Do Russian Military Officers Have A Morale Problem? Some Say Yes.

TIMONOVO, Russia -- For Pavel Petrakov, a 23-year-old lieutenant in a military unit that monitors Russian aerospace defenses, the fact that the door to his officer-assigned dormitory room fell off its hinges was bad enough.

There were also the old bloodstains and feces on the wood floor. But the breaking point may have been the hordes of cockroaches in the communal kitchen.

“When I went to military school, I thought the army was cool, the officers were society’s elite,” said Petrakov, who was commissioned after graduating with honors from a prestigious St. Petersburg military academy.

“I never even imagined that you could drink like that and yell at children. They’re pigs at home, and they booze it up at work,” he told the North.Realities Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service. “The most disgusting thing, because of which many flee from the army, is that they treat you like a beast.”

Petrakov is one of an unknown number of military officers who are resigning from duty, demoralized, or disgusted, or simply fed up by the conditions, physical and psychological, they are forced to serve in.

While the problem of hazing conscripts remains a stubborn and much-documented problem in Russia’s armed forces, the issue of officers resigning in protest is less well-known.


It comes as the Kremlin has poured billions into upgrading and modernizing the country’s arsenals and weapon systems, reorganizing command and control authorities, and trying to move away from Soviet-legacy systems of training, equipping, and housing its troops.

RFE/RL was unable to determine how much of a trend such resignations, in protest or otherwise, is for Russia’s armed forces. The Defense Ministry did not respond to questions from RFE/RL.

But, anecdotally, officers that spoke with RFE/RL say the issue is a growing problem.

“Of course, not all officers are drunkards," said Petrakov, who was reassigned to a unit closer to Moscow after he complained publicly and wrote a letter to military prosecutors. "There are also decent, decent people. But it seems that only loyal ones move up the career ladder, people who sign any document without actually looking at it, covering up for the bosses."


While he’s waiting for formal approval of his discharge, and his paperwork is shuffled from one office to another, Petrakov shows up at his duty station infrequently -- just to avoid criminal prosecution for desertion.

“I don’t really serve. I appear once a week so that I don’t get a [jail] term, but the state pays my salary anyway,” he said. “And there are hundreds of people like me all over Russia.”

'Rudeness, Humiliation, And Boorishness'

Roman, 23, who asked to use only his first name fearing retribution from the military, attended the same St. Petersburg military academy as Petrakov, but he dropped out before final exams after, he said, he severely injured his knee.

The doctors, military and civilian, he saw could not even diagnose him, never mind treat him, he told RFE/RL.

“And every time I had to ask for time off and listen to various nasty things, that I was a lazy faker, etc.,” he said. “In fact, it’s awful when they don’t believe you and consider you a second-class person, but this is the norm in the army.”

“Of course, it's a shame that I never received my diploma, but I don’t regret that it happened: I probably would have left the army anyway, because it is very difficult to endure rudeness, humiliation, and boorishness, but it would have taken months,” Roman said.

He said his military academy was now suing him, seeking to recoup the 400,000 rubles ($5,500) it said it spent on his education.


After graduating from the Rostov State Medical University and completing a specialized training program for military medics, Lieutenant Pavel Zelenkov was assigned in September 2020 to a motorized rifle regiment in Klintsy, near the Belarusian border, where he was appointed head of the medical unit.

“If we talk about medical equipment, then there was practically nothing. You provide only first aid and send [the patient] further down the chain of command, '' he said.


“Commanders consider you insignificant at best: 'Hey you, lieutenant,' as if I was not an officer,” he said. “It seems to me that this is due to their desire to assert themselves, because they were probably mercilessly rotted in their first years of service.”

Zelenkov resigned after three months in service, though he was not discharged for another six months. Now, he works as a civilian emergency doctor.

He said he was happy "this whole army madhouse is over."

Like in the Soviet era, Russia still requires all men aged between 18 and 27 to serve in the military or do similar public service; the government in 2019 sought to move away from conscription, toward a smaller, professional force, but that change has come slowly.

Russian law does not allow for early resignation from a military contract simply at a serviceman’s request. It can only happen “for cause” -- a documented violation of the terms of the contract. An officer who breaks his contract prematurely can face criminal charges.

'Hello! Welcome To The Army!'

The Defense Ministry does not disclose how many officers in their first years of service seek to resign prematurely.

Lieutenant Andrei Ivanov, who commanded a medical unit attached to the 1st Motorized Rifle Battalion stationed in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian region of Crimea, was commissioned as an officer after attending another military academy in St. Petersburg.

He filed a letter of resignation in October 2019, but was only able to leave service formally more than year later.

“After a month of service, I realized there was no medicine here, and all my activity was reduced to working with weapons and personnel,” Ivanov told RFE/RL. “I filed a letter of resignation, because I want to treat people and not just do drills.”


Since entering civilian life, he’s worked, by himself and with a nongovernmental legal-aid organization, to help other officers looking for early resignation from the service. According to him, there are at least 120 people he knows of who are trying to do so.

He also recorded a video called "How To Resign?" and posted it to YouTube.” Since being published in September 2020, it’s received more than 85,000 views.

“All those who come to us for help are such disillusioned people. Most of them came for a dream: ‘Here is this profession: to defend the Motherland,'” Ivanov said.

People enroll in military academies, study for five or six years, he said.

“Then ‘Hello! Welcome to the army!’ And their worldview changes, collides with reality terrible accommodations, endless shifts, and unpaid overtime,” he said.

“If you just let everyone who wants to leave go and pay more to those who stay, while removing all this army idiocy and humiliation, everyone will be happy in the end,” Ivanov added.