Official Diet for Conscript Soldiers
(Rations per day unless otherwise indicated)
The Military Code of Conduct, which regulates the rights and obligations of soldiers, stipulates that conscripts are entitled to three warm meals per day.30 It encourages variety in the diet and states that when officers determine the menu they should take into consideration not only the type of combat preparation the troops are engaged in and availability of food supplies but also the wishes of the troops themselves.31 The Code further states that, before every meal, officers must check the quality of the food, the quantity of individual portions, and sanitary conditions in the canteen and kitchen.32
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires governments to “progressively achieve the full realization of the right to adequate food.” The U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has indicated that diets should include “a mix of nutrients for physical and mental growth, development and maintenance, and physical activity that are in compliance with human physiological needs at all stages throughout the life cycle and according to gender and occupation.”33
While the Military Code of Conduct does not reference the ICESCR, its nutritional standard should be seen as interpretive of the standards contained in the ICESCR. The government is therefore obliged, from the perspective of international law, to take all reasonable steps to ensure observance of these standards. Digression from the standard without well-founded reasons thus constitutes a violation of the right to adequate food. Human Rights Watch also believes that regular digressions from the official standard risk rendering the diet insufficient in calories, protein, and other nutrients as Russia’s nutritional standard appears adequate but by no means generous. This is particularly true considering the level of physical activity that can be expected from conscripts in the armed forces and the physiological needs of the age group most conscripts belong to.
The actual diet of conscripts generally falls well short of these detailed rules. Conscripts generally described a persistent lack of meat and vegetables, poor quality of the food served to them, and a steady, monotonous diet of macaroni or potato and cabbage. They also said officers generally reduce the official procedure to check the food’s quality and quantity to a pointless formality, when they observed it at all.
Several conscripts told Human Rights Watch that meals were not checked for quality and quantity in their units at all, others said the procedure was performed regularly but was reduced to a formality. Anton S. told Human Rights Watch: “They would serve one plate with everything we were supposed to get, and put it on display. However, the plates we got looked nothing like it.”34
Foods most frequently missing from conscripts’ diets were meat, eggs, green vegetables (except cabbage), and sometimes fish. Many conscripts complained about a lack of sugar, although it was unclear whether the quantities of sugar they received in their tea matched the official norm. The fact that certain food items are routinely absent from conscripts’ diet risks rendering it insufficient in nutritional value. Conscripts also frequently described their diet as monotonous, saying they received almost the exact same diet every day. This contravenes the spirit of the official standard, which prescribes and encourages variety, and the international standard as interpreted by the U.N. Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.35 For example, Dmitrii Kosov said he and his fellow conscripts mainly ate macaroni: “Macaroni with macaroni, macaroni with bread, macaroni in the soup... They apparently had a lot of it.”36 Many other conscripts said they constantly ate potatos and never saw any pasta. Another conscript said: “They fed us cabbage, cabbage and more cabbage...”37
Many conscripts complained that the quality of the food they received was poor, or about apparently unsanitary conditions in kitchens or canteens.38 These complaints primarily concerned the following issues:39
Hazing prevents conscripts from receiving a diet that meets official standards and causes conscripts to go hungry. In canteens in military units across Russia, senior conscripts routinely take food from junior conscripts or severely restrict the amount of time for eating. Officers are not present during mealtimes to maintain order in canteens.53
Informally, senior conscripts have the authority to determine when meals are over; when they finish, they order everyone else to stop eating as well. Almost half the conscripts interviewed for this report complained that for part or all of their military service senior conscripts routinely gave them so little time to eat—by most descriptions between one-and-a-half and five minutes—that they were forced to either practically inhale their food or leave half of it uneaten. Senior conscripts physically abuse or humiliate junior conscripts who take uneaten food with them. In some cases, senior conscripts were served first and started eating while first-year conscripts were waiting to get their food. In other cases, senior soldiers skipped soup and went straight to seconds.54 In both scenarios, the senior soldiers ordered everyone to stop eating as soon as they were done. Training conscripts to consume food quickly may be a legitimate element of field training. But this was clearly not the purpose in the numerous cases examined by Human Rights Watch.
Senior conscripts generally enter the canteen and are served first while junior conscripts wait for their food. Vladimir P. told Human Rights Watch:
Describing another scenario, a conscript told Human Rights Watch: “The dedy don’t eat soup, only second course, and we would eat soup and then time was up. During lunch, we didn’t have enough time to eat the second course.”56 In Maksim Komlev’s words, “when they only took the second course, they quickly ate it and said: ‘Company, lunch is over!’”
