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Russia: Officials To Undertake Big Reductions In Military Personnel

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Russia has announced plans for significant reductions in its armed forces. RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini provides the background and assesses Russian analysts' responses to the projected cuts.

Moscow, 10 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's top-level Security Council decided yesterday on downsizing the nation's armed forces by almost 20 percent over five years.

The council called Russia's present military organization "unwieldy" and "wasteful." President Vladimir Putin, who presided over the meeting, said the reductions were needed to get what he described as "a more compact and therefore a more mobile and professional army."

The reductions approved by the Security Council add up to 470,000 military personnel, including 130,000 civilians -- and 380 generals. They represent the latest step by Russian authorities to streamline the country's defense and arms sector. Currently, Russian armed forces total some three million.

Russia's Security Council, an advisory body set up by Boris Yeltsin, is composed of the heads of the main security ministries -- such as the Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev -- the heads of the foreign and domestic intelligence services, and the interior, emergency situations, and other ministers. In the spring, the chief of staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, was also made a council member by Putin, who chairs the council. Over the past several months, Kvashnin and Sergeyev have made their disagreements over military reform public.

Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says the reductions have been supported by Putin because of the war in Chechnya. Felgenhauer told our correspondent:

"It turned out a year ago, when Putin was very actively taking part in organizing, preparing, running the present new Chechen war, that Russia cannot field more than a 100,000 men and the defense ministry can send to war only less than 60,000 men -- whereas [on the military] payrolls there [are] up to three million people."

The Security Council's decision comes more than six weeks after the last of many failed attempts on its part to reach an agreement. At the time (Sept 27), analysts said that military leaders had strongly resisted reductions in any of Russia's 11 paramilitary forces. They were said to have argued, for example, that Interior Ministry troops -- one of the 11 paramilitaries -- were now being called on to play a bigger role in the face of threats to Russian security posed by conflicts such as the one in Chechnya.

At yesterday's council meeting, a compromise was apparently reached. While most of the proposed cuts concern Defense Ministry forces -- which will lose 360,000 personnel -- additional reductions of some 110,000 will trim down some paramilitaries.

Army General Vladimir Potapov, the Security Council's deputy secretary [that is, deputy executive chief] in charge of military reform, said the proposals reflect the leadership's analysis that for the next 10 years, "Russia won't be in a position to wage a large-scale war with conventional weapons." Potapov also emphasized that the reductions were not calculated on a proportionate basis, but rather with regard to what he described as "the whole scale of threats" Russia will have to face and which of its forces will best withstand them.

Potapov's remarks are reflected in the details of the proposed reductions. The Interior Ministry will lose 20,000 troops, about 20 percent of its current force. Troops protecting the railways will be reduced by 10,000, and border guards by 5,000 (or 5 percent). Other special troops that will be reduced -- but in so far undisclosed numbers -- include those attached to the Federal Security Service, the Communications Ministry, and the Emergency Ministry.

But Yury Golotyuk, military analyst of the daily "Vremya Novostei," warns today that the proposals are not final until Putin signs the necessary decrees. Golotyuk argues that since it took no less than 17 council sessions to reach the present compromise, more resistance can be expected, with ministries lobbying for changes until the last minute.

For analyst Felgenhauer, however, the council's proposals are a big "step in the right direction" of the military reform Russia has been seeking, he says, for "centuries." According to him, "the Soviet leadership, the czars all had the same problem: a gigantic army on paper, but no one to send to the front."

But Felgenhauer adds that the planned cuts are not sufficient for Russia to align its armed forces with the country's economic and security realities.

"Actually, its defenses, its forces, should be remodeled to fight small local wars and not try to balance or challenge countries like the United States that have defense budgets 10 times, or maybe even 20 times bigger, an economy that's 10 or maybe 20 times bigger. If Russia has an economy more or less the size of that of Belgium, well, it should not just rationalize, it should actually thoroughly rebuild its armed forces."

Other recent measures show that Putin is trying to realize a wider streamlining of the defense sector by centralizing the nation's lucrative arms trade. Earlier this week, all of Russia's $3.5 billion of arms exports were put under the control of the new monopoly Rosoboronexport, now to be directly managed by the Defense Ministry.

Until now, the business was split between two state-controlled companies (Rosvooruzhenie and Promtekhexport).

Officials say the arms sales merger was undertaken mainly out of commercial considerations. The competition between the two old firms had led, they say, to what Putin called "an unjustified price drop in Russian arms."

But Felgenhauer suggests that the appointment of the new monopoly's head reveals an effort to get the highly profitable -- but, according to some, graft-ridden -- arms business under control. The new chief is former Promtekhexport Deputy Director Andrei Belyaninov, a one-time intelligence officer who -- like Putin -- once served in Germany.

A presidential decree yesterday giving Security Council Secretary [that is, chief executive officer] Sergei Ivanov -- a foreign-intelligence general known to be very close to Putin -- civilian status has also been noted by analysts. Some, including Felgenhauer, see it as a political move made to promote Ivanov eventually to the post of prime minister or, more modestly, to that of defense minister. Felgenhauer explains:

"It's rather obvious that Putin is preparing Ivanov -- maybe someone else but most likely Ivanov -- to be the new defense minister. It has already been announced before-hand that Russia is going to have a civilian defense minister. And since Ivanov was a two-star general of the KGB, actually, now he has become a civilian."

While the growing role of the Security Council under Ivanov has been widely noted, Felgenhauer also predicts an increasing role for the Defense Ministry. He notes that over the past few days Putin has made the ministry chief the overseer of arms sales and helped the ministry somewhat by the reductions imposed on non-defense ministry troops.