Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 157

Sergeev’s upbeat assessment of the Defense Ministry’s accomplishments to date and his matter-of-fact rendering of the government’s plans for future military reform would seem to raise more than a few questions. It is not clear, for example, that the military restructuring and force reductions implemented to date have actually made the armed forces more manageable or more combat worthy. Certainly, recent reports of continuing problems in the armed forces and of growing disgruntlement among military personnel–evidenced in particular by the army’s inability to retain its best young officers (Krasnaya zvezda, August 4)–make it difficult to say that the Defense Ministry has managed to reverse the army’s long decline.

Sergeev’s remarks about the current disposition of Russia’s contract volunteers likewise say much about the large gap that often divides the Defense Ministry’s avowed policies and reality in the barracks. The Russian army has been recruiting contract volunteers for approximately five years now, and the military leadership has vowed intermittently during that period to place these (relatively) highly paid recruits in key combat posts rather than in support units. That pledge has clearly not yet been met. There is little reason to believe that Sergeev’s efforts in this area will meet with any more success.

A host of other problems also come to mind. The July 30 military reform document was to some extent sprung on the public, and is unlikely to win much support in Russia’s parliament. The leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, criticized the military reform blueprint on August 3 and accused the Kremlin of drafting it without input from the public or parliament. (Russian agencies, August 3) Zyuganov’s criticism was politically motivated, but it nevertheless reflected widespread opposition to the Kremlin’s defense reform policies–now embodied in the military reform blueprint–within the parliament. The July 30 document was apparently issued in the form of a presidential decree, and is thus not subject to a veto by the parliament. The military reform issue, however, is likely to be a highly politicized one, particularly with parliamentary and presidential elections approaching. That, in turn, can only complicate the government’s efforts to implement policies which, in any case, are sure to be unpopular in a number of the Kremlin’s entrenched bureaucracies.

That the drafting of the defense reform concept generated considerable controversy within the Russian government was made clear by Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin. (Russian agencies, August 13) The Kremlin security chief said that the decision to grant the Defense Ministry the leading role in organizing logistical and technical support for the other force structures had been especially controversial. He also suggested that government leaders might have to take strong measures to ensure that the defense concept’s call for full integration of all military and security structures is faithfully implemented. Kokoshin should know. He is likely to be the point man in the Kremlin’s efforts to rein in the country’s various security agencies and to cut government expenditures by streamlining the currently unwieldy and wasteful defense and security establishments.