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Russia: Generals Divided Over Military Reforms

Moscow, 30 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian generals continue to battle over how to restart Russia's stalled war machine with less than a month remaining before a decision deadline imposed by President Boris Yeltsin.

General Vladimir Serebryanikov, the leading military researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Sociopolitical Studies, says there are substantial divisions of opinion among military commanders on how to structure reform. Currently on the offensive are radical reformists led by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who proposes to restructure his troops into three combat-efficient branches. The first branch would be a nuclear deterrence force and would comprise a strategic nuclear force, and air force and anti-nuclear-missile defense units. The second branch would enlist the remaining air force units and air defense units and would be called air defense forces. The third branch would be a general purpose force and would consist of army and navy, according to a plan drafted by Sergeyev and his aides.

Their more conservative opponents, reportedly led by senior commanders of air force, army and navy, also want three divisions, but structured differently. The branches woiuld be the traditional air, naval and ground forces. Most of these generals and admirals, including Navy chief Felix Gromov prefer to keep quiet about their ideas, although Pyotr Deinekin, chief of the Air Force, reportedly has hinted at his desire to alter Sergeyev's plan.

Gromov and Deinekin have submitted a written endorsement of Sergeyev's plan. It was presented two weeks ago to Yeltsin. Still, they insist on their own air-sea-ground vision, even though Yeltsin has already approved Sergeyev's proposal and ordered a final version to be presented on July 24.

Russian press reports speculate that Deinekin may be appointed deputy defense minister and chosen to head what Sergeyev envisions as the air defense branch. If established, the branch would get only those air force and air defense force units not involved with nuclear deterrence forces. It would, therefore, be much smaller than the large force planned in the air-sea-ground proposal.

In an interview published Friday in the army's Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, Sergeyev said changes must be made promptly or the armed forces may become, in his words, "incapable and uncontrollable". Sergeyev said his planned personnel cuts are the only way to save the military from total collapse.

Yeltsin appointed Sergeyev earlier this year after dismissing his predecessor. Igor Rodionov, for failing to carry out reforms in the army.