Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

General Insists Morale High

Morale is high, victory is certain and heroism abounds among the Russian troops in Chechnya, according to the man in charge of esprit de corps at the Russian Army.


Major General Sergei Zdorikov, head of the Defense Ministry's main directorate for educational work, has just returned from a lengthy trip to Chechnya. He has been everywhere and seen everyone.


"What struck me most?" he posed rhetorically. "Let me tell you that it is the great Russian spirit, heroism and courage of the common man, who identifies himself most closely with the interests of the state and the cause he is fighting for and carrying out his duties."


Zdorikov, seated before a crowded press conference, singled out several examples of bravery. Among them was the case of a certain Sergeant Averyanov, who found himself near the Presidential Palace in Grozny under heavy attack.


"Give me fire support, they are running at me in white coveralls," Zdorikov said, paraphrasing Averyanov's calls over the radio. In calling for "fire support" Averyanov was essentially asking that the army rain bombs down not only on his attackers, but on him as well.


Aside from the official cheerleaders, though, many believe that troop morale is somewhere lower than abysmal. Georgy Getman, coordinator of a soldiers' benevolent group called Shchit (Shield), said Zdorikov's presentation Thursday was "a total lie."


"They're just following orders," he said. After spending a week near Chechnya talking to soldiers, Getman said many of them are poorly trained, and some of them do not even know why they are fighting.


"These boys are completely unprepared to fight," he said. "What is a few months training going to do for them? Does shooting three bullets from a machine gun mean that you've learned how to shoot?"


Poor morale has infected more than just the ranks of the infantry. Already several generals, some as high as deputy defense ministers, have either refused to serve in Chechnya or have criticized the army's actions there.


President Boris Yeltsin has noticed the discord from within, and Thursday he re-shuffled the ranks of the deputy defense ministers, leaving three generals without offices. Each of those generals -- Boris Gromov, Georgy Kondratyev and Valery Mironov -- has been highly critical of the war in Chechnya.


Zdorikov knew he had a cynical audience and anticipated several of the questions tossed in his direction. He posed the first one himself: "Many ask why the troops, with such a high morale and all these heroic deeds, still cannot finish this?"


First, he said, the Russians are on the defensive. They were the first fired at, not the ones who fired the first shots. Second, he said, the Chechens are using civilians as "human shields" and firing from private homes.


On Thursday night's news, Russian Television broadcast a part of the press conference dealing with troop readiness. When a reporter asked what the army was doing to prepare the troops, Zdorikov shot back: "What have you done to ensure that they are well prepared?"


RTR had an answer. "Perhaps the major general believes that military preparedness is the responsibility of journalists," their reporter said