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Russia: Military Reform Program Seems Likely

Moscow, 28 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin three days ago issued a decree ordering a cut of 15 percent in personnel of para-military formations.

The decree on "Measures to Ensure Military Buildup in the Russian Federation" also said that only the Defense Ministry, the Federal Border Guard Service, the Interior Ministry and the Railroad Construction Office are entitled to accept conscripts. They are the backbone of the national armed forces.

But 12 other federal ministries and agencies have their own para-military formations. The combined number of Russian military and para-military forces are estimated to have reached last year about 2.3 million troops.

The national armed forces are currently estimated to be 1.5 million-strong, but could be soon cut by 300,000.

By imposing personnel cuts on para-military units, the decree is designed to enforce savings. Plagued by persistent economic problems, Russia is said to be forced to keep this year's military spending at about 4.0 percent of its GDP. In the Soviet days, it used to spend about 7.9 percent.

The decree also said that within two months the defense ministry should disband its active reserve corps. This mainly consists of officers withdrawn from active service at military units, but still kept on the regular payroll to return if needed.

By March 1997 the federal government is to work out a detailed schedule of guaranteed payments to be made to the country's military, law-enforcement and security agencies during the next four years.

The decree also requires setting aside separate funds to be used on reforming and downsizing of the troops commanded by the defense ministry and a dozen of other federal agencies.

And it mandates the government to prepare proposals how to repay delayed wages to servicemen.

The decree orders a transfer of most social facilities located at military units from federal to regional authorities. This is to relieve the federal government from the burden of funding these facilities. The regional authorities will be able to convert them into industrial use.

All these schedules, plans and proposals are to be presented to the federal parliament for consideration within the next three months.

The presidential defense council is required to prepare a detailed blueprint for reconstructing the armed forces in the next decade and define optimal strength of all forces charged with ensuring Russia's security.

According to initial plans, the army could be cut to just 10-12 multi-purpose full-fledged ground divisions and some 10-15 drill divisions (about 70 percent less personnel than the full-fledged ones).

The council is also said to be working on a new military doctrine, which is to outline new goals for the armed forces.

It seems that, after years of empty promises and failed attempts, the Russian military is finally preparing to embark on a real program of reforms.