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The Integration of Non-Russian Servicemen in the Soviet and Russian Army - Documents and Sources
" The Relations of the Post-Soviet Army to Muslim Minorities - Conversations

Introduction - The Relation of the Post-Soviet Army to Muslim Minorities

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

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1As the melting pot of the Nation, the Russian army has always been confronted with the issue of ethnic and religious diversity. Depending on the times, it has dealt with it in various ways.

2What is the relationship today between the post-soviet Russian army and its minorities, the Muslim minorities in particular?

3The fact that conscription has been maintainedmakes this issue particularly relevant: the Russian army is faced with a strong rise in its Muslim population, along with the virulent proselytism of the Russian Orthodox church, which has taken advantage of the collapse of the USSR to enter forcefully into all the corps of the army. This proselytising policy, blessing all troops regardless of their origin, was welcomed with open arms by the officers corps, disoriented in the post-Soviet ideological vacuum. On the other hand, it has been a source of discontent within the Muslim community.

4As previously during the Afghan war, the two conflicts in Chechnya forced military authorities to adopt specific policies in regard to Muslim conscripts, giving rise to protests against military service.

5However, since 1999, Muslim leaders have lost their legitimity to protest. The rapprochement policy led by Vladimir Putin has nevertheless been fruitful in the sense that Muslim religious authorities have become more involved in the recruitment process, participating in military committees and signing cooperation protocols with the Ministry of Defence.

6In return, with a view to providing officers with information on the basic principles of Islam, the education department of the Defence Ministry, in cooperation with Muslim religious leaders, has published brochures on the Muslim religion and its religious practices. The military press has also produced supplements aimed at the Muslim minorities in the army. These efforts have however been short-lived due to lack of funding.

7Finally, the post-soviet Russian army seems to have made the choice of officially advocating local and ethnic regrouping as a new way to eradicate dedovchtchina – violent hazing – (Orthodox units were constituted as an experiment in the early 2000s), and of sending Muslim recruits to non combat and less prestigious battalions like the stroibats (construction battalions).

8Whereas in the past, bribery was commonly used to avoid military service, it now gives ethnic minorities the guarantee of serving in their own region and escaping the eventual rancour of officers and recruits.

9Since the dismantling of the construction battalions, which began in 2004 and ended in 2006, Muslim recruits have been sent to both regular and combat units, and there has been a rise in the number of inter-ethnic clashes. According to many mediators (representatives of ethnic cultural centres, Committees of Mothers of Soldiers, etc.), officers who took part in combats in Chechnya are openly and often fiercely hostile to conscripts of Caucasian origin, so much so that demands for the creation of ethnic units have been voiced in regions where Muslims constitute the majority; they have however been rejected by the community’ spiritual leaders and the Ministry of Defence.

10If Russia moves in the direction of a professional army, what will be its nature, taking into consideration the growing Muslim population? A mono-national or mono-religious army, an army representative of national diversity, or an army composed of mono-national units, as in Chechnya today?

11All the above points and questions are raised in this issue’s three interviews. We have chosen to present three different points of view:

  • Sergei Mel’kov is a former Colonel in the Russian Army, former chief expert in the Russian Ministry of Defence, advisor to the chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, and author of many articles and manuals on work with Muslim recruits;

  • Abdurashid Saidov is a Dagestani journalist, surgeon, writer, and human right activist;

  • Marat-Khazrat Arslanov is a muslim religious leader (imam), and in charge of patriotic education at the Council of Muftis.

12The first two interviews (Mel’kov and Saidov) took place in the autumn of 2008. The third (Arslanov) in the autumn of 2009, three months after Medvedev’s announcement that (state-employed) chaplains from the four traditional religions would be introduced into Russia’s armed forces.

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Electronic reference

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, “Introduction - The Relation of the Post-Soviet Army to Muslim Minorities”The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 10 | 2009, Online since 07 December 2009, connection on 10 December 2023. URL:

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About the author

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski

The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies & CERCEC / EHESS, Paris

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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