While some said they learned to eat quickly, others said no matter how hard they tried, they were unable to finish their meals. For example, Ilia B. described the scene in his canteen:
Conscripts said that they were sometimes tempted to put bread or other food in their pockets after senior soldiers had declared mealtime over. One said that a “feeling of hunger was there all the time, twenty-four hours a day.... There were problems because of it. People took bread with them, although you’re not supposed to.”58 Those who were caught carrying food out of the canteen faced disciplinary punishment. One conscript recounted:
Another conscript said that when someone in his unit was caught bringing bread out of the canteen, senior soldiers brought a lot of bread to the barracks that evening: “They said: ‘Now you’re going to eat.’ So you eat one, two, three loaves, until you feel really awful.”60
Every fourth conscript interviewed about their diet in the military stated that senior soldiers had confiscated their food during mealtime, mostly white bread, butter, and meat. Aleksei Dryganov told Human Rights Watch:
Another conscript said: “They gave us buns and [the dedy] took them away from someone. If a ded felt like having a second bun, he’d just walk up and take it. Nobody would tell him anything.”62 In some units senior conscripts systematically confiscated food, in others the practice was less common. One conscript said: “The dedy sometimes took the butter. If you managed to put it on your bread they left it to you but if you weren’t quick enough you’d say goodbye to your butter.”63 Another said: “They only took our butter, sometimes also an egg. They would give us two, one they took. But that was rare.”64
Two conscripts who fled the same unit together said in separate interviews that the senior soldiers forced them to save their pieces of white bread and hand them over later. They described the punishment that was imposed if a conscript ate the bread himself:
The other conscript expanded: “God forbid that anyone sees you eat a piece of white bread. They wake you up at night, and they make you do knee bends and pushups, and you get beaten over the head with a stool, or an iron rod.”66
Poor nutrition and arbitrary denial of food has plagued first-year conscripts for years. Yet, the Russian government does not acknowledge these problems and has apparently not taken any steps to address them. In response to repeated requests from Human Rights Watch for a meeting to discuss these issues, Deputy Minister of Defense V. Isakov sent a three-page letter to Human Rights Watch denying the existence of both problems. In his letter, the deputy minister describes the control procedures provided for in the Military Code of Conduct and states that “with such functional control over the provision of food in military units, such a problem as senior conscripts confiscating food from junior conscripts does not exist.” In an apparent denial of the practice of senior conscripts limiting the eating time of junior ones, the deputy minister stated that “the eating time in each military unit is determined by its commander.” The deputy minister also apologized for the “impossibility to have a meeting in the near future.”67
30 See article 227 of the Code of Military Conduct. See also: V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, “Materialnoe obespechenie I sotsialnaia zashchita voennosluzhashchikh, grazhdan, uvolennykh s voennoi sluzhby, chlenov ikh semei” (Material Provision and Social Protection of Servicemen, Retired Servicemen, and their Families), Moscow, 2000, page 65.
31 See V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, page 65.
32 The Code states in article 240:
33 General Comment 12. The Right to Adequate Food, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, para. 9.
34 Human Rights Watch interview with Anton S., July 31, 2003, St. Petersburg. S. served in unit 6716 (Lembolovo, Leningrad Province) of the Ministry of Interior’s troops. Anton S. is a pseudonym.
35 For example, internal regulations state: “In order to ensure variation of the diet it is permitted to replace certain food items with others in accordance with relevant rules...” (V.N. Dubrovin and Yu.I. Migachev, page 65).
36 Human Rights Watch interview with Dmitrii Kosov, April 11, 2002, St. Petersburg. Kosov served in the Ministry of Defense’s unit 12744 in Osinovoe Roshche, Leningrad Province.
37 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei K., October 4, 2002, Volgograd. K. served in units 37115 (Krasnodar Region) and 61918 (Totskoe, Orenburg Province). Aleksei K. is a pseudonym.
38 Serving low quality food prepared in unsanitary conditions may violate the requirement that food provided be “free from adverse substances” (General Comment 12. The Right to Adequate Food, Economic and Social Council, para. 10).
39 A number of conscripts also complained that they received porridge made of the chaff of rice (in Russian: сечка) and ground chaff of grains (in Russian: droblenka). While chaff may not please the taste buds, it does contain numerous nutrients.
40 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Kaiankin, April 18, 2002, Sosnovo, Leningrad Province. Kaiankin served in the Ministry of Defense’s unit 22336 in Volgograd Province.
