You're in the army now
text: Aliya Yesembekova , exclusively for Gazeta.kz
You see them in the streets, on the buses and buying cigarettes at a kiosk. They are fresh faced and dressed in green, their caps pushed lazily to the back of their head. This is the Kazakhstani army. Made up almost entirely of conscripts earning USD6 a month. Our correspondent visits the Interior Forces' Military Base.
The bulk of the Kazakhstani army is made up of conscripts between the 18 and 27. University graduates join for a year, other men for two years and potential officers for three. People who suffer from weak health, have families may get exemption under the Kazakh law, and those at university have delayed entrances.
The army is divided into three types: interior, frontier, and special troops. I was invited into one of the military bases to see at first hand how our soldiers spend their time.
They get up at 6.00 a.m., then they tidy up their bed linen and sort their uniforms out. Morning exercises last about 30 minutes. Then the soldiers take a bath and go and have a breakfast. Military meals are good, although it is not like at home.
The base I visited is concerned with attending and escorting prisoners and guarding correctional establishments. Therefore at 9.00 a.m. base becomes empty, but some soldiers remain serving military service directly in the base. And they study practical lessons.
There are models of train cars and of buses for prisoners and models of chambers outside, everything for indicative lessons. Where soldier must be, how to behave, how to move when they escort and guard convicts and also what to do, if a prisoner tries to run away. Senior officers read lectures.
Soldiers listen to the lessons standing upright because as it was explained to me, otherwise they tend to fall asleep.
Some lessons are carried out directly in barracks. Here young troops listen and write down lectures on battle tactics. What tactics they learn, they don't tell me, as it is secret information. Lectures are also held on weapon handling.
But one of the biggest complaints among the officers is the current conscription system, they are not satisfied with soldiers changing every few years.
"Before everybody served in the army, and nobody could buy a military ticket out," said the assistant battalion commander, captain Alexander Krapnikov. "It was impossible but nowadays it is very easy if you have money, therefore the only ones serving now are the young guys, who couldn't afford to buy their way out. I can say it is the third category of boys, the weaker people. Others buy military tickets because they are afraid of the army and the services. The rest study at university and pass military preparation there."
Why don't young people want to serve? The most popular opinion is that in the armies of the former USSR that there is a lot of bad feeling between soldiers and the officers, and that officers beat and cripple soldiers. "Such accidents really happened after the USSR dissolved and in the period of becoming of the independent Kazakhstan. There was chaos in the country and there was chaos in the army too. The most difficult time was from 1994 to 1997. Nowadays there are a lot of punishments, even deprivation of freedom for unauthorized relationship. Officers receive the same punishment as normal soldiers if they break the rules," explained 26-year-old captain Alexander Krapnikov.
Everyday in the bases a full corporal inspection of young soldiers is carried out. If doctors find any damage or injuries, a military investigation is launched. These investigations try to discover where and when soldiers received their injuries and in what circumstances.
Nearly 90 per cent of all soldiers were born and raised in other cities. Such a policy is necessary for the troops, because they have to know military objects not only in their own towns, but also among others bases. And it is seen as important when there are few relatives and friends around to act as a distraction to the soldiers.
Most soldiers serve only to get military ticket. It is almost impossible to work for state company without such ticket. "We came to army because we need a military ticket, we can not earn anything without it," said a group of soldiers. "There are no jobs for us at home. We study a lot in the army, and in the future we can work in the securities of different enterprises and factories," they said. Captain Krapnikov agreed. He thought that only 20 per cent were doing their duty for patriotic reasons.
But a few years ago there was nobody who wanted to pursue a military career. Today the situation has changed, approximately two per cent wish to stay in the army and become regular soldiers. Anyway the strongest are elected in the regular service.
"I like to transform young boys into real men. It is not easy to teach them discipline and to prepare them for unforeseen situations in life. But our work is very important," said ensign Ruslan Malikov.
All the same, there are many incidents when young boys do not want to serve and attempt to escape from bases. Runaways divide into two types, the desertion and the unauthorized absence from a base. The first one is leaving the base with a weapon, which can be used in crime and murder. The unauthorized absence from a base is usually an escape because of personal reasons, they can't sustain military discipline or they don't want to serve. Both types of the desertion are punishable offences. For the first you face imprisonment of up to 20 years and for the second up to 15 years.
Suicides also occur. Most often soldiers do it to frighten officers and other troops, when they do not find the understanding among colleges. "They cut their veins, hang themselves on soldier's belts explaining their behavior by the fact that they just do not want to complete their military service. He will either die, or will be returned home. But such accidents are very rare," said the battalion commander Kairat Husainov.
Only food, clothes and salary are paid for by the government. The average soldier's monthly pay is 810 tenge. Military officers get between 20 000 - 35 000 tenge per month. And there are no privileges for bus fares and for other municipal services. Even five years ago soldiers still received such privileges, but they have been abolished.
And the army bases have begun to feel the financial pinch. There is not enough money to cover the maintenance costs. Often the officers and soldiers finance the most needed repairs with their own money. Soldiers enjoy very few luxuries, their salary is not enough even to cover the cost of cigarettes. Soldiers collect money for the way back to their homes.
Most do not own a flat. They live in hostels or rent and it takes most of their salary. They don't have the chance of buying a house or an apartment. "All officers love their job, but the salary is too small for us and our families. The government must finance the army much better," said the company's commander, senior lieutenant Yuri Babincev. "Government pays is too little attention on army. The army in any country is supported wholeheartedly by the state and government" said captain Alexander Klimentiev.
When Kazakhstani soldiers meet foreign troops, they exchange experience with one another. "Once I was asked about my salary. I said I earn nearly USD150. They were surprised USD150 per week is too small a salary they told me. They said they earned more. And USD150 is not per a week, it is only per month," said assistant commander Krapnikov.
The equipment used in the military is also outdated and in many cases obsolete because of underfunding. Some devices in military bases have been used since the Second World War. And now it is the 21st century, computer technology and technical progress is developing everyday. There are some computers in the bases but very few and they are not intended for soldiers. "I want to have a computer in my office. It is convenient when all information comes through on and we would not have to run from one place to another. But I don't need it now because there has been no technical revolution in the Kazakhstan army. We don't require computers because even our top command doesn't have it," said commander Yuri Babincev.
I also discovered few years ago that Americans had sent a little support for our army, such as military clothing and boots. But the soldiers did not receive it. The first time they saw it was in the bazaar when they had to buy it. How this equipment appeared at the bazaar nobody knows.
This is the situation in the Kazakhstan army today, at a time when the world situation becomes increasingly aggravated everyday.
Also in the "In Depth"
09.01.2013 2012 marked by multiple events in Kazakhstan