Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 189

While the Russian army continues to lose good officers, it apparently is retaining the services of some whom it would be better off without. At a conference last week sponsored by the Russian Main Military Prosecutor’s office, representatives of various law enforcement agencies were reportedly unanimous in agreeing that corruption-related crimes within the armed forces are a growing concern, and that they are even becoming a threat to national security.

According to the military prosecutor’s office, senior Russian officers dealing illegally in military property cost the government millions of dollars this year alone. Some twenty-one military officials are reportedly being investigated right now. Their embezzlement of government funds is said to average more than two million rubles per individual. Cases under investigation include one in which air defense officers stole spare parts for anti-aircraft missile complexes and sold them to commercial firms. Staffers from the Economy Department of the Russian General Staff, meanwhile, were reportedly caught embezzling over US$4 million in revenues received for the sale of a building once owned by the Defense Ministry (Izvestia, October 8; Itar-Tass, October 7; Segodnya, October 8).

Other reports of military corruption abound. Some recent ones include an incident in which uniformed military personnel assigned to a defense enterprise in the Moscow region were arrested for dismantling navigation gear from combat aircraft and selling it. They were reportedly in charge of overseeing classified work in the production of gear assemblies (Moskovsky komsomolets, October 4). Another incident directly involves the war effort in the Caucasus. Servicemen stationed at an airport in Ryazan where Air Force bombers were based had reportedly been extracting explosives from bombs and selling it to criminals. The report noted that bombs dropped by Russian aircraft in Chechnya often fail to detonate (Kommersant-daily, October 6).

While the complaints long voiced by Russian military leaders over declining defense budgets probably have some justification, reports such as these suggest that the Defense Ministry still has a long way to go in putting its own economic affairs in order. But military corruption has clearly not been the focus over the past few weeks, as Russian Defense Ministry officials have demanded increased expenditures to fund the war in Chechnya–and seemingly to challenge the West as well–while political leaders have rushed to heed their calls. And, despite the military prosecutor’s conclusions, military corruption has apparently yet to find its way onto the long list of internal threats to Russia’s security which is found in the Defense Ministry’s new draft military doctrine (see yesterday’s Monitor).