'I Could No Longer Endure The Humiliation': Russian Soldier Offers Explanation For Deadly Shooting Spree

Private Ramil Shamsutdinov was serving at a base in Russia’s Zaibakalye region.

MOSCOW -- Since he was arrested and charged with shooting eight fellow soldiers at an army base in October, Private Ramil Shamsutdinov’s world has been limited to the walls of a pretrial detention center in a Siberian city and the courtrooms where his case is being held. From the beginning, the conscript and his relatives and supporters have sought to justify the shooting at a military base as an act of self-defense -- a response to brutal hazing of the kind that has been an intractable problem for Russia’s military. Now, with a probe into the incident ongoing, the 20-year old has expanded on his explanation of the incident in an apologetic letter from custody. "I regret the fact that I couldn't restrain myself and resorted to this extreme step, but I had no other choice,” reads the handwritten letter, which was published January 9 on a social-media page in support of the conscript. “I could no longer endure the humiliation.” Shamsutdinov has been accused of opening fire on October 25, 2019 at the base in Russia’s Zaibakalye region, killing eight other soldiers and wounding two more. After his arrest, the Defense Ministry sought to portray Shamsutdinov as mentally unstable. From the outset, however, Shamsutdinov has said he was driven to act by persistent humiliation and violence at the hands of his officers and fellow conscripts. There was “nowhere to run” and no one to complain to, he wrote in his letter, and his “survival instinct” ultimately took over. In an interview with RFE/RL on January 9, Shamsutdinov’s father Salimzhan said “he left home as a decent lad with a desire to serve.” He graduated from cadet school, did a lot of sport, and while his grades were not excellent he was generally a “good kid.” “I didn’t send him to the army to murder his fellow soldiers, but to defend the country,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s the army that did this to him.”

Hazing in the Russian armed forces, a practice informally known as dedovshchina, has been the focus of human rights organizations for years. Despite efforts in recent years to discipline perpetrators and stamp out the chronic practice, activists and victims say it persists in units across the country. Critics say the practice has long been accepted as a necessary part of instilling comradery and discipline in units -- particularly for conscripts. Military service is still mandatory in Russia, with men between 18 and 33 required to serve one year, down from two years in the Soviet era. The requirement of serving, however, has been widely flouted in the past, for example, by wealthier families paying bribes to get out of service. Following the shooting, several Russian NGOs appeared to dismiss Shamsutdinov’s version of events, and some officials blamed the influence of social media. Valentina Mordova, the chairwoman of the Zaibakalye branch of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, an NGO that offers legal advice to soldiers, said that she "absolutely" did not agree with this assessment. "The facts say otherwise. Hazing has been and will be there, unfortunately," Mordova told RFE/RL. “And its presence is prompted not by virtual reality but by the society we are living in.” Shamsutdinov also wrote in his letter that he was grateful to those who’ve waged a campaign in his support. He expressed regret for his actions and asked forgiveness from the relatives of his victims.
Dedovshchina is military hazing and while not as prevalent today as it was, it still exists. It usually takes the forms of psychological, physical, and sexual brutality. It was very prevalent during the two Chechen wars. In Czarist times, the military had the right to raid Jewish villages in the Pale of Settlement and conscript all young boys for a term of 25 years. These lads oftentimes became the property of military officers. The families knew they would never again see their sons.