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^nic Conscripts in the Soviet Navy
On 2 April 1988, Red Star carried an Interview on a Topical Subject” with *Ce Admiral A. Komiyenko, the Chief ?. the Political Directorate of the Baltic . Ieet. The subject was of current vital jnterest to Soviet naval commanders and . e'r political overseers. It should also 'nterest U. S. observers assessing the endiness and warfighting potential of the iQviet Navy.
The interviewer set the stage for his |IUestions by stating, “As is well known, cre have been a number of conflicts in JTtain parts of the country—including e Baltic republics. Are the problems in C e country reflected in naval units and Nations?”
The admiral replied:
“Life itself has refuted the claim that had been trumpeted for decades about the absence of problems among the nationalities. Undoubtedly, the excesses that took place in Kazakastan (demonstrations in Alma Ata in December 1986, protesting the replacement of an ethnic Kazak as party leader by a Russian] and the Baltic tepublics [most recently, demonstrations in Tallinn in February 1988, commemorating Estonian independence day] and the situation prevail- lng around events in Nagorno-Karabakh [ethnic violence in Yerevan, Armenia, and Sumgait, Azerbaijan in Inarch 1988] could not fail to impinge uP°n the consciousness and feelings °f servicemen.”
■ ■ . I met with Azerbaijanis and ^rmenians during the events in Nagorno-Karabakh. Yes, there were People among them who became Withdrawn and formed cliques based on peoples’ home areas, but others spoke out saying they were ashamed of their countrymen. . . . All this required that we step up individual work and explain in a well argued fashion the Leninist nationalities policy and the true causes and consequences of the incidents. Let me also say that during this period, there have been no conflict situations in the navy on the grounds of nationality.”
That led the interviewer to ask, “Does that mean that military organizations have some magical immunity to stop the germs of nationalism infiltrating their environment?”
The admiral answered:
“Of course not. The army and navy, like the entire country, are multinational in makeup and, as the saying goes, are no strangers to everyday tensions. I am referring to cases in the navy when one person insults the national dignity of another—often in crude terms. Behind each case one cannot fail to see the fact that, among some of the young people coming into the navy, multinational sentiments have been relaxed in favor of national egotism and an ethos of good relations between nationalities is lacking. Unfortunately, certain commanders and political workers are inclined to see this as merely a violation of military discipline and close their eyes to the cause underlying what has [really] happened.”
In conclusion, the interviewer mentioned “. . . another problem: Certain young sailors have a poor command of Russian. What is being done in this regard?” The admiral acknowledged the situation:
“That is a thorny issue. Like all questions of this kind it is a delicate one. But, let us be frank about it. For all military people, Russian is primarily the language of the oath and statutes, of military instruction and commands. In the fall of 1987 alone, around 300 conscripts with a very poor knowledge of Russian entered the navy. In certain units in the Navy Construction Directorate, the number of such servicemen amounts to 8 or 9% of the total. [These low-skilled, shore-based, two-year duties have traditionally been the dumping ground for unqualified ethnic conscripts.]
“We are obviously looking for a way out of this situation. Russian lan-
The Soviets say that differences in nationalities aren’t a source of conflict among the troops—these serving in Afghanistan. But back in the Soviet Union, the ethnic melting pot is boiling.
Wdings / July 1988
foreign port and you start to how strong and clever he is.
“You must write more to the p° and in a more argumentative fasn about such an opponent.”
There was another about the rnag^ zine’s often overly flattering characte zation of Soviet naval personnel:
“. . . take for example [reports of th number of] outstanding sailors in & itary and political training. It lS f firm conviction that the number such sailors in the fleet might be tween 20 and 30%. Indeed they aC a good example in everything they and their commanders rely on tn ^ Sometimes we inflate that figure to or 80% and more while the crews P^ form their tasks in a mediocre m ner. Who needs such Percen js mania? Such an approach, I thm > extremely harmful to the btisiness ^ we are wearing our shou boards for. In the overall mass, real outstanding men among them lost.”
guage groups are being organized. And for the navy, a total of 3,000 subscriptions to Russian language republican newspapers have been arranged. [Apparently, this is to offer the enticement of the news from home as an incentive for the minimally Russian- qualified conscript from a republic to improve his Russian. Assuming one reader per newspaper, again, suggests that less than 1% of all Soviet naval conscripts have poor Russian.] Book discussions are being held. But all this
takes time out of the already extremely busy schedule for achieving the main thing—the speediest mastery of military skills. And just what are schools, military commissariats, and local Komsomol organizations doing to resolve this problem [before the Navy receives the conscripts]?”
Traditionally, the Soviet press has kept in touch with its readers’ interests via
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roving reporters, letters to the editor, and “readers conferences.” What is new under glasnost is the nature of the reports filed by the correspondents, the choice o letters to the editor published, and the fact that the comments received at readers’ conferences are being shared with others.
During 1987, the Soviet Naval Dig held several meetings to get readers views on the “format, content, and direction” of the magazine. Many of the comments—both good and bad—from those meetings were published. Some were trite or politically self-serving, but mos comments were constructive and reveale the deep service pride and keen profes sional interest of Soviet naval officers, few revealed exceptional insights.
One comment, for example, publishe in September, from among those offer® by officers of the Mediterranean squa ron, criticized the Digest’s consistent y unflattering characterization of Western naval personnel:
“Here in the Mediterranean, we constantly see NATO sailors. Nava^ Digest writes about them. But hoW^ Most often they get painted, so speak, in a monochrome way, W1 , the same specific examples repea over and over dozens of times. * read such an article and you imag] your probable opponent is some k> of half-literate, broken-down drug addict who probably even is chame^ to his ship. And, then, you see him 0 the deck of some frigate or you me ^ him on the street during a visit to