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Lebed Argues For Changes In Russia's Military

By Jan de Weydenthal and Simon Saradzhyan

Moscow, April 15 (RFE/RL) - Retired General Aleksandr Lebed plans to introduce major changes in Russia's armed forces; if and when he wins the presidential election.

Last week (Apr 11) Lebed handed in a list of more than a million signatures of his prospective supporters to the Central Electoral Commission. Under the electoral rules, candidates must collect those signatures in at least 14 regions of Russia to register. The commission has not yet ruled on Lebed's registration. But the general is already making public his plans of military reforms.

Responding to a series of questions from RFE/RL, Lebed said last week (Apr 10) in a written statement that Russia should drastically reduce its military forces, while improving their effectiveness. It is necessary to "sacrifice quantity for quality," he said.

The general argues that greatest changes should be made in the army, with the number of troops reduced and the entire corps restructured.

In the Soviet era, the army had about 100 divisions and was supported by more than 5000 warplanes and nuclear submarines, Lebed wrote. But now, he said, the army should be reduced to 15 standing, fully-fledged and fully-manned tank and infantry divisions.

Reinforced by some five or six standing brigades of airborne troops, these divisions would form the backbone of Russia's military might, ready to "discourage any potential aggressor," Lebed said.

The general went on to say that the standing forces should be backed by an additional 15 divisions which, manned only at half-strength in peacetime, would also serve to train reservists.

Finally, the corps would also include several divisions with only skeleton staff, but still capable of storing and guarding ammunition and equipment need to set up full-fledged units in case of emergency.

Lebed said that similar reforms should be also introduced into the Air Force - he wants to cut the number of planes from 6000 to 1000 - and in the Strategic Missiles Forces and the Navy.

Cuts and restructuring may decrease defense costs, while streamlining the armed forces as a whole, Lebed argued. He then decried the current situation, which, he said, is still reminiscent of the Soviet military model, despite repeated pledges by the military brass to introduce reforms.

As if to confirm Lebed's complaints, the armed forces chief recruiter and deputy head of the General Staff General Vyacheslav Zherebtsov said at a press conference last week in Moscow that the recruitment was up in comparison to the situation of two years ago. He told the conference that now "entire divisions capable of fulfilling combat orders have appeared." He said that his office planned to recruit more than 200,000 young conscripts during this spring.

But in a vividly contrasting statement, the Ministry of Defense said last week (Apr 9) that the chronic "lack of personnel has led to the situation in which entire units, including the Strategic Missile Forces, are physically and morally exhausted."