In addition to the economic problems that Russia faces and will continue to face when the war in Ukraine ends, another wave of challenges will come to Russia regardless of the outcome of the conflict: that of return of the soldiers.
Those who committed war crimes or simply experienced combat will return to Russian society and civilian life. What will happen to them when they begin their reintegration into Russian society? The nature of this waror ‘special military operation’, complicate how returning veterans deal with PTSD, creating problems that will hinder Russia’s transition to a postwar society.
Silence and apathy
Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Russian government has leveraged its resources to secure a monopoly on the information space surrounding the war. Censorship laws targeting independent media, arrests of anti-war protesters, and notorious “disrepute” laws work to keep the general population away from politics and war. It was reported that immediately after the start of the war began a deliberate “positive” news campaign. he began to convince the public that nothing bad was happening, despite the difficulties on the battlefield. While the official rhetoric has changed somewhat, with more imminent admissions of the challenges faced by pro-Russian forces, Russian citizens are being prevented from obtaining objective information about the war and are encouraged to focus their energies on other issues. Even the term “Special Military Operation” and the government’s obsession with keeping the word “war” out of public discourse show its intention to present the invasion of Ukraine as far removed from the lives of ordinary citizens. This policy, as well as military failures, worked, as a recently closed poll organized by the Kremlin shows that Russians are tired of war and feel indifference and apathy towards it .
Veterans returning from war will encounter this media blackout and apathy among the population, finding it difficult to discuss their experiences openly, as their version of the war will differ from the official rhetoric. These soldiers have seen firsthand the failures of the Russian military and some have made their views public . Their experiences will increase their chances of acquiring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), whose treatment is effective it includes learning how to handle stress healthily, reconnecting emotionally with the experience to process it and find a way through the trauma, reconnecting with others, and finding support groups. All of these approaches require an open and frank discussion of the war, which will be difficult given the Russian government’s censorship policies, including even banning the word “war.” Censorship can scare organizations and doctors willing and qualified to help veterans.
While veterans in need of mental health support could potentially find resources within the Russian military, where military psychologists are present on bases to talk to soldiers returning from conflict areas, the system could only work in theory. . A visit to the psychologist may be necessary, but it can be more a formal conversation and a checkup rather than a serious review of a soldier’s mental state. There is also a fear among many soldiers that working with a psychologist could jeopardize their military career. because their access to the most dangerous, and therefore most prestigious, weapons and assignments may be limited . As a result, their rank advancement and transfers to better service stations may be slowed down or stopped altogether.
Russia is a country of extreme inequality, and the military offers an escape with stable pay and the promise of social advancement. Soldiers from poorer regions see the military as their ticket to a better life. They can also be the main source of income for their families and can also support several relatives at home. In choosing between sacrificing income and career and overcoming the trauma, the former will take precedence. Also, it is likely that when soldiers return from war, they will simply want to get back to their families as soon as possible without taking the time to stay on base to work with psychologists.
In addition to the human side of this issue, there is the logistical side. The war showed serious deficits in the Russian system. Recruits and conscripts they lack equipment and they receive little training before watching the fight. This same system will likely lack the resources to process the large numbers of soldiers requesting assistance as they return.
The returning veterans will bring strains from their combat experience into a society that is already strained by economic and social inequality. They will begin interacting with men who avoided fighting by leaving Russia or by obtaining an exemption from military service. Those who left have the resources to transfer their lives abroad, while those with exemptions work in privileged professions, such as the military-industrial complex and the IT sector. Access to these opportunities is not widely available to the poorest regions of the country. Given the harsh response to the soldiers at the front who refuse to fight, there is a high risk of conflict between returning veterans and those who have not fought. Soldiers who have experienced trauma will express anger towards those who have managed to avoid war. This will widen the gap between Russia’s regions and larger cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, as it is the poorer regions that are disproportionately represented in the war.
In addition to social tension, violence will likely increase within Russian society as soldiers with violent experiences return to civilian life. Another symptom of PTSD is increased irritability and anger and traumatized soldiers will bring the violence of war into their family lives. Similarly, the economic situation in Russia as a whole and in the country’s regions, in particular, is unlikely to improve, even with the cessation of hostilities. Although the payments received by the soldiers are quite large, especially when compared with the average salaries in their home regions, very little will remain when they return. During payment holidays have been granted to many families of mobilized citizens until the end of 2023, after which payments will have to be made. As prices rise and resources become scarcer, veterans with combat experience may see no alternative but to resort to crime to ensure the survival of their families.
Also, the private military company “Wagner” has actively recruited convicts from prisons across Russia to fight in Ukraine with the promise of pardons and high wages. Many of these people have been convicted of violent crimes, including murder and assault. Those who survive will return to Russia with pardons, awards, combat experience and weapons training. They could even do it themselves. Lately, an ex-convict he reportedly defected from Wagner and opened fire on police officers in Russia’s Rostov region bordering Ukraine. This particular individual only injured one police officer and was arrested shortly thereafter; however, there is no guarantee that other deserters or officially discharged ex-convicts will not return and form criminal elements with their former comrades-in-arms. It will be difficult to control the flow of weapons into these border regions and the local police will have a difficult time tackling combat veterans who turn to crime.
While the military outcome of the war is not yet clear, it is possible to infer the social and political outcomes within Russia. Due to the Russian government’s monopoly on information within the country, combined with battlefield failures, returning soldiers will find little official or community support in their transition to civilian life. Cases of PTSD will not be treated because Russia’s healthcare system will not be able to work with the large number of affected veterans. There is a general indifference and apathy among the Russian population towards the war, especially as economic woes continue, which will make it difficult to get them to contribute more resources to veterans. The government will try to censor the stories of returning soldiers to control the narrative of how the war was handled.
The inequality that existed before the war in Russian society will remain, further increasing social tension. Given their traumatic experience, tension is likely to increase between those who were mobilized and those who were able to avoid mobilization by leaving the country or through the exemption system. Untreated PTSD coupled with increased social tension will lead to increased aggression in Russian society. This will hamper Russia’s peaceful transition to a democratic system and will pose a challenge to all Russian local and national leaders interested in redressing the inequalities within Russian society.
Ukraine: Russia Tackles PTSD on a Nationwide Scale — L’Indro