Thousands of civilian workers from defense enterprises, and even some uniformed military personnel, joined in the labor protests that took place on July 8 in cities across much of Russia. The efforts of defense workers were centered in Moscow, where more than 1,000 demonstrators chosen from more than twenty Russian regions gathered in front of the Defense Ministry building. The defense industry workers, some of whom have not been paid for more than a year, demanded prompt payment of wages and called for Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s resignation.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov, who met with the protesters, said that the Defense Ministry’s debt to defense workers totaled some 2.5 billion rubles. The credit indebtedness of defense enterprises has reached some 97 billion rubles, Mikhailov said, while that of the Defense Ministry totals 15 billion rubles. Mikhailov, who said that he himself had not been paid since April, pledged to resolve the workers’ payment arrears in the “near future.” He invited a small group of workers into the Defense Ministry for further talks. Not surprisingly, many of the protesting workers were reported to be less than satisfied with Mikhailov’s responses. (Russian agencies, July 8)
Defense enterprises are unlikely to receive any quick relief from the government. At a July 7 government meeting on defense matters, Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko warned defense enterprise directors not to harbor unrealistic expectations about defense procurement orders. (Russian TV, July 7) Kirienko’s comments come as the Kremlin continues its plans both to downsize the armed forces and to lower defense costs by promoting greater efficiencies among and between various service branches. That effort, combined with the government’s current financial difficulties, has increased resentment among both uniformed military personnel and civilian defense workers. It has also left them receptive to the appeals of Yeltsin’s political opposition, which has attacked the Kremlin’s broader economic policies and its ambitious–if still poorly articulated–defense reform plans.
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