Honors no guarantee of housing for ordinary serviceman

The chance to address Vladimir Putin during the Q&A sessions often changes a person’s life. But appealing to top authorities is not the solution to the malfunctioning of the bureaucratic machine.

A Russian serviceman, who had been struggling with a problem over his residency for years, once had to ask the then-President Putin to get his problem resolved. This brought results for the soldier, but other problems have since arisen.

Oleg Kozlov’s initiative worked seven years ago. Still, like many Russian servicemen, he has other problems which he cannot settle due to bureaucratic obstacles – notoriously widespread in Russia.

For almost two decades, Oleg Kozlov honorably served his country – first in the Soviet Army, and then in the Russian – sustaining injuries and receiving medals. But when the Soviet Union fell apart, this recipient of the country’s highest decoration failed to get Russian citizenship.

“I appealed to officials several times but they always told me to come later. As a serviceman stationed on the Tajik-Afghan border, I simply didn’t have the time or possibility to keep knocking on their door,” Kozlov says.

Caught in a Catch-22, Oleg felt the only way to cut through the bureaucracy was to go right to the top. At the time there was no one higher than President Vladimir Putin.

Oleg served in a unit stationed in Tajikistan. The poorest republic within the Soviet Union after its collapse, Tajikistan found itself in the midst of a civil war. With Afghanistan just across the border, this Central Asian state soon became a crossroads for terrorists and drug traffickers.

Vladimir Romanenko, from the Institute of CIS Countries, says it is only thanks to the Russian troops that Tajikistan did not plunge into complete chaos:

“If it wasn’t for the Russian troops, Tajikistan today would have been little different from what we see in neighboring Afghanistan. Russian troops were the only cordon in the way of arms and drug traffickers, terrorists and other bandits. If it wasn’t for Russian troops, Tajikistan may have long ago failed as a state,” says Major General Romanenko.

Used to defending foreign borders, soldiers like Oleg were helpless in defending their own rights. Stuck in limbo for years, Oleg's appeal to the president worked wonders.

Previously indifferent officials dramatically changed their tunes, granting citizenship to his entire family and many of his comrades too.

“People turn to the president because of their helplessness,” says Oleg Kozlov. “We have a very large bureaucratic apparatus, but often these officials are deaf to what people are asking from them. That’s why people go with their small problems to the people of such high authority.”

Still living in Tajikistan, Oleg hopes to move his family to Russia, counting on the government’s promise to provide professional servicemen with free housing.

However, as Vladimir Putin prepares to host this year's Question and Answer session with the country, there is one man who will not be calling in.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to burden the prime minister with my problems. He’s already helped me once. That’s enough,” says Oleg Kozlov.