Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 193

Like the old paratrooper he is, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed is boiling mad at what he sees as a plot to do away with the airborne troops. Yesterday he blasted a recent order from Defense Minister Igor Rodionov to disband 2 of Russia’s remaining 5 airborne divisions by the middle of December as "a criminal document in terms of its contents, preparation, required implementation and consequences."(Interfax, October 15 1996) Lebed also warned that the decision could ignite a social explosion and further inflame resentment within the armed forces. He announced his intention to meet with Boris Yeltsin on the subject. (Interfax, October 15)

Lebed tied Rodionov’s order to an earlier one from former defense minister Pavel Grachev that turned over two paratrooper divisions and 4 independent airborne brigades to the control of the military district commanders where they were based. When Grachev issued this order last December there were also dire predictions that the airborne troops were doomed. Lebed claimed that these latest two measures would bring the strength of the airborne forces down from 64,300 to 48,500. In fact, however, this lower figure is probably an accurate reflection of the size of the force today.

It was Duma Deputy Lebed who rushed to the defense of the airborne troops in January after Grachev’s resubordination order, and the retired general is using the same argument this time around: that the airborne troops are being "squandered" and that an earlier Yeltsin decree on the formation of mobile forces — based on the airborne troops — is being abandoned (Interfax, January 21 1996). "The geo-strategic situation, international and military-technological trends, i.e., all parameters of the development of Russia and the world community, require that such a new tactical-strategic unit as mobile forces be created in Russia." American mobile forces are based on the Marines Corps, but Russia’s must be based on the airborne troops, the former commander of the 106th Guards Airborne Division said.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Airborne forces under acting commander Col. Gen. Aleksandr Chindarov met yesterday to discuss the disbandment directive. They indicated their intention to make a counterproposal that calls for preserving all five of Russia’s current airborne divisions while eliminating from each of them one of its four constituent regiments. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 15) Finally, a regiment attached to the 76th Airborne Division, based in Pskov, apparently also faces the ax. According to a Russian report, the head of Pskov’s regional administration sent an appeal yesterday to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Rodionov asking that they reconsider plans to eliminate the 237th air assault regiment. The appeal warned dramatically that the disbandment of the regiment could compromise Pskov’s security at a time when NATO is preparing its expansion to Russia’s borders. It also suggested that the decision might provoke public protests. (Interfax, October 15)

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