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Russia: Yeltsin Approves New Attempt To Reform Military

  • Simon Saradzhyan

Moscow, 10 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - President Boris Yeltsin yesterday approved a plan to reform the Russian armed forces. The plan was presented by new Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev. It aims at streamlining the military's organization and staff.

A senior officer (who asked to remain unnamed) told RFE/RL yesterday that Sergeyev's plan envisages the elimination of several entire services. The officer said that there will be only three services left: the navy, the air force and the strategic forces.

The officer, who heads one of Moscow's military registration and enlistment offices, said that only the Navy will remain largely unchanged, while the new Air Force will include air defense forces that currently operate independently and report directly to the defense minister.

The new Strategic Forces will be build around the Strategic Missile Forces, a service commanded by Sergeyev before his promotion to the ministerial post last month. The Strategic Missile Forces are regarded as one of the few military services which remain combat efficient.

The new Strategic Forces will also incorporate ground units, which are now a separate branch of the national armed forces, as well as those armed services -- such as airborne troops -- which currently report directly to the defense minister. Their commands of those services will either be disbanded or downgraded..

Also downgraded will be the tactical group of Russian troops in Moldova, the officer said. As a result, this group will report to the command of the Moscow Military District (MVO).

The officer said the overall strength of armed forces under command of the defense ministry will be cut to 1.25 million soldiers

Yeltsin has called for the abolishment of conscription and the establishment of fully professional military by the year 2000. Sergeyev seems to move toward implementation of this appeal.

The officer told RFE/RL that Sergeyev is planning to close down most military academies. The only major one to remain will be the Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces that currently admits only senior commanders starting from the rank of colonel. This institution is to be renamed the Academy of Russian Armed Forces and will have departments rather than faculties, to train specialists for each service. Most of the academy's teachers will be civilians, they are cheaper than military instructors..

It is still unclear how the minister will raise funds to implement the planned changes. Sergeyev's predecessor Igor Rodionov claimed that the 104.3 trillion rubles of defense spending allocated in this year's budget were barely enough for the armed forces to survive. This amount is to be cut now by about 30 percent.

But it costs three times as much to disband one division as to maintain it for one year. Each honorably discharged officer is entitled to receive one year's worth of his salary. According to a recent opinion poll reported by Interfax on Sunday, 61 per cent of officers are constantly worried about their fiscal dire straits while 29 of them believe their live beyond the poverty line. Another poll showed that up to 70 per cent of low-rank officers in such elite forces as strategic missile forces and airborne troops, plan to retire early as soon as their current contract expire.