Friday, February 15, 2019

Moscow Desperately Needs a Ministry for Veterans Affairs, Retired GRU Colonel Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Russia’s system of handing veterans is based on the special benefits still given to the ever-declining numbers of veterans of World War II and not on a more comprehensive approach to help those who fought in Afghanistan and all the other conflicts Moscow has been involved in since, retired GRU colonel Shamil Khismatullin says.

            He says that in comparison with the Soviet period, many Russian soldiers go to war for the money; and if they discover that they will not be taken care of after they return, that will make it more difficult or at least more expensive to raise forces to be used in combat (

                Other countries, like the United States and Israel, recognize the importance of taking care of veterans not only because of their service but because of the message that sends to those who will serve in the future.  Russia lags far behind in this regard, Khismatullin says; and it needs to make up for lost ground. 

                Khismatullin’s comments to IdelReal portal’s Regina Gimalova come as many in Russia are marking the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, a conflict through which more than three million Soviet soldiers passed. The retired GRU officer served among them and was involved with the process of their withdrawal.

            The colonel discusses his experiences in Afghanistan and since and makes several interesting observations. According to Khismatullin, Soviet commanders viewed “representatives of the peoples of Central Asia” serving in Afghanistan as “potential translators” because the Tajiks of Afghanistan and the Tajiks of the Tajik SSR spoke the same language.

            He recalls that Moscow set up “a special ‘Muslim battalion” to overthrow Amin in 1979. It was created within the GRU a year before the introduction of Soviet troops. After Amin’s palace was stormed, however, all the soldiers of the battalion were given awards and retired from military service.

            In that unit, Khismatullin says, “from the commander of the battalion to the ranks were representatives of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.”  Today, some who served in that unit continue to live in Tatarstan. 

            The retired officer recounts two other interesting details. On the one hand, he says, Soviet commanders did everything they could to keep losses down, including by providing soldiers with bullet-proof vests. Losses happened, however, because the soldiers often did not want to wear them because they were so heavy, more than kilograms. They paid for their comfort.

            And on the other, since the end of Soviet involvement there, retired GRU officers have gone back to where they served and even put up monuments to their units.  It is clear from Khismatullin’s comments that he is less than thrilled by this form of military “tourism.” Can you imagine doing this? he asks rhetorically. 

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