By Paul Goble
Sixty ethnic Tuvin professional soldiers clashed with about 100 ethnic Russian professional soldiers at a sergeants training academy in Yelan in Sverdlovsk oblast earlier this week. The fighting turned violent and 14 of the soldiers remain hospitalized, according to regional news agencies (ura.news/news/1052299414).
According to anonymous inside sources, “three months ago approximately 60 contract soldiers arrived from Tuva to take courses” so that they could be promoted. On the night before graduation, they purchased alcohol to celebrate but “having gotten drunk, they recalled” the hostility and mistreatment they had encountered from the ethnic Russian soldiers.
Armed with knives and clubs, they threw themselves on the Russians, wounding 13 soldiers and one officer. An investigation has begun, and the defense ministry is supposedly flying in from Moscow. But officials have gone out of their say to say that no guns were used in the clash (nakanune.ru/news/2017/8/3/22478334/).
On the one hand, many may be tempted to dismiss this as the result of alcohol at a time of graduation ceremonies; but on the other, this event may be far more serious than the usual incidents of “dedovshchina” that are routinely reported which involve what the Russians calls “non-standard behavior” by one group of soldiers against others, usually more junior draftees.
There are at least three reasons for the conclusion, one that will be most worrisome to Russian commanders. First, these were all professional soldiers, people who had been screened for longterm service as sergeants in the Russian army. If they are so deeply split ethnically as to come to blow, unit cohesion below them is likely to be even more problematic.
Second, the relative size of the two components – 60 Tuvins to 100 ethnic Russians – reflects the demographic decline of the Russian nation and the fact that Moscow is increasingly forced to draft or recruit as professionals ever more non-Russians who continue to grow at a more rapid rate than do the Russians.
And third, the fact that it was the Tuvans in this case is likely to be worrisome not only because Russian commanders have typically viewed the Tuvans as more loyal and obedient than the North Caucasians whom it still does not draft heavily or promote but have chosen to promote them.
If Moscow can no longer count on non-Russian nations like the Tuvins, it can’t count on almost anyone other than ethnic Russians. There will thus be fallout from this clash, but it remains to be seen how much of it will be reported.