormiltsev, Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Force and Deputy Defense Minister, thinks that the problem will disappear itself when the leadership implements new military regulations in the Army. In particular, the new edition of the Disciplinary Regulations determines the new system for arresting servicemen. Judging from the draft of this document, decisions to arrest servicemen will be made by special disciplinary courts, not commanders. At the same time, the Russian legislation makes no mention about such provisions. A working group created by the Justice Ministry and the Defense Ministry prepared a bill on the disciplinary arrest of servicemen in 2001. However, this document has not been submitted to the Duma. General Kormiltsev thinks that such uncertainty hinders military reform and does not contribute to the improvement of military discipline in the Army. According to Kormiltsev, the Army will have to double the number of military courts in garrisons if it intends to restore the system of guardhouses. To all appearances, such provisions will first be discussed in the government. After that, it will be submitted to the Duma.

Colonel-General Vladimir Kulakov, former chief of the central Morale Department of the Armed Forces and an incumbent member of the Federation Council, thinks: “There are different points of view on the issue of the necessity of restoring the institution of guardhouses in the Army. On the one hand, this is a very serious tool in commanders’ hands. On the other hand, we are moving toward democratization of society, and commanders need non-radical incentives which would encourage servicemen into doing their duties conscientiously. For instance, money is a very good incentive for contract servicemen. However, I agree that the institution of guardhouses would be a good solution up until the creation of a professional army.”

Valentina Melnikova, Executive Secretary of the Union of Committees of Mothers of Soldiers, stated: “Guardhouses and the compulsory call-up are inappropriate solutions for the Russian Army. We have been trying to make the military abolish guardhouses since the late 1980s. The military currently seek to restore this institution. Public opinion will protest against this decision, and the leadership will have to take this into account.”

In other words, the problem of the institution of guardhouses is turning into a socio-political issue. A bill on the disciplinary arrest of servicemen was submitted to the leadership long ago, but no decision regarding its fate has been made. At the same time, the number of crimes committed by commanders who cannot cope with their subordinates and are forced to use violence is going up.

President Vladimir Putin signed decree No. 671, which made amendments to the Disciplinary Regulations, on June 30, 2002. These amendments were made in accordance to articles No. 22 and No. 125 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms dated November 4, 1950, which the Russian Federation signed in Strasbourg on February 28, 1996, the federal constitutional law on the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, the federal law on ratification of the Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the federal law on the implementation of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

The President’s decree cancelled a range of military regulations, according to which commanders could arrest their subordinates and take them to guardhouses. The number of guardhouses has substantially decreased since that time. At present, only courts can make a decision to take alleged criminals or servicemen suspected of various crimes to guardhouses. The system of keeping servicemen in guardhouses has been democratized.

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