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Reportages

The Red Army's forgotten servants

Video by Romain GOGUELIN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-06-18

The Russian Army is fighting a tough battle; even as President Dmitry Medvedev attempts to carry out the most ambitious restructuring of the armed forces since World War II, his troops' morale is being sapped by low pay and poor housing.

Every day, Colonel Evgeny Ogulnikov listens to the same old music from the seventies as he drives through his rundown base.

The song reminds him of better days behind him.

“We used to be sure of ourselves and of the future," says the aiforce colonel. "Today we don't know. Once upon a time, in the 70s and 80s, the army was in a better state.”

In those days, the garrison town of Kubinka had just been built. Its buildings were brand new, and the revolution's leader Lenin proudly pointed towards the Red Army's newest weapon.

That was more than 35 years ago. Since then almost nothing seems to have been repaired and the army is now suffering from a severe housing shortage.

 
A dozen families are living in this unhealthy barracks. Originally it was a temporary home for the builders. Today, it's the permanent home to some of the best pilots in Russia's airforce.

“It's like we've been left in a swamp,” says Andrei Mikakichev, an airforce pilot.

"It really feels like they've all forgotten us," adds Evgueny Oulolnikov. "The highest ranking officers have all they need. But no one is interested in the problems of the lower ranks.”

The elite of the Russian airforce lives here among the mould, sharing their quarters with rats.

Staff Sergeant Manina Kulikova's uniform is soaked. Dirty, foul-smelling water oozes from the ceiling of her small one-room apartment.

Colonel Evgeny Ougolnikov has lived here with his wife for 7 years. There's no place for a table, and certainly no sign of the resurgent Russian army promised by the Kremlin.

“For the moment nothing has changed says the colonel. The equipment is exactly the same. How do you reform the army with the same equipment?”

With insufficient funds, the Russian army now has to reform itself and become a more compact army, and the Kremlin is planning to reduce the officer corps by half.


"I have 28 years in the army behind me," says Oleg Malgin, another colonel from the Russian airforce. "These days I think I should never have joined.”

For the Kremlin and the Defence Ministry, it's as if these officers had already left.

Date created : 2009-06-18

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