President Boris Yeltsin marked Russia’s February 23 military holiday — formerly Red Army Day and now Defender of the Fatherland Day — by laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin wall. In brief remarks to Russian servicemen, Yeltsin said he was optimistic that the Kremlin’s controversial military reform policies were beginning to show some positive results. He said that the government would try its best to provide military personnel with modern equipment and weaponry while improving living conditions. (Russian agencies, February 23; see also Monitor, February 23)
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, the man entrusted by Yeltsin last May to oversee the country’s latest military reform effort, was more blunt in his remarks to the troops. He said that the government has been compelled by harsh realities to enact painful force reductions and restructuring. Sergeev also described the present time as a "moment of truth." Russian authorities could choose to maintain bloated military structures and understaffed and under-equipped military formations incapable of combat. Or, Sergeev said, the government could cut military personnel while transferring freed-up funding to research and design work "aimed at creating breakthrough technologies." Only the latter course, Sergeev said, would allow Russia to build the foundations for a mobile and capable military force in the next century. Sergeev added that guidelines for the current reform effort will be finalized and approved by June of this year. (NTV, February 23)
Political leaders in Moscow have tried since well before the dissolution of the Soviet Union to streamline, modernize and reform the country’s oversized and creaky military machine. Those efforts, many of them half-hearted, have been stymied by opposition within and outside of the armed forces. Meanwhile, Russia’s regular army has shrunk spontaneously because of widespread draft resistance and the inability to either attract or retain younger officers and quality professional recruits. Sergeev’s February 23 remarks were aimed at both recalcitrant elements within the armed forces and at political forces — particularly in the parliament — that have strongly criticized the Kremlin’s latest and most serious attempt at military reform.
Yeltsin Meets with North Caucasus Leaders.