Monday, August 23, 2021

Russian Military Denies Muslim Soldiers are Refusing to Obey Army Code of Conduct

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 22 – Last week, Nezavisimaya gazeta featured an article suggesting that Muslim draftees from the North Caucasus were refusing to follow the provisions of the military code and were disobeying commanders who have been insisting that they do. (On this report, see

            The head of the military’s office for relations with religious groups has now sent a letter to the editor of the paper in which he says the earlier report is without foundation and that there are none of the problems the journalist reported. Nezavisimaya gazeta has now published a photostat of the letter without comment (

            That the authorities reacted so quickly and publicly is an indication of just how sensitive the issue of inter-religious and inter-ethnic issues in the Russian armed services and in Russian society more generally, and one segment of the military’s response deserves particular attention because of what it says and doesn’t say.

            After saying the journalist who reported the story didn’t have his facts right or both to check them, O. Veselkov made the following remark: “Present-day traditional Islam doesn’t call on soldiers to disobey orders or insist on ethnic traditions that contradict the military code. On the contrary, it teaches respect for more senior people and tolerating people of other faiths.”

            Further, the military official responsible for handling relations with religions says, “Russia is a model of tolerance by representatives of one religion to representatives of another.” Both these statements require comment.

            By praising “traditional” Islam as tolerant and cooperative, Veselkov is repeating the Russian government’s line that those who don’t behave that way are somehow not part of the “traditional” community. Thus, his statement is a non-denial denial. By definition, traditional Muslims can’t behave that way, but non-traditional ones can.

            Thus, if the Nezavisimaya gazeta journalist heard about problems of the kind he reports, that would mean that non-traditional and in Russian government eyes, radical ones are now an increasingly visible presence among draftees from the North Caucasus. And that in turn means that the problems reported earlier are even more serious than they first appeared.

            And by making the bald claim about Russia being “a model of tolerance” by representatives of various religions, Veselkov invites people to dismiss his entire argument as propaganda given that there are many well-documented cases in which Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and others inside Russia haven’t behaved the way he says they should. 

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