Against the background of announcements about positive results of development of the army and growth in well-being of officers released lately by President Vladimir Putin and his successor Dmitry Medvedev, chief Russian ombudsman Vladimir Lukin voiced harsh critical statements regarding the social guarantees for servicemen and their material well-being. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that his recent annual report about the problems of human rights observance in Russia dedicated a lot of space to pressing social problems of active servicemen and retired officers. Interestingly, unlike in the past, the report was not published by the governmental mass media but was only placed on the website of the ombudsman.
Lieutenant General Yury Netkachev, Professor of the Academy of Security and advisor to the Association of Social Protection of Veterans of Special Forces, comments on the report, “It is possible that this is connected with the upcoming presidential elections where the party of power pays increased attention to work with the military electorate. The conclusions of Lukin break the established myths about positive results in the life of servicemen lately.”
Really, the conclusions of Lukin are harsh and unpleasant for the incumbent authorities.
Lukin writes about the situation in the army, “The state is still unable to supply servicemen with a decent salary and with housing, to protect them from arbitrary actions of commanders, from beating and hazing on the part of senior soldiers.” The human rights activist points out that these problems are interconnected in many aspects, “People burdened with everyday problems and having no confidence in tomorrow are sometimes inclined to a dramatic perception of any even seeming injustice and to wrecking of the anger on the surrounding people, especially on the subordinates.”
Lukin disproves the positive conclusions about the improvement of social and economic condition of officers and soldiers and says that activity of the state in this field “is nothing more than an adjustment for inflation” that has little influence on the economic condition of the servicemen.
The report covers the topic of the military pensioners separately.
Lukin points out, “Many military pensioners are on the brink of despair now because their frequent appeals to various state bodies with regard to increase of pensions and non-application of the law on the so-called moneticization of social benefits to them failed to find understanding or support.” Lukin mentions the following statistical data: an average size of pensions of servicemen for long service amounts to 6,162 rubles, pension for disabled condition if it has happened during the period of service is slightly more than 3,600 rubles and pension for loss of the bread-winner if it happens during the period of service is slightly more than 3,600 rubles and pension for loss of the bread-winner if he dies during the military service is less than 3,000 rubles. The ombudsman says that as a result the aggregate revenues of pensioners are in some cases “even below the regional subsistence minimum.”
Along with this, Lukin points out that low social condition of the veterans may provoke “their mass protest actions, both organized and spontaneous, in the future.”
Going back to the conscript service problems, the ombudsman presumes that one of the reasons for weak efficiency of the state in the protection of servicemen from encroaching on their personal security, honor and dignity is “by and large, simply the absence of civilian control over the Armed Forces.”
The document says, “It is impossible to call the work of the parents’ committees decision, the organization of which was made in 2006, efficient.” The report also emphasizes that new problems were added lately to the traditional problems of the draftees and these new problems were connected with facts of forcing of them to sign contracts. The document points at the need for the maximum serious attitude of the Defense Ministry to such cases.
The ombudsman stresses, “Simultaneously, it is necessary to admit that contract service is gradually ceasing being minimally attractive: neither the salary, nor the social status seem to be a real incentive for signing of a contract.”
The document also touches on the problem of expedience of retention of the disciplinary military units. The ombudsman presumes that preserving the disciplinary military units within the Defense Ministry is justified because such form of punishment gives a possibility of correction of a wrongdoer without his isolation from the society in conditions of a military collective.” According to the ombudsman, disbanding the disciplinary battalions may lead to “growth of the quantity of hazing cases objectively.”
Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, leader of the Military Power Union, and Oleg Shvedkov, Chair of the All-Russian Professional Union of Servicemen (OPSV), say that they fully agree with the statements of Vladimir Lukin. Along with this, they do not rule out that on the eve and on the Day of the Fatherland Defender ,members of their organizations may perform a number of protest actions. According to the leaders of the officers’ movements, these actions will be massive but not as massive as the actions of 2005 after deprivation of servicemen and military pensioners of many social benefits by the state.
According to General Ivashov, retired servicemen will mostly manifest their protest attitude to the incumbent authorities at the presidential elections and “they will simply not attend them.” Leader of OPSV Shvedkov voiced another attention about the protest actions of the OPSV members. According to him, officers and military pensioners will attend the elections but will vote mostly not for the party of power. For example, at a meeting with activists of OPSV in Kaliningrad (324 people were present), Shvedkov learned that the military electorate there would vote for CPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov. Shvedkov also says that leaders of OPSV do not plan to impose protest actions from above explaining that people in localities know what to do themselves. According to Shvedkov, judging by reports from the regions mass protest rallies of members of the military labor union of servicemen are expected on February 23 in the Kaliningrad, Pskov and Ryazan regions. The biggest and the best prepared protest rally will take place in the Primorsky Territory. Not only representatives of the Armed Forces but also representatives of other security agencies of the country including the Interior Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry etc participate in the OPSV organization there. Shvedkov does not rule out participation of active officers in the meetings and other protest actions, although such officers are recommended to arrive there in civil clothes.
Thus, protest attitudes in the army and among the military pensioners are growing. This is confirmed by various social and public institutions of the country but incumbent authorities somehow do not wish to notice this.