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Russia: Military Officers Await Grim Prospects

Moscow, 12 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The cardboard, hand-lettered "NO JOB, NO HOME" signs now seen in the hands of Moscow's ubiquitous street people soon may be standard issue for thousands of Russian military officers like Lieutenant Alexei Batalov.

The Russian Defense Ministry is processing Batalov's early retirement. It plans to discharge him along with 300,000 other officers by the year 2,000.

While awaiting discharge, Batalov works at a security company, commuting 150 km between Chkalovsk and Moscow every day. As long as he's still an officer, he's entitled to ride free.

But in a few months, he will be stranded in his small home town, which is populated largely by air force servicemen and their families and offers few civilian jobs. Batatov is 27 years old, strong and analytical. And he doesn't know how he, his wife and his mother will survive.

He, at least for now, lives in a flat owned by the Defense Ministry. Other officers are quartered in tents and, in some cases, even in grounded helicopters.

Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of Russia's General Staff, has just announced that the armed forces will be reduced by 20 to 30 percent next year. President Boris Yeltsin has ordered a cut in Russia's armed forces -- now estimated at 1.7 million personnel -- to around 1.2 million by the end of 1999.

Kvashnin said in a progress report that many other young officers are quitting the armed forces. He said more than a third of the 20,000 officers who resigned this year were under 30 years old.

The Defense Ministry has announced a plan to issue to former officers left homeless state housing certificates to enable them to purchase flats. But in reality, the ministry doesn't have the cash to back certificates for all the eligibles. And, even under ideal circumstances, the certificates would cover only 80 percent of the purchase price. Few officers could muster the cash to pay the other 20 percent.