Moscow, Jan 15 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Over many years, a cloth wrapping worn by soldiers under their heavy boots has become a symbol of Russian military tradition and a nostalgic memento for many former conscripts.
Russia's defence minister has now said they have long outlived their purpose and should completely cease to be part of the military uniform by the end of 2013.
Recently appointed Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said he was appalled that conscripts in some military units were still wearing foot cloth, and ordered that this practice be abandoned by the end of this year.
"We must forget the word 'footwraps' by the end of 2013," Shoigu said at a meeting with the military top brass.
Footwraps, called "portyanki" in Russian, are rectangular pieces of cloth that are worn by soldiers, wrapped around the feet to avoid chafing, absorb sweat and improve the fit.
Footwraps were worn with tall boots before socks became widely available and remained in use by armies in Eastern Europe up until the beginning of the 21st century.
While foot cloth and tall boots were taken off the list of essential garb for the Russian armed forces in 2007 as part of the transition to a new, more comfortable and efficient uniform, their use has never been abandoned completely.
A source in the defence ministry said tall boots were still worn by soldiers for specific tasks, and footwraps were the best fit for this type of military footwear, as "the socks wear out quickly and offer poor protection from blisters".
"The full ban on footwraps in the army has never been implemented, and it is unlikely to be enforced in the future, either," the source said.
The Russian army has issued footwraps since tsar Peter the Great imported the custom from the Dutch Army in the 1690s.
They are notorious for the foul smell that they develop when worn under military conditions, where soldiers are often unable to change or dry the cloths for days.
Russian veterans used to jokingly pride themselves on the stench of their footwear, referring to their footwraps as "chemical weapons" that would defeat any enemy unaccustomed to the smell.