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Russia: Armed Forces Won't Merge, Says General

Moscow, 6 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The official Russian Defense Ministry publication "Krasnaya Zvezda" quotes Colonel General Leonid Zolotov, head of the General Staff, as saying none of the five branches of the Russian armed forces will be merged in the near future.

This runs counter to reformist proposals by the staff of President Boris Yeltsin's Defense Council to unify air and air defense forces, and space and strategic missile forces. The Defense Council staff has drafted a plan for sweeping reforms. But the Defense Ministry and the General Staff oppose them.

The Defense Ministry said early this year that the armed forces should alter their structure, but only after cutting personnel by 200,000 to 1.5 million. But Zolotov said in the "Krasnaya Zvezda" article yesterday that neither further personnel cuts nor combining branches will be expedient.

The secretary of the Defense Council, Yuri Baturin, said earlier this year that restructuring should start as soon as Russia's economy recovers enough to provide more funds. Defense spending now equals less than four percent of Russia's gross domestic product. The government says it should rise to five percent in the next few years.