Russian MiniLessons: Armed Forces – Вооружённые силы

Russian soldiers march in Samara, Russia, on Victory Day, 2017.

Note, the following excerpt was written by Dr. Lawerence Mansour, West Point. It was originally published in The Russian Context: The Culture behind the Language, edited by Genevra Gerhart and Eloise M. Boyle. It originally appeared on in 2005. 

The armed forces are the most important and the largest of the power agencies. In the Russian Federation they are under the direct control of the министр обороны. The minister is advised by members of the Генеральный штаб, генштаб, as well as his civilian assistants. The president of the Russian Federation is the главнокомандующий.
All Russian young men must spend one to two years performing either военная служба or альтернативная служба. Military service is notoriously dangerous and often deadly. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to get permission for alternative service so that avoiding the draft becomes a family affair: the family emigrates, or pays a large bribe; thousands of young men hide from the authorities, becoming дезертиры.

At sixteen all young men in Russia have to становиться/стать на учёт. At seventeen, the районный военкомат присылает повестку informing them that they are subject to the draft and must show up at the local draft board office. They are then subject to a biannual призыв which takes place from 1 April to 30 June and again from 1 October to 31 December, depending on how many призывники are needed for full комплектование of the various branches. Starting in December 1992, young men and women have had the right to join as добровольцы, but women generally serve only as медсёстры, телефонистки, переводчицы and the like.

You can put off service only if you get a отсрочка, usually for получение высшего образования. Those with an advanced degree are not called up. Some major universities have an военная подготовка. Completing this course exempts one from the draft. Young men can also get an exemption from the draft altogether по семейным обстоятельствам, for example, if a brother has been killed in service, or if the draftee is не годен к военной службе after the obligatory медицинское обследование, медобследование.

Новобранцы serve eighteen months if they are sent to the сухопутные войска, two years if sent to the военно-морской флот, ВМФ, but only one year if drafted after receiving a college degree. If they like it they may остаться на сверхурочную/службу.

начальная военная подготовка, НВП for recruits is led by профессиональные военнослужащие, the офицеры and старшины. Each is generally a выпускник военного училища. Training takes place at a полигон. There new conscripts live в казармах with about 100 soldiers to a building and eat what is jokingly called похлёбка – a potato or grain soup served up by the дежурные по кухне, and at night sleep on a койка. At around six in the morning soldiers rise to подъём, stand for поверка, do their физзарядка, go through заправка to get ready for осмотр, which is different from a торжественный смотр. Breakfast and supper offer the same food, usually tea, about one pound of bread and a bowl of hot cereal with butter. Lunch is the main meal: soup, 100 grams of meat (about a quarter pound), black bread and potatoes.

Day is not done till вечерняя поверка and отбой at around 10 pm.

The recruit learns how properly to put on a форма, which consists of a фуражка, a гимнастёрка, perhaps a мундир, китель and, if it’s cold, a ушанка and a ватник; there’s a ремень, and, usually, кирзовые сапоги; sometimes портянки are worn instead of носки. Whatever the ботинки used, they must be до блеска – literally, till they sparkle. A soldier must know not only how to маршировать in a колонна, he must also take part in полевые учения. During down time he can bone up on the устав.

He also needs to learn marching commands:


At ease!

Form columns!

Fall in – single file!

Take up arms!

Sling arms

Order arms!

Present arms!

Mark time!


To the right!

To the left!

Eyes right/left!

Fall out!

Close on center/flanks



В колонну (по 2, по 4) становись!

В колонну по одному становись!

В ружьё!

За спину!

К ноге!

На караул!

На месте шагом марш!

Шагом марш!



Равнение направо/налево




He’ll want to know battle commands, too: Есть! Бегом! В укрытие! Гранатами огонь! За мной! Заряжай! К бою готовься! Целься! Огонь! Примкнуть штыки! and the ever-popular Руки вверх! and Стой! Кто идёт?

The first-year in the life of a рядовой is made miserable by a vicious form of дедовщина where деды are allowed mercilessly to издеваться над ним. There is little chance of getting much leave. If he can’t stand it he may want to уйти в самоволку and become a дезертир for which he is likely to попасть на гауптвахту or, as it’s also called, на губу. Young men know what is coming, as do their parents, and so many do anything they can to avoid service. As a result all branches have difficulty с комплектованием. Upon completion of service, a soldier goes back to being a civilian.

Given that Russia still employs universal conscription, military life (or the avoidance of it) represents a large part of the Russian collective experience. Not surprisingly, jokes and terminology from military life are common in popular culture.

Всех отсутствующих построить в одну шеренгу!

И не делайте умное лицо, не забывайте, что вы будете офицеры.

Курсант, если вы хотите что-нибудь сказать, то лучше молчите.

Все в окопы, остальные за мной!

Note: due to formating concerns, the above text slightly differs from that found in the original book. However, all information is still the same.

About the Author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov leads SRAS' Research Services, performing remote archive research and consultations for researchers around the globe. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He also studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and taught Russian at West Virginia University. As a journalist, he has reported in both Russian and English language outlets and has years of archival research experience. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the “real Russia” which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei also contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS Family of Sites.

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