Russian Army Reform: Brutality and Desperation

The handling of the hostage crisis in Beslan highlighted the low skill level among Russia’s military and other armed security forces. Lack of training and poor discipline have traditionally characterised military operations in Chechnya, but they have rarely been seen so publicly as in North Ossetia.

The World Today Published 1 October 2004 Updated 19 October 2020 4 minute READ

Rod Thornton

King's College London

President Vladimir Putin has long been aware of the need to reform the military, especially the army. When he came to power in 1999 it was largely based on the promise that he was the man to finally crush the Chechen rebels. He could only achieve this if he commanded a military capable of carrying out such a task. But he inherited an army that had moved on little since the Cold War: conscript formations geared to fight a high-intensity conflict against NATO. Mass and machinery rather than skill.

The armed forces were in no shape to deal with the low-level counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist tasks that came to the fore in the 1990s. Such operations demand well-trained infantry with high standards of discipline, flexibility and adroitness. Only troops displaying these qualities can counter elusive and committed adversaries such as the Chechen rebels.

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