Guest post from Mark Wilcox
Fresh from completing large-scale unannounced exercises – including near the Russian border with Ukraine – the Central Military District (MD) has embarked on a new campaign: the Year of High Culture and Compliance with Uniform Standards. The goal of this initiative, according to a release from the Press Service of the Central MD, is to “develop and strengthen among servicemembers an image of ‘polite [vezlivye] people.’” The Central MD seems to be taking the lead in realizing the “new image” of the Russian Army (see the Foreign Military Studies Office “OE Watch,” July 2014, page 48).
The target audience for this campaign, which will be the responsibility of commanders assisted by specialists in etiquette, will be primarily new recruits and soldiers new to units. The inculcation of an understanding of “polite people” will include “training and master classes on interpersonal relations.”
How will the authorities in the Central MD keep track of good behavior? Members of the military police will monitor compliance by servicemembers in public areas and military traffic inspectors [avtoinspektory] will keep an eye on troops’ behavior on the roads. Here’s the stick: Violators will be tarred with the label “impolite people,” and can be subject to disciplinary and administrative actions. And the carrot: The Commander of the Central MD will seek nominations of the best soldiers for some unspecified recognition.
How do the troops feel about all this politeness? Judging by this photo, the campaign gets a big thumbs up (which would have been two thumbs up if not for the large automatic weapon the soldier was holding). How could they not love the program when the poster boys for “polite people,” as shown on the t-shirt, are President Putin and Minister of Defense Shoigu?
It seems that this politeness, courtesy and overall good citizenship might extend to activities of the Russian Armed Forces outside the Central MD. Even the Navy and the Air Forces are getting in on the action, judging by dispatches from the Ministry of Defense. For instance, recent naval exercises in the Black Sea were carried out “in strict compliance with the norms of international maritime law, the requirements of intergovernmental agreements on the prevention of incidents at sea and dangerous military activities.” Likewise, an increased number of flights by strategic bombers over the Arctic in 2014 “are carried out in strict accordance with international rules for the use of air space without violating the borders of other states.”
Defense Minister Shoigu’s image-improvement campaign for the Russian Army marches on!