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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Playing the Army Card

During the demonstration on Feb. 23, some of my colleagues saw the specter of communism in Moscow. But I think that there was another specter loose on this day - it was the ghost of a Communist leader from the past. I am speaking of Mao Zedong who once said: "Power is born from the butt of a rifle".


There is nothing surprising in the fact that, given the rising crisis, all of Russia's political forces are trying to assure themselves of the support of the armed forces. Some, like the Russian president, see the army as a guarantor of stability for a society in turmoil. Others are trying to make the army the main instrument of political struggle in the fight for power.


Today it seems to many that the conservative opposition will be successful, in trying to drag the armed forces into the political fray. After all, the army itself is going through some difficult times. The problem is not just the difficult material situation of the soldiers, or the fact that the hasty withdrawal of Soviet forces has left every seventh officer with no place to live. The problem is that the army is having a much harder time than any other government structure adjusting to the fundamental shift in national values and the change of symbols taking place in the society today. After all, soldiers, in contrast to bureaucrats, sometimes have to take these symbols into battle, and die in the name of these values.


It is no accident that, having changed the name of Soviet Army and Navy Day to Day of the Defenders of the Fatherland, the government kept the same date. It is no accident that, in his interview with Krasnaya Zvezda, President Boris Yeltsin gave so much attention to the traditions on which the new Russian army is to be built. He purposely made no distinction between the battle of Borodino and the battle of Stalingrad. "Self-sacrifice, honor, decency, discipline, faithfulness to one's professional duty, the highest purpose of which is to serve the people - these are the traditions of the Russian army. and many military men remain faithful to them always, no matter what the government, no matter what the system" - this is how the president defines the military code of conduct.


He gave a stern warning to those who "would like to play the army card". Regarding the material supply of the armed forces, Yeltsin linked their future to the success of the reforms, and to the chances for the creation of an effective market economy.


The president and the parliament are demonstrating an uncharacteristic unity in their approach to the army problem. Finally, measures have been taken that are as necessary as air to the armed forces of any civilized country. The parliament has passed, and the president has signed, a package of laws that bring the man in uniform into the new Russian state system. Now the duties of the army to the country and the country's duties to the army are set in law.


What did the opposition say to all of this? It is in no shape to present a constructive program for the renewal of the army. and for this reason they put their emphasis on the vocal chords, evidently in the hope that the "voice of command" will have a stronger effect on the military than the voice of reason.


Shouting set the tone of the so-called all-Russian officer's meeting, which took place on the eve of the holiday. Although its members are, for the most part, reservists and politicians of a conservative bent, they spoke for the army as a whole. The meeting was dominated by demands for change in the military-political leadership, which was accused of treachery and treason. The central theme was the call for "immediate and severe pressure" to be applied by "right-thinking forces in the army and among the working people".


Even these euphemisms were abandoned during the demonstration of Feb. 23, when the same people called almost openly for the army to "bring order to the country". and this made many in Moscow tremble, fearing a military coup. But does the opposition really have the ability to influence the army? Or is it all a bluff?


Of course, some people might be moved by the appeal to symbols of the communist past. But the conservatives have no call to teach anyone morality. While swearing their unswerving love for the army, they are pushing it into the worst kind of disaster. After all, if we seriously assume that there are "right-thinking forces" in the army that will follow the conservatives in an attempt to seize power, then it follows that there are "wrong-thinking forces" that do not support them. That will lead to real collapse of the army. A collapse quickly followed by civil war and chaos. and these people, who affirm their respect for the Russian officer corps, are ready to line the military up on opposite sides of the barricades.


There are other grounds for supposing that the conservatives will not find support in the army. The military, like the majority of residents in the country, are tired of the endless political drama unfolding on the Russian stage. But this does not mean that they are eager to become players in this drama. Let us not forget: The Russian army has lived through the events of Tbilisi, Vilnius, Baku, as well as August, 1991. This was enough to make them understand that there are problems that cannot be solved through force. Moreover, the army has not forgotten how deftly the politicians turned them into scapegoats, how they forced them to bear responsibility for decisions they did not make.


Over the past few years the Russian military has tired of political struggles, as well as attempts to use the army in these struggles. I doubt that power is born from the barrel of a gun in Russia.


Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda.