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Russia: General Says Armed Forces Sailing Stormy Straits

Moscow, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov says that the armed forces have deteriorated into their worst state since the advent of market reforms in 1992.

They have "arrived at a borderline beyond which any further decline of their combat readiness may lead to unpredictable, catastrophic consequences."

Rodionov made the remarks yesterday in a closed-door meeting of his top commanders. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, President Boris Yeltsin's Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais, and Defense Council Secretary Yuri Baturin also were present.

Yeltsin appointed Rodionov last July to try to restart the country's stalled war machine. Rodionov said he has devoted most of his time unsuccessfully battling for funds for his subordinates, some of whom have not been paid for months. The situation is so dire that many defense units reportedly have consumed half of the rations stockpiled for warfare.

As after previous appeals, Rodionov got the verbal support of both Premier Chernomyrdin and President Yeltsin. The two conversed briefly on the telephone and agreed that the military must be given immediate cash. In the past, both have ordered the federal government's debts to the military paid within periods ranging from one month to three days, but with little result.

The federal government owes Rodionov's agency the equivalent of more than $4.6 billion. This sum is to be paid by November 15, according a promise Chernomyrdin made when the Defense Council met Monday. The premier said yesterday that corrections will be made not only in funding the Defense Ministry, but in paying other security-related ministries also.

"We have to take decisive measures, including unpopular ones," said Chernomyrdin.

Interfax news agency quoted the commander of the Russian army as saying Monday that a new military doctrine being drafted will seek to counter cutbacks in Russia's armed forces by signing on what he called "new regional allies." The commander, Vladimir Semyonov, named China as potentially one of these.

Semyonov said that the ground forces will be trimmed down to 12 full divisions, which then will be provided with the finest and most modern military equipment. The army nominally has 64 divisions now.

The Navy's chief navigator, Rear Admiral Valery Alexin, said earlier this year that the Defense Ministry plans to reduce the Russian navy drastically also. He said Russia"s reformed navy will operate a third as many ships as did the Soviet navy. The air force has similar plans for downsizing and upgrading. All three services acknowledge that their modernization plans cannot hope for a beginning of the needed financing before the year 2005.