Saturday, May 11, 2024

Soviet Experience Shows Forming Military Units on an Ethnic Basis Both Ineffective and Dangerous, Krutikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Just as Vladimir Putin uses historical references to make his case, other Russians turn to history to discuss issues that at least to begin with may be too sensitive to be addressed directly.  One such issue involves the formation of units in the Russian military on the basis of regions and republics.

            After Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Moscow charged the regions and republics with providing more soldiers and even allowed some of them to form military units on the basis of such personnel ( and

            Some of those units, most prominently those from Chechnya, continue to exist; and as Moscow struggles to find more men for its war effort, a new article about the history of the national units in the Soviet Union’s Red Army suggests that a debate is going on behind the scenes as to whether the Russian government should build on that effort.

            The answer of its author, Yevgeny Krutikov, is a resounding no. After surveying the rise and fall of national units in the Red Army before, during and after World War II, the military analyst says that Soviet leaders concluded that “on the whole,” the use of national military units were an unfortunate mistake (

            While many soldiers and officers in these units fought well, the overall quality of military preparation and readiness to obey orders from above was far lower than in ordinary military units. Consequently, any advantages as far as reducing ethnic clashes within the military were mitigated by these failings.

            According to Krutikov – and his words on this point are especially important in the current context – the real problems these units presented came not from the soldiers or officers in them but from “the leaderships of the national republics” who viewed these units as their own rather than part of a single united army, something unforgiveable in time of war. 

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