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Russian Military Reform – One More Step Toward Dictatorship

Thursday, 30 November 2000 12:00 AM

Pro-government politicians and the media are sounding horns in favor of this plan for the modernization of Russia’s military machine, but independent experts are taking a pessimistic view.

They are keeping in mind the previous experience of Russia’s government, which tried to reform the Russian army several times without success. And this is not because the Kremlin didn’t pay attention to the job at hand, but because funds for the reforms simply and mysteriously disappeared from the defense budget and never reached their official destinations.

As NewsMax.com has reported, during the last eight years Moscow has paid very close attention to developing its strategic nuclear arsenal, which was and is used by the Kremlin leadership to extort money from the U.S. and other Western countries. At the same time, Moscow didn’t have enough funds for the development of Russia’s conventional armed forces and limited itself to maintaining only a few army divisions around Moscow that could protect the corrupt Russian elite from a possible popular uprising.

As a result of this situation, Russia’s conventional armed forces are in such bad shape that they haven’t been able to establish a so-called constitutional order in Chechnya over the past year and a half. This army suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of outnumbered and lightly armed guerrillas in the 1994-1996 Chechnya war. Currently it has retaken most of the rebel republic but has not stamped out resistance.

In general Russia’s conventional forces are in disarray because of a lack of funds, the country’s decade-long economic crisis, with ground troops rarely going on field exercises, warplanes grounded and navy ships stuck in harbors because they haven’t enough fuel.

The lack of training has led to an increase in the number of fatal accidents and sapped morale among the mostly conscript military.

Vicious hazing of young conscripts by older soldiers is rife, resulting in an increase in the number of desertions, killings and suicides. While ordinary soldiers are short of food and clothing, theft of military funds and equipment is endemic.

As reported on Russian TV on Nov. 20, there are 1,300 generals in the armed forces and 900 generals in special services. The Minister of Defense’s monthly salary is 9,450 rubles, or about $315, three- and four-star generals get a monthly salary of 4,200 rubles, or about $150, and a one-star general’s salary is only 3,000 rubles per month, or $100.

Yet according to Russia’s ORT TV channel, every year, in the most beautiful places around Moscow, more than 250 Russian generals build their so-called Dachas, or country houses, of about 4,000-5,000 square feet, which cost from $500,000 to more than $1 million each.

How can it be possible, ORT asked, when Russian generals could afford only one door or two window frames on their official monthly salaries. Every year the Military Prosecutor’s office opens about 30 criminal cases against top-level generals; none of these corrupt military commanders, however, is ever arrested, sentenced or put behind bars.

According to the Russian press, 90 percent of the generals who received promotion in 2000 do not have experience as division and upper-level field commanders and had military backgrounds of serving only in Moscow.

More than 30 percent of regimental commanders are older than 40 and do not have necessary military training and education. In the words of President Putin, there has never been a similar situation in the history of the country’s armed forces.

Actually, the existing non-strategic Russian military machine, which remains one of the largest forces in the world, could not realize the extremely ambitious intentions of the Kremlin leaders and President Putin, who is looking for a dictatorship at home and dominance abroad.

As a first step on the road to reform Russia’s conventional forces, the Kremlin decided to reduce the number of its military personnel. As it was announced in Moscow, during the next five years Russia’s 3.1 million-man military machine would be cut by about 600,000 in hopes of building a more mobile and effective force.

These cuts, as the Moscow press reported, will include 180,000 people from Ground Forces, 50,000 from the navy, 40,000 from the air force, 33,000 from Interior Troops, 10,000 from Railway Troops, 5,000 from the Border Guards Service, 130,000 civilian employees, and 152,000 from unidentified military forces and special services.

According to Russian military officials, the cuts would come only in support services and among administrators, and not in combat units. Among those people to be trimmed, 240,000 will be commissioned officers, including 380 generals, who would lose many privileges and the mansions they built on the funds meant for soldiers’ food, clothing and other supplies.

Of course, the Kremlin’s plans in this area face strong opposition from the military high command and the officer corps, which were among Putin’s strongest supporters during his election campaign. The opposition could extend beyond the military, because Putin owes much of his popularity to his promises to restore Russia’s military power, and the cuts may be perceived as backing down.

This opposition looks strong enough to make Putin nervous about the results of the planned military reform. During his meeting with Russia’s top brass on Nov. 20, Putin informed his military commanders that he plans to keep a tight grip on military reform that will cut troop numbers and reorient military staff to deal with the new threats. In his emotional speech Putin criticized his military establishment for not promoting commissioned officers from outside the capital.

He also praised Russia’s military for its role in the conflict in rebel Chechnya, lashing out at the West for criticizing this war as Soviet-style imperialism and warning that no one should flex muscles at Moscow. Putin also emphasized that the military operation in Chechnya was not over and would not be rushed.

He said that military funding was not being cut and personnel reduction will provide the increased funds for training and field exercises. By 2006, new groups of combat-ready, freshly equipped forces should be deployed on Russia’s flanks facing Central Asia and the southwest, Putin said.

There is no doubt that if these plans for military reform are realized, in next few years Russia’s conventional armed forces will accomplish their new development and modernization plans. Together with an upgraded strategic nuclear arsenal, Russia’s military machine could become the largest and most powerful in the world.

Putin needs this hard-to-kill monster to realize his global ambitions and to deal with the U.S. and other democratic countries, whose present leaders and politicians prefer to close their eyes to the real danger Putin’s ambitions pose to the Western world.

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Pro-government politicians and the media are sounding horns in favor of this plan for the modernization of Russia's military machine, but independent experts are taking a pessimistic view. They are keeping in mind the previous experience of Russia's government, which tried...
Thursday, 30 November 2000 12:00 AM
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