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Russia: International Study Finds Military Preparedness Low

  • Ben Partridge

The International Institute for Strategic Studies, an independent London think-tank, today published its annual "Military Balance," an assessment of the military capabilities of some 170 countries worldwide. For Russia, the report finds that Russian military capabilities are overstrained in Chechnya.

London, 21 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The report says the Russian armed forces' lack of trained professional troops will limit their ability to sustain an effective ground campaign in Chechnya.

The report says that the situation in the north Caucasus -- the most serious challenge facing the Russian armed forces -- threatens to become "chaotic," with an "unpredictable outcome." But Moscow's ability to respond is limited, because many of its best troops are being used on peacekeeping missions abroad.

The report notes that conflict flared in late summer when a number of Dagestani villages were seized by armed Islamic groups based in Chechnya. These groups, while not supported directly by the Chechen leadership, claim to be seeking to establish an independent Islamic republic in Dagestan.

But the diverse ethnic composition of Dagestan's population makes the situation now more complex than it was in the 1994-96 Chechen conflict. The Islamic militants will find it as difficult to garner support for their cause in Dagestan as it will be for the Russian forces to attract local sympathies for their operations.

The report says Russian military developments over the past year were also influenced by the profound financial crisis of August, 1998, and the NATO military action in Kosovo.

The economic difficulties put a brake on military reform, but after Kosovo, the armed forces gained some increased resources for conducting military exercises and improving operational readiness. Still, the reports says Russia continues to lack resources for training, maintenance and new equipment. Except for the nuclear forces, the overall state of operational readiness of Russian forces remains low. At the same time, the military faces increasing demands in Chechnya and Dagestan.

John Chipman, director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which released the report, told a news conference in London today that the renewed conflict in the north Caucasus shows up Russian military weakness:

"Heavy use of artillery and air strikes in the north Caucasus, however, still shows that combat efficiency in ground forces is low."

The report adds, however, that despite the problems, major Russian exercises in 1999 demonstrated that the country has a much better capability to deploy large combined armed forces than might be expected.

The Defense Ministry says that the first phase of military reform was completed by the end of 1998. Military personnel was cut from about 420,000 to about 350,000 troops. And the armed forces completed their transition to a four-service structure -- army, navy, air force and strategic forces. Divisions in the Leningrad, Moscow, North Caucasus and Siberian military districts were designated as "permanent readiness units."

But the report says the personnel cuts were not accompanied by the implementation of plans to make the armed forces fully professional rather than partly conscripted. That plan had been set out in a 1996 presidential decree. Yet in December 1998, another presidential decree allowed the armed forces could call on conscripts for armed conflicts. The decree said the plan for professional armed forces would be implemented once the economy improves. The report says that stipulation makes the transition to a professional army "a distant prospect."

The think-tank's director, Chipman, says a new Russian defense doctrine finalized this month confirms that the creation of a fully-professional armed forces has proved more difficult than hoped.

"Unlike the previous doctrines, it notes that external threats to Russian security may still arise. It also confirms that conscripts will be used in military operations, thus delaying the previous aim of achieving full professionalism of the armed forces."

With regard to nuclear weapons, the vote on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, START-2, in the Russian State Duma was canceled in April, 1999, because of the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia. But, after the Kosovo conflict was over, Moscow began talking with the United States on details of a START-3 treaty.

The United States said full negotiations on START-3 could not begin before START-2 had been ratified, but agreed to begin the talks about its provisions, as well on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, in the light of the limited US national missile defense program.

According to the think-tank's report, Russia needs both START-2 and START-3 to be implemented, because it will have difficulty maintaining its strategic forces at higher levels. But, it says, Russian domestic politics may still hinder progress on that front.