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Russia: Military Leaders Say Readiness Decline May Have Halted

Moscow, 2 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Russian military officials acknowledge that the combat readiness of the country's armed forces has declined dramatically in recent years, but some say there are signs that the fall may have been halted.

Our correspondent contacted several Russian military officials to ask about the state of the Russian military. Their comments followed the recent release of a report by the U.S. State Department that presented a pessimistic view of Russian combat readiness. The report linked the problems to Russia's severe financial troubles.

The U.S. report specifically stated that Russian combat training has largely ceased, with the military receiving a mere six percent of the funds it needed for training in 1998. The report also said that plans to modernize Russia's military -- including the acquisition of new equipment -- have been deferred "well into the next decade."

According to Vladimir Potyomkin -- chief of the Russian General Staff's Center for Military Strategic Studies -- the current level of the military's combat readiness is three times lower than it was at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Potyomkin also says that some 70 per cent of the ground force's hardware and weaponry is outdated.

Anatoly Kvashnin -- Naval chief in the General Staff -- says that almost 60 per cent of the Navy's submarines and surface ships need repairs. Some rusted warships and submarines have already sunk at their moorings after waiting years to be repaired.

The service life of more than half of the ballistic arsenal of the country's Strategic Missile Force is said to have expired, and the rest is degenerating and aging fast.

The Russian media have recently reported that in Kaliningrad, a local ship-construction company -- frustrated at the Navy's failure to pay for a warship it commissioned -- launched the vessel before it was complete to free up the dock for more lucrative repair work on a Norwegian cargo ship.

But some Russian defense ministry officials say the decline in the combat readiness of the armed forces may have been arrested.

One high-ranking officer at the ministry's central office -- who spoke with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity -- said that readiness has stabilized and that "the fall has already stopped."

Independent experts agree that the downfall in funding may have stopped. Aleksander Pikayev -- a defense analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center -- told RFE/RL that the worst of the military's funding problems appear to be over.

Pikayev went on to say that the Russian defense ministry can expect better financing this year as the federal government continues its "controlled emission" of rubles. He added that "paradoxically enough, those emissions -- although they are fueling inflation and are disastrous from the macroeconomic point of view -- allow funding the short-term needs of the armed forces."