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Soviet Union

National Minorities in the Armed Forces

The military tried to give the impression that soldiers of different nationalities served together harmoniously, but the number of articles in the military press devoted to relations between ethnic groups itself indicates the persistence of nationality conflict within the armed forces. Rather than contributing to nation building, service in the armed forces reportedly is more likely to increase ethnic and linguistic consciousness. In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union's non-Slavic minority groups comprised one-quarter of the conscript pool. Western experts estimated that, as Slavic birthrates decline, by the year 2000 one-third of draft age males will be non-Slavic.

The armed forces, however, appear to have mechanisms in place for maintaining control over national minorities in their ranks. The armed forces have been dominated by Slavs in general and Russians in particular. Russian has been the only language of command, and Slavs constituted 80 percent of all combat personnel and 95 percent of the officer corps. Although more non-Slavs will have to be drafted in the future, a pervasive inability, or unwillingness, to read or speak Russian among non-Slavic, and particularly Central Asian, recruits has impeded their training and advancement in the military. Because the Russian language was not taught to conscripts in the armed forces, non-Slavs have been limited to assignments in nontechnical and noncombat positions. Most Central Asian conscripts were assigned to Construction and Troop Billeting and served their two years in construction battalions. They received little combat training.

The military leadership viewed non-Slavs as potentially unreliable frontline troops. For example, Central Asian Muslim soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan during the early days of the war but had to be withdrawn because they sympathized with their coreligionists in that country. Moreover, non-Slavs were rarely assigned to the elite armed services. They were, however, recruited to serve with the Internal Troops in the Russian Republic because they could be counted on to suppress any disturbance in areas inhabited by ethnic Slavs.

Data as of May 1989