Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 4

The imminent appearance on NATO’s eastern flank of a disciplined and combat capable Russian military machine would also not seem to be among the more credible threats that the Kremlin brings to the table in its current efforts to dissuade the West from enlarging NATO. That fact was illustrated anew in recent days as confusion and rumor intruded once again into Moscow’s already long-overdue effort to reform the country’s demoralized and increasingly decrepit conventional forces. The latest round of missteps began over the weekend when Russian media sources reported rumors that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov intended to resign during a meeting planned for yesterday with Yeltsin if it was not agreed that funding for the army would be increased. (Ekho Moskvy, January 4) Those reports were twice denied. The Defense Ministry’s press service said that Rodionov had no plans to resign. The president’s press spokesman said that no meeting had been scheduled between Yeltsin and Rodionov. (Interfax, January 5)

A meeting of Russia’s Defense Council, planned for January 8, provided further grist for the rumor mill. It was announced yesterday that Yeltsin had postponed the meeting because he was ill. But unnamed military sources suggested to the press that Yeltsin had actually put off the meeting because of mounting tension within the defense establishment over the course of military reform. According to these and other sources, there are currently two military reform plans ready for consideration: one submitted by the Defense Ministry and General Staff, the other by the staff of the Defense Council. Not surprisingly, the first plan dovetails with the rumors of Rodionov’s possible resignation. It asserts that defense reform can begin only if sufficient funding is allocated by the government. The Defense Council plan, which seems to be anchored more firmly in Russian economic reality, says it is necessary to proceed with military reform on the basis of the country’s reduced financial resources and, with this in mind, calls for a 30 percent reduction in army and non-Defense Ministry troops. (Itar-Tass, Interfax, January 6)

The Kremlin is reported also to be deeply divided over proposals that would increase the authority of Russia’s General Staff. Leaders of the country’s various "power ministries" and security structures — excluding the Defense Ministry — are said to be anything but enthusiastic over the idea of placing their activities under the oversight of the General Staff. (Interfax, January 5) These security chiefs represent a powerful interest group in the Kremlin, and their opposition to this provision of defense reform, and to parallel proposals calling for them to reduce their forces commensurate with those being cut by the regular army, could easily doom any efforts aimed at a real and desperately needed restructuring of the defense establishment.

Russian Prisoners Left Behind in Chechnya.