Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 141

A sharpening of tensions between the Russian military leadership and the government over the country’s defense procurement budget appears to have surfaced in recent days. According to a July 20 newspaper report, Defense Ministry officials are now openly accusing the Finance Ministry of neglecting to allocate funds for the purchase of weapons and other military equipment. The report says that the Defense Ministry has received funding for only 20 percent of the planned procurement budget for the first half of this year. Colonel General Anatoly Sitnov, director of the Defense Ministry’s weapons department, was quoted as saying that the Finance Ministry has indicated that it will allocate the rest of the funding no earlier than the last week of this year’s fourth quarter. The Defense Ministry’s arrears to weapons producers already total some 20 billion rubles, however, and, according to Sitnov, the weapons makers are unwilling to extend the military additional credit (Vremya MN, July 20).

At the heart of the current dispute appears to be a Defense Ministry plan–revealed last week by Sitnov–to purchase a considerable amount of new military hardware. Sitnov told reporters that the Defense Ministry intended this year to procure ten Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles for the Strategic Missile Forces, a new Tu-160 strategic bomber for the Air Force, radar stations for the country’s air defense forces, a nuclear submarine and several warships for the navy, and 100 BTR-80A armed personnel carriers, thirty T-90 tanks and twenty-four self-propelled artillery launchers for Russia’s conventional forces. Defense Ministry officials reportedly presented the purchase plan as a modest one. Sitnov in turn suggested its approval would demonstrate the president’s and the government’s concern for Russia’s armed forces and the country’s national security (Russian agencies, July 17; Vremya MN, July 20).

The fly in the ointment, however, was that Sitnov’s remarks came as Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov was telling a Russian newspaper that the Russian army is too broke to consider buying any new weaponry. Klebanov, who oversees Russia’s defense industrial sector, said that the Russian army would have to rely instead on upgrading its current arsenal. “It is possible to modernize military hardware of the previous generation, investing only about 30 percent of the price of a new weapon, and to bring it to the state-of-the-art level,” he was quoted as saying. He also said that the army would be permitted to buy only “what cannot be modernized.” He admitted that the government’s policy on this issue would not please defense plant managers (AP, Itar-Tass, July 16).

The tensions between the government and the military leadership over arms procurement are nothing new, and reflect the diminutive military budgets that have been a reality for the Defense Ministry over the past decade or so. But the fact that Sitnov went public on this occasion with a specific laundry list of proposed defense purchases–and accused the Finance Ministry of neglecting the armed forces–appears to be something of a departure (at least with respect to the period of time that current Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, a Yeltsin-loyalist has been at his post). The Defense Ministry’s more open advocacy of its wants in this instance is probably a consequence in part of the recent conflict in the Balkans. Military leaders insist that the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia has forced Moscow to upgrade its own defenses. Yeltsin has acceded to this point rhetorically and joined the more general jingoism that engulfed Russia during the Balkans conflict. Military leaders now appear to be demanding that he meet his earlier commitment.