ISSN 2330-717X

Poor Quality Of Russian Officers And Soldiers Makes More Bucha-Type Crimes ‘Inevitable’ – OpEd


No one should have been surprised by the brutality Russian officers and soldiers displayed in Bucha and other Ukrainian locales, Yuzef Davydovsky says. Both Kremlin fears of having a genuinely professional army and its pattern of recruitment and training of officers makes such war crimes inevitable.


According to the Russian analyst, “one of the most important factors” behind the descent of Russian officers into looters and rapidest is “the quality of the office corps.” The regime doesn’t want the military to become a political force and so it does not promote the values that lie behind a professional army (

“The Kremlin constantly has to deal with a dilemma: how can it make Russian officers capable of fighting effectively and at the same time now allow them to have extraordinary influence or be transformed into political subjects in the framework of an authoritarian administration,” Davydovsky says.

“In general,” he continues, “in a democratic republic, the politicization of the army is restrained by procedures and the political status of citizens,” but “an authoritarian system blocks the politicization of the army by means of the fragmentation of the siloviki apparatus, party and/or political and police control.”

That became a particular challenge after the Russian military did so poorly in Georgia in 2008. Moscow decided reforms were needed but it did not really introduce the fundamental ones that were necessary because those in power recognized that professionalizing the army could make it into a political actor the regime couldn’t control as easily or well.

As a result, despite much talk, Moscow didn’t really reform the military and especially the education of officers. In order to keep the military up to the size the Kremlin likes to claim, it has had to drop standards to levels far beyond civilian higher educational institutions and allow all the problems flowing from that to flourish.


And these problems are concentrated in the land forces because more qualified people go into the air force, the navy or the strategic rocket units. Thus, in the units Moscow must use in a war like the one Putin is conducting in Ukraine, it is deploying the least qualified and least well-trained officers. The decay of discipline and Bucha-like brutality follow.

Such officers, Davydovsky says, are quite willing to delegate responsibility to those above them and behave brutally to those below them, a set of attitudes that almost in every case promotes a sense of irresponsibility and impunity when one is talking about individual units who actually interact with the population.

And the constant delegation of responsibility for decisions to the top and actions under constant control from this very top lead to the fact that in a situation where an officer is without direct control, he has a feeling of irresponsibility and impunity. This is how the brakes are released.

Adding to this problem is the fact that most of the soldiers drafted for service in the land forces are from rural areas or non-Russian republics. They are quite often less well-educated and acculturated to modern standards and behave in the authoritarian ways their own officers do, a background that also explains why so many more casualties from rural areas and the republics.

“The character of the current war and the active even when unarmed resistance of Ukrainian citizens to Russian aggression thus makes military crimes by Russian forces INEVITABLE,” Davydovsky says. The way in which Moscow manages the army thus exacerbates broader problems in Russian society rather than mitigates them.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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