Staunton, January 14 – The number of cases of Russian soldiers going AWOL or deserting has increased over the last several years even though crime in the military has fallen, a combination that suggests soldiers may now be leaving the service less because of mistreatment as was the case in the past than because of fears they’ll be sent to fight in Ukraine.
In remarks to “Kommersant” today, Ella Polyakova, a member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, says this combination of figures supports only “two possible conclusions.” Either repressive actions by officers aren’t being counted as crimes or those who desert fear being sent to fight in Ukraine (kommersant.ru/doc/2890876).
In either case, these figures that she had requested from Rosstat last fall represent a serious problem for the Kremlin. If the former explanation is correct, then the Russian chain of command is breaking down as senior officers protect junior ones rather than enforce existing Russian laws against them.
And if the latter, it means that more soldiers are inclined to violate their oaths out of fear – not surprisingly, few of them want to put their lives at risk – and out of a sense that the Russian civilian and military elites are dispatching them to conflicts which they do not believe are worth taking such a risk.
Such a possibility would seem to be especially likely at the present time because the state of the Russian economy means that those who desert are not going to find it easy to obtain alternative employment, except perhaps in the shadow economy or in one or another of the country’s black markets.
The numbers involved are relatively small, and the Russian defense ministry insists, “Kommersant” reports, that the Rosstat figures are not comprehensive or accurate. But they do point to a trend. In 2010, there were 698 cases of crimes involving avoiding military service, while in the first half of 2015, there were 508, for an annual rate of just over 1,000.
The number of cases of desertion rose from 29 in 2013 to 50 in 2014, and AWOL cases rose from 96 to 232 over the same period. But as these numbers were going up, figures for crimes in the military declined, with the overall figures falling from 5225 in 2010 to an annual rate of about 2800 last year.