41 Human Rights Watch interview with Roman Davydov, April 13, 2002, St. Petersburg. Davydov served in two Ministry of Defense units in the Russian Far East, among them unit 52594.
42 Human Rights Watch interview with Egor Z., October 5, 2002, Volgograd. Z. served in unit 6688 in the Northern Caucasus. Egor Z. is a pseudonym.
43 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Sukhanov, April 17, 2002, St. Petersburg. Sukhanov served in the Ministry of Defense’s construction unit 32087 in St. Petersburg.
44 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii S., October 4, 2002, Uriupinsk, Volgograd Province. Several other conscripts also said they ate mashed potato made out of potato mix.
45 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilia B., October 29, 2002, Novokuznetsk. B. served in a Ministry of Defense unit eastern Siberia. Ilia B. is a pseudonym.
46 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii B. , October 17, 2002, Novosibirsk. B. served in a training unit in Pereslavl-Zalesskii, Yaroslavl Province, and in a rocket troops unit in Uzhur, Krasnoyarsk Region.
47 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Kaiankin, April 18, 2002, Sosnovo, Leningrad Province.
48 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Z., November 4, 2002, Cheliabinsk. Z. served in unit 69771 in Sverdlovsk Province and in an unknown unit in Shadrinsk, Cheliabinsk Province. Vladimir Z. is a pseudonym.
49 During the Cold War, the Soviet armed forces maintained a food supply for the eventuality of war. These supplies are popularly known as “strategic reserves.”
50 The effects of long-term freezing of food items are not well known. Most of nutrition experts seem to agree that freezing up to one year should not affect most foods if they are properly wrapped and protected from the more deteriorating effect of air. In the case of fruits and vegetables, there seems to be a consensus that the kind of freezing now done in Western industrialized countries actually preserves nutrients very well compared to other means of storage. See, e.g., the main dietary guidance document of the U.S. government, which notes that most frozen foods are rich in nutrient content: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans--Fifth Edition," (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2000), online at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2000/document/frontcover.htm (retrieved October 10, 2003).
51 Human Rights Watch interview with Roman Davydov, April 13, 2002, St. Petersburg.
52 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei Podolskii, a retired colonel and head of the nongovernmental organization For Military Reform, November 28, 2001.
53 Article 240 of the Military Code of Conduct, see also footnote 25.
54 Conscripts described two different eating arrangements: In some cases, pots and dishes were put on tables and conscripts served themselves, in others conscripts stood in line to receive a plate in a cafeteria style arrangement.
55 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir P., September 30, 2002, Volgograd. P. served in unit 47084 in Vladikavkaz. Vladimir Z. is a pseudonym.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with Anatolii Z. , November 7, 2002, Cheliabinsk. Z. served in units 54076 in Novoaltaisk and 25626 in Cheliabinsk of the railroad troops. Anatolii Z. is a pseudonym.
57 Human Rights Watch interview with Ilia B., October 29, 2002, Novokuznetsk.
58 Human Rights Watch interview with Denis Ivanov, April 17, 2002, St. Petersburg.
59 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei K., October 4, 2002, Uriupinsk, Volgograd Province.
60 Human Rights Watch interview with Vasilii B. , October 17, 2002, Novosibirsk.
61 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei Dryganov, April 10, 2002, St. Petersburg.
62 Human Rights Watch interview with Andrei D., November 3, 2002, Cheliabinsk. D. served in unknown units in Chebarkul (Cheliabinsk Province) and Verkhnaia Pyshma (Sverdlovsk Province). Andrei D. is a pseudonym.
63 Human Rights Watch interview with Vladimir Z., November 4, 2002, Cheliabinsk.
64 Human Rights Watch interview with Aleksei Koshelev, April 12, 2002, St. Petersburg. Koshelev served in units 6716 (Lembolovo, Leningrad Province) and 6718 of the Ministry of Interior’s troops.
65 Human Rights Watch interview with Anton A., April 18, 2002, St. Petersburg. A. served in unit 51046 of the railroad troops in Mga, Leningrad Province. Anton A. is a pseudonym.
66 Human Rights Watch interview with Stepan M., April 18, 2002, St. Petersburg. M. served in unit 51046 of the railroad troops in Mga, Leningrad Province. Stepan M. is a pseudonym.
67 Letter from V. Isakov, deputy minister of defense, to A. Neistat, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, dated June 25, 2003, No. 163/VNK/292.