In this last month of war, articles have appeared in various international newspapers hinting between the lines at alcohol abuse among the Russian troops who invaded Ukraine. In an effort to learn more, we decided to talk to Łukasz Kamienski, a Polish lecturer (he currently teaches at the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow). He has published the book Shooting Up on the history of military drug use (especially in the East), which was published in Italian by UTET in 2017.
It is no mystery that for the armed forces, the quest for increased performance and abilities has always been considered an aspect of fundamental importance, researched, fine-tuned and implemented. “We have little solid, verified information on the present,” Kamienski immediately stressed to il manifesto.
“Many drugs which in the West are called nootropics [so-called ‘smart drugs’], and those banned in sports, involved in doping, are actually available in Russian pharmacies,” Kamienski continued. “Some of these performance enhancers, originally developed for astronauts, were used by the Red Army as early as during the invasion of Afghanistan (1979-1989). The effects of drugs such as Penotropil, Metraprote or Mildronate are otherwise similar to those of amphetamines, but without the same side effects as serotonin or dopamine. Metraprote is probably still in use among special forces or rapid response units in emergency situations,” Kamienski believes.
A different issue is the self-consumption of such substances: “In Afghanistan, the Soviet 40th Army was heavily under the influence of drugs.”
“Because the traditional consolation of a Russian soldier, i.e. alcohol, was very hard to find there, Red Army soldiers turned to a variety of locally available substances: marijuana and hashish, opium (including partially refined and therefore more potent), but also heroin and cocaine,” the lecturer recalled, speaking with us from Krakow.
In Afghanistan, Kamienski added, “the problem of drug use and abuse had become so serious that in the mid-1980s the Russian Army command decided to intensify rotation and shorten the length of service of some units and its personnel from 24 to 9 months.”
Regarding the conflict in Ukraine: “Articles have appeared in the Polish media that Russian soldiers are allowed to loot Ukrainian homes and stores as they wish, but without being allowed to take alcohol. This is to prevent drunkenness among Russian troops and further erosion of morale.”
However, as is obvious, substance use/abuse is not an issue that would affect Russians alone. “For obvious reasons, we know very little about this,” Kamienski took care to stress. “But based on interviews and verification with my sources, such as Paweł Pieniazek, a Polish journalist who has followed the war in the Donbass for a long time, I learned that during this conflict that broke out in 2014, Ukrainian soldiers were using amphetamines, though mostly for recreational purposes. Such consumption might have continued to this day, but with the goal of trying to improve one’s performance in action,” Kamienski suspects. “Then there are the articles from Russian propaganda outlets (such as this one or this one), which allege rampant drug use by the Ukrainian military.”
They even say that it is the U.S. that supplies them with psychoactive substances, thus making them zombie, cyborg-like fighters, turning them into ruthless and brutal murderers with substance addiction problems, Kamienski told il manifesto. “Even Polish right-wing online media reported this kind of Russian narrative*.”
In the end, the lecturer at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow concludes: “Personally, I would be extremely surprised if I found out that Ukrainians were not using substances to try to boost their performance, to fight fatigue and stay awake during continuous military operations, to suppress pain and hunger or even just to survive in harsh siege conditions, as happened in Mariupol.”
*The linked article has been removed; you can read the text in the Google cache copy.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.