Being a child of the US Army, I find the plight of the Russian Army a very sad condition of life in modern Russia. The Russian government is making some slow attempts at reforming the Russian Army, but I question the effectiveness of their efforts. A smaller all volunteer Army would seem to be one obvious choice, but it seems an unrealistic option for Russia.
I'm posting the entirety of the story below, after weighing several other options. I hope everyone finds it an interesting article, particularly coming only a few days before May 9th.
PS ~ The Atlantic Monthly has written and asked me to crop this reprint of Gregory Katz's article down to a paragraph with a link to the original. I'm doing this as much as I can, while still leaving something of interest to read, and to provide a teaser for the entire text. I encourage everyone to visit The Atlantic Monthly website to read the original and entire text. There is nothing earth-shatteringly new with the story, but it does provide a human face to the problems of dedovshchina in the Russian Army.
Two years in the life of Kiril Bobrov — a parable of the once-proud, now-rotting Russian army
... When Kiril thought of joining the Russian army, he dreamed of excitement, of shooting real guns, of making friends, of being part of something he believed in—even though the army was bogged down in a terrible, endless war in Chechnya. He saw little downside to joining the army. His life was stalled anyway. He wasn’t going anywhere with his education. He had never excelled in school [..] he had tried but failed to learn welding at a trade school. His only marketable skill was preparing food [..] having cooked for his grandmother since he was ten ...
So Kiril stepped forward willingly. In this he was bucking a trend. The draft has become wildly unpopular throughout Russia, in part because of harsh, cruel conditions in the ill-equipped and underfunded army, where conscripts are paid the equivalent of about $3 a month, and in part because of the war in Chechnya, which has sapped the military of the prestige it enjoyed in the Soviet era. [..] Kiril was influenced by a childhood spent near a military base but without a man in his life: his father had left the family when he was seven. For years Kiril had looked out his bedroom window onto the base and watched the soldiers train. He watched them go through their drills, admiring their precision. He watched them play sports and lift weights and joke around in their off-hours.
“From my windows I could see that the atmosphere was really friendly,” Kiril says today in his soft, shy voice. “The soldiers were really friendly. They were not bullying each other, and they were laughing. It was like a family.” He thought they would be his family too.
Kiril’s misery began on the day he arrived, when he made a seemingly minor mistake in military protocol. He addressed an old soldier who had attained the rank of sergeant with the formal term “Comrade Sergeant,” which had been mandated at the Yeysk base. But soldiers at Kamenka had been told to use a more familiar approach—to call their sergeants by name. The sergeant, angry at Kiril’s mistake, pummeled him, hitting him everywhere except on the face (so that no bruises would show). Kiril eventually smoothed things over with the sergeant, but he was beaten for weeks by various old soldiers whose demands he failed to meet. His idea of the military as a family evaporated.
“That first night I realized this was hell,” Kiril says, his eyes going blank as he describes Kamenka.