Russian History


Crime in the Military

By the mid-1990s, both organized and random crime had penetrated Russia's military, as they had penetrated many other parts of society. As the military reorganizes, personnel are faced with strong temptations to engage in criminal activity, particularly when valuable state property is available for sale and when the professional prospects and social prestige of military service are sinking. Military and security personnel also offer criminal organizations a useful set of skills.

Petty criminal activity and systematic abuses by the officer corps have long been acknowledged aspects of the Soviet military system. As early as the late 1980s, authorities noticed escalating rates of weapons and munitions theft, narcotics trafficking, and diversion of various types of military resources. But the fragmentation of military authority and organization that began with the dissolution of the Soviet Union multiplied the opportunities for such activities. Drug use afflicted the military on a large scale during the nine-year occupation of Afghanistan, and the general increase in drug use in civilian society brought more users into the armed forces in the 1980s and 1990s. Episodes of random violence also increased. In 1989 fifty-nine officers were killed in attacks unrelated to military action. As morale dropped, cases of severe hazing of new recruits (dedovshchina --a tradition that began under Peter the Great) increased until, in 1994, an estimated 2,500 soldiers died and another 480 committed suicide as a direct result of hazing.

The illegal sale of weapons of all sizes became pervasive in the 1990s. Already in the late 1980s, Soviet troops in Europe were selling large numbers of individual weapons; as withdrawal from Europe progressed in the early 1990s, the sale of heavy equipment, including armored vehicles and jet fighters, also was reported. The largest force group in the region, the Western Group of Forces stationed in Germany, was the most active in this area, according to a series of investigations in the early and mid-1990s. Underground sales were reported inside Russia as well, with large numbers of weapons moving to civilian criminal organizations.

In late 1993, President Yeltsin formed the State Corporation for Export and Import of Armaments (Rosvooruzheniye) to consolidate and control arms sales under a single agency, but after that time the state still realized only a small part of the huge hard-currency profits from arms sales, while a number of top Rosvooruzheniye officials, with ties to a complex web of financial enterprises in Russia and abroad, flourished as sales continued to go undocumented. The agency acquired the nickname "Ros-vor," meaning "Russian thief," as the controversial activities of its officers were publicized and public confidence dropped. Shortly after creating Rosvooruzheniye, the government approved direct arms sales activities by weapons manufacturers, further complicating the effort to monitor sales. Another state agency, the State Armament and Military Equipment Sales Company (Voyentekh), was established in 1992 to sell used equipment and arms overseas, with the proceeds to finance housing for troops. According to frequent allegations, that program also is riddled with corruption, most of its profits have not reached the housing fund, and much equipment has gone to the criminal world. Among the beneficiaries of such uncontrolled movement have been the Chechen guerrillas, who apparently were able to buy Russian arms even after the beginning of hostilities in late 1994.