Sergeev’s optimistic remarks on February 22 about the state of the Russian armed forces would be disputed by many, however, and not merely by the Kremlin’s political opposition. The Russian army’s continuing woes were most recently and most spectacularly highlighted, for example, by a U.S. State Department report delivered to Congress on February 19. The report, which relies heavily on classified intelligence sources, is said to paint a depressing picture of a demoralized and destitute Russian army. The report points especially to sharp and continuing budgetary shortfalls, which have been exacerbated by the ruble’s devaluation. These financial woes, the report says, have forced a sharp curtailment of combat training in the Russian army, navy and air force, and have also cut drastically into procurement budgets. In addition, they have left the Defense Ministry deeply in debt both to its suppliers and to its own military personnel.
For this and other reasons, the report concludes, the Russian army’s combat readiness is in “rapid decay” and “the average Russian soldier is only marginally combat capable.” In pointing to the plummeting living standards experienced by many Russian military personnel, one U.S. defense expert reportedly expressed surprise that the Russian military “has not exploded.” Other experts observed that the army’s financial problems have forced the military leadership to indefinitely postpone plans to transform the armed forces into a fully voluntary force by the year 2000 (Washington Post, February 21). That had been among the pledges made by Yeltsin during his 1996 campaign.
BARRACKS BRUTALITY REMAINS A CONCERN.