The Russian army bans cell phones…and beards

Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and the new commander of military operations in Ukraine, Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov. Gavriil GRIGOROV / Sputnik / AFP

The Russian Ministry of Defense issued several directives to “professionalize” the army without delay. Before carrying out more ambitious military reforms in 2026.

Will 2023 be a year of great upheaval for the Russian army? On January 11, command of the troops present in Ukraine changed hands, and was entrusted directly to the Chief of Staff, Valéri Guérassimov. The first weeks of the year were also marked by several announcements from the Russian Defense Ministry. While he thought he was carrying out a blitzkrieg, Russia had started a long war, which he now had to handle differently.

Last week, Minister Sergei Shoigu outlined the outlines of large-scale military reforms, to be carried out between 2023 and 2026. His ministry also announced several short-term directives, aimed at increasing the professionalism of the armed forces without delay. , underlines the very serious American think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). Among other things, a ban on Russian soldiers involved in Ukraine from using cellphones or private vehicles and… wearing beards.

Avoid further disaster

Prohibitions on the use of electronic equipment for personal use in the army theoretically exist, but are rarely enforced. With this action, the Ministry of Defense wanted to avoid a new massacre, after the Ukrainian attack which had killed at least 89 Russian soldiers (400, according to the Ukrainian military authorities), in the heart of Makiïvka’s temporary military base on New Year’s Eve. In the immediate aftermath of this attack, the ministry easily blamed Russian soldiers for using their cell phones to wish their loved ones a happy new year.

These electronic devices will allow Ukraine to geolocate large concentrations of troops and strike them down. But in the field, this equipment is used to fly reconnaissance drones and transmit intelligence. “Tablets and smartphones are essential for modern warfarerecalled Wagner boss Evguéni Prigojine during an interview with Russian media. Thanks to the data collected, the fighters know the general situation and can transmit important information“.

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beard ban,aspects of military discipline»

More anecdotally, the mandatory shave remains indicative of the Russian high command’s desire to professionalize its troops. In its diary entry dated January 16, ISW pointed out that hygiene issues at the front were often a point of friction between officers and their men, the latter often refusing to shave. In an interview with Russian news website RBC, which was broadcast by Reuters, lawmaker and former high-ranking officer Viktor Sobolev referred to the beard ban as “aspects of military discipline“.”A soldier is seen by civilians, he must look exemplary. If he walks around naked and unshaven, it does not honor him as a person or as a soldier.“, he explained.

Most Muslims and Orthodox wear beards according to their religious customs.

Evgeny Prigojine on Telegram

These actions may seem trivial, but respecting or ignoring these standards is a hallmark of conventional troop professionalism.ISW noted. In underperforming and demoralized units, failure to meet these standards can lead to demoralization and poor performance“. Also according to ISW, this directive could have been issued “for the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of the Russian army’s chain of command“.

The new size is welcomed

But this act was greeted coldly, to certain relatives of Vladimir Putin. “A warrior must fight.80%at that time, he washed himself with a bottle, and shaving was generally a great luxury“Evguéni Prigojine comments, again he, on his Telegram channel, describes this order as”absurd” and D'”archaism of the 1960s“. Wagner’s boss also pointed out that “most Muslims and Orthodox wear beards according to their religious customs“.

Arguments taken by the President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who saw in this directive “provocationagainst its soldiers, mostly Muslim, and acts of Islamophobia. “Sobolev knew very well who wore a beard at the front and why“, he wrote on Telegram. According to Russian broadcaster RBC, the commander of the brigade of the separatist forces in Donbass indicated that this action had not had any impact on the ground. “We don’t have such restrictions at the forefront“, she says.

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More ambitious reforms in 2026

However,”this directive is likely part of a deeper effort by the Russian Ministry of Defense to implement far-reaching military reforms“, pointed out ISW. In its Jan. 17 note, the think tank did make a much more ambitious announcement, which was detailed by Sergei Shoigu in person and came directly from Vladimir Putin. In 2026, Russia can stand thuslarge scale changein the composition, strength and administrative division of the armed forces.

Because of this, the Minister of Defense announced that the size of the Russian army should be increased from 1.35 to 1.5 million people and that the military districts of Moscow and Leningrad would be restored – which would bring the number of districts to six. Most importantly, a new army corps could be formed in Karelia, on the Finnish border, where the army of this northern nation is on permanent alert. A new grouping of autonomous troops will also be deployed in Ukraine, according to the ministry, and troop training will be strengthened. For now, and given the major unfinished reforms of the Russian army carried out in 2008, there is nothing to suggest that Russia “will be able to implement these changes within three years», commented ISW.

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