Friday, January 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: ‘No Officer Ever Punished’ for Abuse or Death of Russian Soldiers, Muslim Leader Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – Nail Mustafin, an official of the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR) for dietary standards, says the recent deaths of four soldiers in the Podolsk garrison shows they had been kept “like farm animals,” but the Vologda imam adds no one is likely to be held responsible since in Russia, “officers are not punished” for what they do to subordinates.

            The case of the deaths from pneumonia of four soldiers in the Podolsk garrison in December has attracted a great deal of media attention in the Russian Federation, but Mustafin has spoken out more bluntly about why they died and about how the system is likely to let those responsible avoid punishment (

            And his words reflect the coming together of three trends in the Russian military: First, the share of Muslims in the ranks has been growing, a development that has simultaneously led to more cases of abuse by Russian officers and to greater attention among Russia’s Islamic community to what is going on in the armed forces.

            Second, Moscow’s commitment to forming a chaplaincy corps within the army means that many Muslim imams in the regions regularly visit military units, even if few have yet become full-time chaplains, and consequently know far more about what is going on there than ever before.

            And third, and in marked consequence to the priests and hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Muslim leaders from imams to muftis see as one of their primary tasks speaking out on behalf of their followers and thus are more likely to issue public statements like Mustafin’s this week.

            Indeed, Muslim leaders have cooperated for some time with the Soldiers’ Mothers Committees in predominantly Islamic regions like Daghestan. But Mustafin’s comments suggest that at least some among the officials of the largest Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) like the SMR are prepared to assume a higher profile on this issue.

            That is certain to infuriate many Russian officers and many Russian nationalists, but it may already be having a positive effect in the military itself.  In reporting Mustafin’s comments yesterday, the Rosbalt news agency noted that investigators at the Podolsk garrison had opened a criminal case about the deaths.

            Mustafin and many others will undoubtedly be watching to see whether that effort goes anywhere or whether, as has often been true in the past, the siloviki are able to sweep such things under the rug and seek to place the blame on the messengers who have pointed out the problems in the first place.

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