Staunton, September 29 – Shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, that country’s defense ministry began publishing a daily bulletin on the state of infections, hospitalizations and cures both in the uniformed military and the civilian employees of the ministry.
The ministry simultaneously wanted to reassure the parents of draftees that it was taking care of their children and to show the Kremlin that it was doing at least as good a job and preferably a better one than other institutions in Russian society, Pavel Luzin, a Russian political scientist says (ridl.io/ru/rossijskaja-armija-i-covid-19/).
Using the ministry’s coronavirus bulletin – and all issues are available online at function.mil.ru/news_page/country.htm?objInBlock=5&blk=10322350&id=10971@egClassification&ra=egNews – he is able to show both the successes and failures of the ministry’s decision to pursue herd immunity and the failures of the Russian military’s medical system.
Between March 1 and September 15, there were 12,066 confirmed coronavirus cases in the armed forces, and 1509 cases among civilian employees of the ministry. Given official figures on their numbers, the percentage of cases in each category was roughly the same as for the population as a whole.
Not surprisingly, Luzin says, “the military leadership focused on the spread of the disease among uniformed service members. The needs of civilian personnel were put on the back burner.” That reflects initial fears by commanders that the pandemic would sweep through the ranks and a desire to avoid a repetition of the embarrassing pneumonia outbreaks of earlier years.
Civilian employees were treated differently not only because they appear to be deemed less mission critical but also because they do not live in barracks and so are treated only if they seek medical attention while commanders monitor the men under them regularly and insist on early treatment.
Despite this, there are important differences between soldiers in the ranks and those in military training academies. The former are more closely monitored on a constant basis and so infections among them have remained relatively constant; the latter are not and ebb and flow as the military trainees enter and leave educational facilities.
According to Luzin, “the Ministry of Defense initially tried to implement tactics of extended testing” of both groups. But they abandoned this approach by May because of problems with testing and hospitalization and shifted to reliance on the development of herd immunity among both.
The pandemic highlighted serious problems in the military medical services. The command officially provided 6745 hospital beds for treating coronavirus victims and 1600 more at centers around the country. But these did not fill up, even as the more serious cases were transferred to civilian hospitals.
Luzin’s article is especially valuable because he appends to it four charts showing the incidence of the coronavirus in the military, its incidence among cadets at military academies, its incidence among civilians employed by the defense ministry, and coronavirus in-patients in the armed forces.