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Russia: Promise To Pay Military Wages May Be Fading

Moscow, 27 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russia's President Boris Yeltsin and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev vowed this month that all of Russia's massive military pay arrears would be paid up by September 1. But as the deadline approaches, a military financier says there is no way the promise will be kept. Our military affairs correspondent in Moscow reports Colonel Nikolai Bulgakov of the Defense Ministry's Chief Directorate For Military Budget and Finance says that taking the federal government at its word would be a nice ideal - but catching up to back pay by the deadline is "not quite practicable."

Bulgakov said that, despite the best efforts of the Finance Ministry, cash will not reach each Russian officer by the end of this week. All the transfers simply could not be made in just two months, he says.

Last week, the deputy chief of the general staff, Col. General Valery Manilov, narrowed the promise. He said only wage arrears would be paid off by the deadline, while other compensation, including social payments, would be paid off by the end of the year. "Other compensation" is a substantial part of Russian military personnel pay.

Yeltsin himself repeated Tuesday that all arrears would be paid strictly before the deadline. Upon arriving in the Russian city of Saratov, he praised Defense Minister Sergeyev for starting needed military reforms. Yeltsin added: "We keep our promises. We will settle 100 percent (of wage arrears) by August 31 sharp."

The Russian press has remained skeptical. "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" weekly said Tuesday that the promise could not be kept. The newspaper cited exchanges of words between the federal Finance Ministry and military financiers about the amount of the government's back obligations to the military. The dispute indicated pessimism about meeting the deadline, the newspaper said.

In one exchange early this year, Finance Ministry official Alexander Smirnov publicly charged that the Defense Ministry was overstating the wage arrears at the equivalent of $1.3 billion.