General Andrei Kartopolov has never worked in political indoctrination. Photo by Alexander Nikolayev. Courtesy of Interpress/TASS and Vedomosti
Defense Ministry Establishes Main Military Political Department
July 30, 2018
As established by a decree signed by President Putin and published on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry has added an eleventh deputy minister, head of the Main Military Political Department of the Armed Forces. A decree signed the same day appointed as department head Lieutenant General Andrei Kartopolov, who had previously commanded the Western Military District. On Sunday, Kartopolov, who commanded Russian forces in Syria in 2016, attended the naval review in Petersburg with the president, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and naval commander-in-chief Admiral Vladimir Korolyov.
Kartapolov graduated in 1985 from the Moscow Higher Multi-Service Command College, and his entire subsequent career as officer has been bound up with the ground forces. In 2014–2015, he was head of the Main Operations Department, the most important unit in the General Staff.
The new department subsumes the Main Department for Morale (GURLS), headed by Colonel Mikhail Baryshev, said a source at the Defense Ministry. It is a successor to the Main Political Department of the Soviet Army (GlavPUR), which traced its origins to the Red Army’s Political Directorate, founded in 1918. However, unlike the Soviet Army’s political indoctrination units and given that the Russian Armed Forces were depoliticized after the Soviet Union’s collapse (the law “On the Status of Servicemen” forbids them from involvement in political organizations), the GURLS handled troop morale and psychological support, patriotic education, cultural and leisure activities, and the needs of religious servicemen, according to the Defense Ministry’s website. The department oversees the military’s psychology and sociologists, while there are deputy personnel commanders, customarily known as zampolity [the Soviet-era term for “morale officers” or “deputy commanders for political indoctrination”] in most battalions, divisions, and units.
According to two sources in the Defense Ministry, aside from the work done by the GURLS, the new deputy minister will oversee the Yunarmiya (“Youth Army”) youth movement and other grassroots organizations. This part of the job has been transferred to the new deputy minister’s brief from that of Deputy Minister Nikolai Pankov, who in the early 2000s headed the Main Department for Personnel and Educational Work, which subsequently was reformed as the GURLS. However, at this stage the new department will not incorporate the Defense Ministry’s Department for Information and Mass Communications, the army’s mass media outlets, its historians, its cultural organizations, and other units that were once part of the GlavPUR. The statute of the new department has not yet been drafted, said another source at the Defense Ministry. According to a third source close to the Defense Ministry, establishment of the Main Military Political Department was partly inspired by celebrations of the centenary of the Red Army’s Political Directorate. However, reconstructing a similar department under current conditions is out of the question, although the word “political” in the new department’s name might offend many people, he admitted.
According to Viktor Bondarev, chair of the Federation Council’s defense committee, there is currently no unit engaged in political indoctrination among servicemen.
“We also need to develop a systematic approach to questions of morale, ideology, and patriotic education. Our western enemies have been doing a lot to discredit the image of Russia and the Russian army. We must mount a fitting defense against such attempts, generate a healthy counterweight,” explained the Federation Council member.
Since the greater number of rank-and-file soldiers and sergeants are contract servicemen [rather than conscripts], their education and motivation to serve must be overseen by trained deputy commanders, and therefore creation of the new department is justified, argues Viktor Murakhovsky, editor of the magazine Arsenal of the Fatherland. Unlike the Soviet era, however, they should not be equally subordinated to their commander and their political indoctrination officer, nor should political parties be allowed access to the army, argues Murakhovsky.
Translated by the Russian Reader