Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 48

For the time being, at least, Sergeev seems safe. During a series of ceremonies which surrounded Russia’s February 23 military holiday (see the Monitor, February 24, 26), the Russian president appeared to give Sergeev an unqualified show of support. That demonstration followed a meeting earlier in the month during which an ailing Yeltsin reportedly praised the Russian defense chief’s performance. Yeltsin also told Sergeev during that meeting that 1999 must become the “year of the final restructuring of the armed forces.” Sergeev was given a May 1 deadline–the same as that for the strategic forces proposal–to come up with a series of recommendations which would specify how the army’s reorganization is to proceed in the coming year (Russian agencies, February 10).

It was apparently with these new instructions in mind that Sergeev and a Defense Ministry delegation traveled to Samara in late February for consultations with the command staffs of Russia’s Volga and Ural Military Districts. The trip was said by a Russian television report to reflect a new “leadership style” being exercised by top Defense Ministry officials. Henceforth, the report said, Defense Ministry leaders will abandon their “bureaucratic administration of the [military] districts and garrisons from Moscow offices,” and will instead take their show on the road for direct consultations with regional and local military commanders (Russian TV, February 25; Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 5).

While it remains to be seen whether Defense Ministry officials are capable of working more closely and productively with regional commanders, the reasons for trying to do so are obvious. Just as opposition has built up among military commanders to the Russian defense minister’s efforts to reorganize the country’s service branches, so resentment has been evident in the regions over Moscow’s plans for consolidating the military district system. The Siberian and Transbaikal Military Districts have already been combined, while the Volga and Ural Military Districts are scheduled to follow them some time this year–possibly by September 1. Sergeev’s visit to Samara was intended in part to ease concerns among regional commanders over what this step would mean for them.

Concerns about Russia’s military reform efforts are evident in other areas as well. To cite one, a Russian daily reported last week that the Defense Ministry is wasting government funding by failing to make proper use of the army’s most recently trained military cadets. According to “Moskovsky komsomolets,” the armed forces are likely to graduate some 3,000 “surplus” cadets from military academies in 1999 alone. That is, there will reportedly be no posts in their chosen specialty for some 3,000 of these newly minted officers, whose training will have been paid for by the army.

According to the same report, large numbers of these cadets will either leave the armed forces altogether, or be transferred for new training in a specialty different from the one from which they will have graduated this year. Newly trained pilots will reportedly be among those most affected, a fact that the newspaper suggests does not bode well for the future of Russia’s air force. More generally, the report says that the steady outflow of recently trained younger officers will also contribute to another disturbing trend in the Russian armed forces–the gradual aging of the officer corps. Already, it says, the army faces the prospect of having too few young lieutenants and too many aging senior officers (Moskovsky komsomolets, March 3).