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Russia: Experts See Dangers In Military's Problems

  • Paul Goble



Washington, 13 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - The problems now plaguing the Russian army reflect the problems of Russian society and are likely to have an enormous impact on the future of Russia and its relationships with the rest of the world.

That was the message of three leading American specialists on Russian army who spoke to a Heritage Foundation conference entitled "The Present and Future of the Russian Military."

The three were Steven Blank, a research professor at the U.S. Army War College; Sherman Garnett, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Defense Department official; and Jacob Kipp, a senior analyst at the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office.

Each of the three explicitly stated that he was speaking for himself and not for the institution where he is employed.

Blank argued that Russia was "a failing, but not a failed" state, one that is undemocratic, irresponsible, and unresponsive to the population.

As a result, he said, there had been a priviatization of state power as well as the privatization of state property. And that in turn had led to a pluralization of security and foreign policies. He suggested that this pluralization had been obscured because of the adoption by virtually all Russian politicians of a neo-imperial rhetoric.

But the West should not confuse this rhetoric with reality, he said. The Russian Army lacks the capacity to reestablish the empire or even to maintain its curent dislocation of forces within Russia.

Instead, Blank argued, the West should see the real danger in this situation: the likelihood that the Russian government would overextend itself and thus lose control over its forces on the periphery.

Carnegie's Garnett suggested that budgetary and political constraints meant that the transformation of the Russian army was unlikely to proceed in either a rational or stable way.

Instead, those forces able to achieve political influence would win all the resources even if they did not deserve them according to Russia's national interests or the requirements of its military doctrine.

Moreover, like Blank, Garnett argued that Russia seemed likely to remain trapped in what he called the "tar pit" of conflicts in the former Soviet republics, something he suggested could be as dangerous for Russia at home as for its non-Russian neighbors.

And he said that one manifestation of that might be the transformation of the Black Sea Fleet into a rogue force like the Fourteenth Russian Army in Moldova.

Kipp argued that there was good news and bad news about developments in the Russian armed forces. The good news, he said, is that there is more information about and greater transparency about the Russian army than at any time since the 1920s.

And the good news is also that the Russian army does not want to get involved in domestic affairs but only to serve as the professional defender of Russia against any foreign threats.

The bad news, he said, is that the Russian army, which numbers approximately 1.5 million people, forms only one-third of the total number of Russians in uniform but who are subordinate to other ministries or to no one.

Not only is their focus on domestic control rather than foreign defense but they answer to so many different people that the government lacks the ability to ensure that all of them act in concert.

The Chechen war was a reflection of this, Kipp said, but an even clearer reflection of this problem was the debate over its end. The national security advisor at that time, retired army general Aleksandr Lebed, argued that the army had to withdraw from Chechnya to save itself.

Interior minister Kulikov countered that the army must remain in Chechnya in order to save the state.

Kipp concluded that the real tragedy of this situation is that each man may prove to be right.
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