Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 9

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev yesterday identified the creation of a “combined supreme command” of the country’s strategic deterrence forces as the military leadership’s military reform priority for 1999. “If we do not create a more perfect combat control system, our missiles, no matter how many of them we have, will be no more than decorations,” Sergeev told a conference of military journalists (Russian agencies, January 13).

Russia’s military and political elite are currently embroiled in a heated debate over the future of the country’s strategic nuclear forces. Stark warnings that obsolescence will rapidly diminish Russia’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade have led the government and Defense Ministry to urge ratification of the START II Treaty as the only possible means of maintaining some sort of nuclear parity with the United States. In general, however, both those who support and those who oppose the treaty have called for the government to implement an ambitious strategic rearmament program. Neither side has been able to explain where the government will find the funding for such an effort.

Sergeev’s plan to create a strategic forces supreme command–which would place all of the country’s strategic forces under a single operational command–is reported to be unpopular within the military high leadership. The country’s General Staff, together with the navy and air force commands, are reportedly opposed to the plan because it would entail a loss of their own command authority. Russian President Boris Yeltsin is nevertheless reported to have approved the plan last November, and Sergeev appears determined to go forward with it (Profil, November 23; Itogi, December 22).

The plan seems likely to further politicize a senior officer corps already disgruntled over force reductions and other major organizational reforms. They include a reduction in the number of the country’s military districts and a consolidation of service branches which will ultimately yield a three-branch structure of land, air and naval forces. The Soviet armed forces traditionally had five service branches; that number has been reduced to four by combining the country’s air and air defense forces.