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Soviet Union

Life in the Soviet Armed Forces

On the day before beginning to serve in the armed forces, Soviet conscripts have traditionally attended an induction ceremony in which local CPSU officials and veterans give patriotic speeches. The next day, they are transported directly to the military unit in which they will serve their two- or three-year tours of duty. Neither the conscripts nor their families know its location beforehand. After one month of basic training that reviews their premilitary training, conscripts take the military oath in their regiments. In the oath, conscripts swear to guard state and military secrets, to master the craft of war, to protect state property, and to defend the homeland and government without sparing life or blood.

Soviet troops lived under harsh conditions and strict discipline. The practice of stationing troops in isolated areas outside their home republics or regions and the system of internal passports kept the desertion rate relatively low; the location of Soviet troops far from their home region also enabled them to be deployed more easily against a rebellious local population. Troops had about an hour per day of "free" time, much of which was used for additional political training and mandatory sports activities. Leave and temporary passes were not issued as a matter of course. New conscripts could also expect to be harassed by soldiers in their second year of service. Such hazing occasionally spilled over into physical abuse and theft by senior soldiers against first-year troops. Conscripts were paid between 3 and 5 rubles per month, the equivalent of about US$10. Low pay for conscripts conserved the Ministry of Defense's resources, but soldiers often became burdens for their families, who sent them money.

The rate of alcoholism among military personnel was reported to be higher than in society as a whole, a fact that could be attributed to the boredom and isolation of life in the barracks. In addition, the expense and difficulty involved in obtaining alcohol often resulted in petty corruption and the sale of military supplies on the black market. Soldiers were confined to the stockade for minor infractions of this type. They were sent to penal battalions for more serious offenses, and time spent there did not count toward their discharge.

Units trained six days every week in winter and summer cycles. The majority of parade drill, tactics, weapons, chemical defense, political, and physical training took place in garrison. The armed forces have strictly limited live firings of weapons, field exercises, days at sea, and flight time. The average serviceman might participate in several three-day regimental exercises and possibly one larger exercise in the military district in a two-year tour of duty. In addition to their military training, units have often been called on to help with harvesting. The semiannual turnover of conscripts, one-quarter of total military manpower, has meant that new inductees were constantly being assimilated into the armed services. This turnover and the two-year service term made it difficult to train and retain specialists to work on sophisticated weapons systems.

Semiannual discharge orders from the minister of defense released troops completing their active duty and automatically enlisted them in the reserves. These troops also had the option of reenlisting as extended service soldiers or applying to become noncommissioned officers. Few did so, however. On returning home, released conscripts had to register as reserves with the voenkomat and report to it changes in their residence, health, education, or family status until their reserve obligation ended at age fifty.

Data as of May 1989