Vilemov, 23 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The North Atlantic Assembly -- NATO's parliamentary body --has drawn up a report urging NATO to help Russia's armed forces out of their current quagmire.
A draft of the report was presented at the Assembly's most recent session in Bucharest last month. The Director of the North Atlantic Assembly's Defense and Security Committee, retired German colonel Heinz Kluss, discussed the draft last week at Vilemov castle near Prague at a seminar on NATO expansion.
The North Atlantic Assembly consists of 188 representatives of the parliaments of NATO member states as well as some 70 representatives of 15 Central and East European states with associate status, including Russia. It meets in plenary sessions twice a year. Its purpose is to foster cooperation with NATO.
After it adopts the report, the Brussels-based body intends to "relay" the findings to the Russian people with the message that "there is no feeling of triumph or satisfaction on the NATO side." Rather, the report said, it aims to encourage NATO countries and Russia to cooperate in supporting military reform in Russia.
Colonel Kluss said that when the report was presented in Bucharest, Russian delegates from the State Duma were told they might not like what they were about to hear and were offered the possibility of leaving the room during the presentation. The Russians stayed. They concurred with the findings but complained that they had not been consulted during its preparation. Moreover, the mainly Communist Duma delegates blamed the woeful state of Russia's military on the present government.
But the report said that the roots of the current problems were in "the imperial overstretch", which it described as the heavy burden of 15 to 17 percent of GNP that had been allotted to the military budget under the communist government. This was said to have been one of the main reasons behind the eventual collapse of the Soviet system.
The North Atlantic Assembly report warned that the unstable situation in Russia's armed forces threatens domestic security and could have a negative impact on the democratization process in Russia. In the report's words, "frustrated, corrupt, underpaid, underfed soldiers are a permanent threat to security and democracy, not only for their own society but also for neighboring countries."
The draft report estimated that more than 75 percent of eligible young men evade conscription and that desertion from the military is widespread. Commanders are said to be indifferent because they would find it difficult to accommodate, pay, feed, educate and train those young men. The report noted that NATO inspectors have been astonished that there was n-o flying at military airfields and no visible activity in military exercise areas. The report noted there have been no ground force exercises at divisional level or above since 1992. It said Russia's surface navy rarely goes to see.
The report said at least 5,000 Russian soldiers die every year, one fifth of them as a result of suicides, the rest from "beatings, starvation, inhumane sanitary conditions and appalling accommodation." It said more soldiers died from these causes in the last three years than during the Soviet Union's entire nine-year war in Afghanistan.
The report said that Russia's armed forces are disintegrating, with discipline undermined by multiple commands: troops are under the command of more than a dozen ministries and are also subordinated to the whims of high ranking individuals.
The report said that the Ministry of Defense ground forces currently are at an all time low of 400,000, which is about half the size of non-Defense Ministry forces. These include the militia (300,000), OMON para-military security police (15,000), Interior Ministry troops (250,000), the border guards (200,000) and the state protection service (25,000), now totaling about 790,000 soldiers. In addition, approximately one million men work in private security organizations, with some 400,000 carrying weapons, including machine guns.
The North Atlantic Assembly's report noted that Russia's military engagement in Chechnya demonstrated the lack of military leadership, shortcomings in readiness, low training levels, poor quality of equipment and weapons, shortages of resources including food, absence of high level directions and a weak logistics system. The report said that while officers were aware of these limitations, they preferred to take the easiest tactical option: overwhelming fire power, "thus destroying entire villages and killing many civilians in order to fight a tiny group of Chechen soldiers."
The report noted that since officers and soldiers are often not paid for three months at a time, many turn to moonlighting as security guards in nightclubs and supermarkets and as chauffeurs for the "new Russians". Many officers and soldiers also turn corrupt and sell military equipment.
The report said the fate of Russia's 22,000 tactical nuclear weapons causes the most alarm. It said that "the possibility of an accident caused by neglected atomic warheads is more likely than Russian nuclear missiles being fired or detonated by accident." It went on to note that the most serious is the state of the Strategic Nuclear Forces, which still operate some 1,300 missiles with more than 6,000 nuclear warheads. As the report put it, "the standard of safety, maintenance and morale is decreasing, a war by accident and miscalculation seems possible and insiders already report hair-raising incidents of this kind which brought Russia and the world to the brink of nuclear disaster."
The report noted that "frustrated, undisciplined, underpaid troops and officers, disenchanted with their place in society and desperate about their social situation, are a permanent sources of potential unrest. It seems quite understandable that many of them believe in the need to reestablish the powerful old empire." This suggested that the decline of the Russian Military has become a problem not only for Russia, but also for its neighboring countries and NATO itself.
The North Atlantic Assembly report warned that since the Russian army is morally broken and "survives by corruption, by placing weapons in the wrong hands in conflict zones, no guarantee exists that during peacekeeping operations such an army will stick to the rule of appropriate response." It further noted that since the primary reason behind such misery is the depressed situation of the Russian economy which may take years to rectify, all efforts at military reform in Russia will be extremely difficult.
The report recommended that NATO offer more assistance to Russia in addition to existing programs of exchanging officers, holding joint maneuvers and conducting officer training. It said NATO should encourage the Russian military to take part in international peacekeeping missions to boost the army's confidence and improve its means of leadership via cooperation with NATO forces.
The report concluded that if reform of Russia's military does not begin immediately, there may be nothing left to reform. The aim of the reform, it said, should be to build an army capable of meeting the needs of a new, democratic Russia, which contributes to peace and stability in Europe.