Demographic decline powering rise of dedovshchina in Russian and Belarusian armies

Dedovshchina in the Soviet military (Image: rfrm.io)

Dedovshchina in the Soviet military (Image: rfrm.io) 

Analysis & Opinion, Belarus, Russia

Dedovshchina, the Russian term for the mistreatment of more recent draftees and recruits by their seniors or of soldiers from one ethnic group by members of another has its roots in the demographic decline of the Slavic nations which has forced the authorities to take in criminal elements that earlier it might have blocked from serving.

That is the conclusion offered by an extensive new survey of this plague in the Belarusian army by the RFRM news portal, which drew parallels with the rise of dedovshchina in Soviet times and also with its continuing existence or even recrudescence in the Russian army of today.

Few want to talk about this criminal activity in Russia or Belarus, although Belarusian defense ministry officials now acknowledge that it is a real problem, albeit one that they suggest is rare rather than common. Reports about cases of dedovshchina in the Belarusian media, however, are so regular that such claims don’t withstand scrutiny.

The Belarusian military inherited this form of activity from the Soviet army where it arose, according to many accounts, from three sources:

  • First, the reduction in the length of service for draftees in 1967 which led to tension between those who were still in uniform but had to serve longer than those just drafted.
  • Second, the demographic decline in the number of the prime draft-age cohort that forced the Soviet leadership to take in those convicted of crimes, something the military had avoided earlier.
  • And third, changes in the rules governing military punishments that made dedovshchina an attractive technique for many commanders.

When officers could punish soldiers in cruel ways, they didn’t need an alliance with the criminals as much; but when the punishments were restricted to imposing guard duty or something similar, officers found dedovshchina a useful means of controlling draftees, especially those they were using for illegal non-military purposes.

The RFRM analysis is important because it suggests although it does not say specifically that the forces that led to the rise of dedovshchina in Soviet times are now at work in the Russian and Belarusian armies and that this problem, which many believed had been overcome, is likely to reemerge or even grow stronger and more dangerous in the future.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Ihor Dawydiak

    Apart from dedovshchina, there are numerous reasons why Russia has never been able to create a disciplined and highly motivated army. Recent examples of Russian soldiers who met their death in Ukrainian Donbas and were subsequently disposed of by being unceremoniously dumped into abandoned mine shafts, crematoriums, rivers or being buried in unmarked secret graves within Russia and then listed as missing in action, has only aggravated the grief among their loved ones and created a sense of despair among many new recruits. However, Russia’s fascist dictator and his rabid fellow mongrels in the Kremlin have carried on as if everything was normal or at least until someone launches a successful coup d’etat. Then it will be too late for Pompous Putin the Pederast and his putrid Putinistas as they are all tossed into the trash bin of history.

    • Scradje

      Excellent comment. Worth 100 upvotes.

      • Quartermaster

        Alas, I can give only one.

    • Oknemfrod

      Since you’ve mentioned combat readiness, I can tell from my own experience that dedovshchina was at least one of the primary reasons (if not the primary one) that the Soviet army was dysfunctional. I knew beyond a reasonable doubt that the infantry regiment where I served would be nothing but cannon fodder for any well trained and equipped military in a real encounter. It was because dedovshchina had practically destroyed the institute of sergeants – the backbone of any army – and here’s why. Selected draftees were trained to become sergeants for six months in sergeant schools (called colloquially uchebka – I went through one myself) and then stationed elsewhere in active regiments as squad commanders. Having theretofore served only six months, such a sergeant was thus considered a salaga, and if his squad soldiers he was supposed to train and command had served longer (which was most of the time), they would not obey and he had absolutely no tools at his disposal to force them – neither via punishment nor by reporting to higher officers. Hence the unit could become somewhat functional only after most of the original crew’s discharge six or twelve months later and replaced by new draftees, which then in turn had to be trained to become soldiers … to a degree. In my entire battalion, i.e. 3 companies 10 infantry squads each, I knew maybe 3-4 units commanded by capable, strong-willed sergeants (also, with strong enough fists and no compunction about using them in case of insubordination on part of some ded) that in principle could be battle ready if the s–t hit the fan.

      A myriad of other factors besides dedovshchina, including the lack of motivation you’ve mentioned, compounded the problem of not being combat ready grossly. All of them surfaced during the Afghan campaign, as well as a decade later in Chechnya. There are claims that the Russian army has been being reformed, but I doubt very much it’s been effective if its “performance” against basically volunteer units in the initial phase of the war in Donbas is any indication. And, by the way, dedovshchina has not gone anywhere. If anything, it’s become only worse, from what I’ve heard.

      • Quartermaster

        It’s hard to end something that’s been an institution for years. I lived in Germany during Prague Spring and wondered many times why the Soviets didn’t come to visit. After reading about the condition of the Soviet Army after WW 2, it came as no surprise. We thought the US military was in bad shape. Turned out the Soviet Army was far worse off.

  • zorbatheturk

    As always the RuSSia destroys its human potential.