After an initial flurry of headlines on the subject of Russian military reform that followed the appointment of President Vladimir Putin’s close advisor, Sergei Ivanov, to the post of defense minister on March 28, the subject has received less press attention in Russia of late. But despite the relative dearth of news, the Defense Ministry leadership appears to have taken several key decisions over the past several months that could have a significant impact on the pace with which the military reform program is implemented. Indeed, if several Russian news reports are to be believed, Ivanov’s Defense Ministry has recently made a deal of sorts with the High Command, one whereby the army has agreed to speed up the implementation of personnel cuts and the restructuring of the armed forces’ administrative structure in return for a boost in defense spending. Despite the reported bargain, however, resistance to the manpower reductions and other changes is likely to grow as they are actually put into effect over the next several years. The ability of the now “civilian-run” Defense Ministry–and by extension, of the Kremlin–to maintain peace in the ranks, moreover, will likely depend at least in part on the promised increase in spending. If the government can raise military compensation packages the way it is pledging to do, and come up with promised funding to maintain and even upgrade the army’s aging stock of military hardware, it may avoid triggering a disruptive level of dissension in the ranks. If, on the other hand, the government fails to meet these monetary commitments, then it could face a backlash from a military establishment that is in fact unhappy over the reductions and restructuring that are planned, and which continues to hunger for the higher levels of defense spending promised to it by former President Boris Yeltsin.
In a series of interviews given and appearances made over the past several weeks, Defense Minister Ivanov has laid out in broad terms the current state of Russia’s military reform plans. Their thrust appears unchanged from those enunciated in the weeks before and immediately after his March 28 appointment: Armed forces personnel are to be reduced by some 365,000 while the military continues its transformation to a three-branch structure that includes ground forces, air forces and naval forces. Already the once-dominant Strategic Missile Troops are losing their status as a major service branch, and are joining the Airborne Troops and the Space Forces as independent commands of a lesser status. The Ground Troops command, meanwhile, still appears to be the biggest winner in this restructuring effort, having recovered the independent status that it lost in the late 1990s and emerging increasingly as the most powerful of the three current major services. Recent reports continue to suggest, moreover, that the elevation of the Ground Forces command could also be a blow to the Russian General Staff, which may be ceding to the new command several key areas of responsibility (see the Monitor, May 10). Some reports have even intimated that the elevation of the Ground Forces command is at least in part a political move by the Kremlin, one aimed at strengthening Russia’s first “civilian” defense minister by undermining potentially rebellious senior military commanders who are connected to, or who might be tempted to rally under, the leadership of the General Staff and its influential chief, General Anatoly Kvashnin.
But political intrigue aside, the most noteworthy information provided by Ivanov in his recent meetings with the press relates to a decision reportedly taken to speed up the demobilization process in Russia. Defense Ministry sources had never been clear regarding the precise timetable by which the cuts were to be implemented, but recent reports have suggested that they will come more quickly than had originally been planned. According to one Defense Ministry source, the pace of planned reductions has been doubled, with as many as 270,000 troops set to be demobilized this year and next, and the full total of 365,000 to be eliminated by the year 2005. In a lengthy interview this week with Izvestia, Ivanov spoke in somewhat similar terms, saying that the bulk of the reductions will occur in 2002-2003. He also laid out the rationale for accelerating the reductions, claiming that they would permit the Defense Ministry to devote additional financial resources to procuring new military hardware and equipment. This line of reasoning is interesting because, while it appears to state the obvious, it nevertheless contradicts what many senior commanders have said over the past decade about large-scale manpower. They have claimed that such cuts actually involve short-term increases in the military’s budgetary needs (to provide, for example, housing and other benefits for the retired personnel). Many have also argued vigorously against simply equating military reform with cuts in manpower levels.
But Ivanov’s latest comments come as the Russian Finance Ministry has reportedly agreed to increase defense spending for 2002. According to reports published earlier this month, the Defense Ministry is to get a US$1.5 billion boost in funding next year, and will receive, in addition, more than US$450 million to spend on military reforms. The US$450 million will reportedly be used precisely to help pay for demobilizing military personnel, and also to raise salaries for junior and senior officers (by 100 and by 50 percent, respectively). The US$1.5 billion boost, meanwhile, will reportedly go for arms procurement, as well as for research and development. The increase in defense funding (it could actually rise more as lawmakers discuss the amounts contained in the Finance Ministry draft) will reportedly raise total defense spending in Russia to 262.9 billion rubles (approximately US$8.3 billion). The 2001 budget, by contrast, amounted to 218.9 billion rubles (approximately US$7.3 billion). As good as the increase may sound for the Russian armed forces on the surface, however, one report says that defense spending as a percentage of GDP will actually fall from 2001 to 2002 under the proposed budget, from 2.82 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent. President Boris Yeltsin promised in the late 1990s that the government would set 3.5 percent of GDP as a minimum level of defense spending, and senior commanders have called ever since for the government to meet that commitment.
One of the Kremlin’s primary goals in reforming the armed forces is to change the manner in which the defense budget is divvied up among various defense needs. Ivanov told reporters that the Defense Ministry is seeking in particular to transition the armed forces from its current spending priorities–in which 70 percent of all defense funding goes toward simply maintaining the troops and only 30 percent goes toward developing the army–to an approach in which the priorities are exactly the reverse. “A situation when only 30 percent of the whole military budget is spent on buying equipment, combat training, and development of new, upgraded equipment is a way to nowhere,” Ivanov was quoted as telling journalists. Ivanov appeared also to make clear another point that has often been discussed in Russian commentaries on the state of the armed forces: namely, that the Kremlin must make use of arms exports to provide the sort of revenues that will keep the country’s defense industrial sector alive and leave it, ten years or so down the road, in a position to reequip Russia’s own army. He expressed particular concern in this context for Russian facilities engaged in serial production of armaments. He suggested that they have been especially hard hit by the developments of the past decade, and that the government intends to take special measures aimed at ensuring their survival (Strana.ru, May 28; Military News Agency, May 29, June 22; Kommersant, May 29; Moskovsky Komsomolets, May 31; AFP, Izvestia, June 25; Delovye Lyudi, No. 123, June).
One military reform idea whose time apparently has not come is the transformation of the Russian army from a conscript to an all-volunteer force. That point was seemingly made clear in comments on June 5 by Colonel General Igor Puzanov, one of the deputy defense ministers recently appointed by Ivanov. Puzanov said that insufficient funding made it impossible for Russia to build a fully professional army for at least the next five years (Strana.ru, June 5). That news will be a disappointment to those in the Russian population who believe that the abject and sometimes violent conditions prevailing in Russian barracks life make compulsory military service a danger to many of the country’s young draftees. The decision could ensure continuing tension between the Russian army and the civilian population and might create a backlash among those who took seriously another late 90s pledge by Boris Yeltsin–this one to move Russia quickly away from the draft and toward an all-volunteer force.
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