President Vladimir Putin has created a new directorate inside the Russian army to promote patriotism, evoking memories of a Soviet practice that once saw soldiers taught the precepts of Marxism and Leninism by political commissars.
The move, approved by Putin in a presidential decree published on Monday July 30th will affect around 1 million active military service people in Russia and appears designed to ensure soldiers' loyalty at a time when Moscow is locked in a geopolitical standoff with the West.
Alexander Kanshin, who sits on a civilian body that shapes military policy, told Interfax news agency in February, “In conditions of a global information and psychological confrontation, the role of political and moral unity within the army and society drastically grows.”
His decree said the new directorate would be responsible for "military-patriotic" work and, in a separate decree, Putin made Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov, a veteran of Russia’s conflict in Syria, its new head and a deputy defence minister.
The defence ministry did not release details of the new directorate, but an unnamed military source told the Kommersant daily that Kartapolov would also be responsible for the activities of the Yunarmiya, a patriotic military youth organisation sponsored by the ministry.
Vladimir Scherbakov, a military specialist at the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, said Putin's decision to resurrect a version of the Soviet-era directorate raised questions.
"The main question is this. In the Soviet era, the directorate in practice worked in the interests of the Communist Party's central committee. It is not completely clear what military-political work the resurrected directorate will do and more importantly in the interests of which political party."
"All of this is reminiscent of a gradual return to the USSR," wrote Dmitry Drize, Kommersant's deputy editor.