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The Russian Imperial army and navy had to build frontier outposts in very remote locations such as Kamchatka. During the Catherine the Great/Paul/Alexander period (1762-1825), the few ostrogs and ports there had just a handful of officers.

Krusenstern wrote that "none but officers whose conduct is deserving of punishment are sent" to Kamchatka. An involuntary trip there was a famous punishment for political and criminal offenders, possibly including the soldiers in those garrisons. However, the Empire seemingly relied on the table-ranked officers to protect its assets and reputation.

Were the few military officers there really sent as a punishment?

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    Well, reassignment to the middle of nowhere (or in wartime - to the frontline) is a tried and true "punishment short of official punishment" in all armed forces and militarized structures everywhere. Being assigned as the commander of a garrison was technically a promotion to those officers, so while unofficially everyone would know it is a punishment, in official documents it wouldn't be recorded as such. Note that since it wasn't officially a punshment, officers that simply offended someone powerful could be given the same treatment. – Danila Smirnov Oct 21 '18 at 6:01
  • @DanilaSmirnov very good point. Sounds like such a punishment would have been obscured by the fact that the assignment was still official duty, making documentation of same less likely. – Aaron Brick Oct 21 '18 at 6:37
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I believe punishment is an inaccurate term. Two cultures, one earnestly striving to be a pure meritocracy and the other firmly entrenched in the recognition of birth privilege and honour, are here intertwined with each other. Assignment to Kamchatka, and other eastern posts, becomes the solution for how to reward behaviour seen as beneficial by the meritocracy but offensive by (some member(s) of) the aristocracy.

I suspect that the "offensive" behaviour being ostensibly punished might frequently have been strict obedience to orders against aristocratic pressure. When said offended party demands satisfaction from an officer for such behaviour, the meritocracy needs to both visibly appease on the one hand, and visibly reward on the other. Five years out of sight and out of mind, at a higher pay and responsibility, fits nicely to my mind.

On a deeper level, an assignment that would be seen as punishment by an aristocracy obsessed with its constant personal contact with peers at court in Moscow and St. Petersburg might well not be viewed as such by an organization dedicated to rewarding competence. A lower standard of living in the East might have provided an ambitious officer with better chances of saving a small nest egg. Less frequent inspection by, and even correspondence with, one's superior grants a first taste of independent command. If all (merit-based) appointments above a certain rank require completion of a hardship posting, well why not just get it over with?

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