President Boris Yeltsin yesterday called on the Defense Ministry leadership to be more active in selling the country’s military reform program to the Russian public. In remarks to the press that preceded his meeting with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Yeltsin asked why authoritative figures from the military leadership had not gone on television to explain both the importance and the substance of the emerging reform effort. Then, in remarks that followed the meeting with Sergeev, Yeltsin declared that the Russian military was in danger of getting top-heavy, and said he had ordered that the number of generals and admirals in the military be gradually reduced from the current 2,865 to no more than 2,300. Just under 2,000 are now serving in the armed forces; the rest are in various other government departments. (Russian news agencies, July 21)
In his own comments to the press, Sergeev denied that Russia’s military reform program — embodied in a series of decrees signed by Yeltsin last week — has been hastily drafted or implemented. That remark, like Yeltsin’s admonition to the military leadership to do a better job of explaining the military reforms, would appear to be a response to sharp criticism of the program voiced by three influential generals on July 18. (See yesterday’s Monitor)
Sergeev’s point is especially well-taken. Although elements of the reform program are now being announced in a flurry, debate on a comprehensive restructuring of Russia’s military has in fact progressed in fits and starts for nearly five years, and many of the measures now being adopted have been bandied about for much of that time. Indeed, opposition critics of the defense reform plan, several of whom participated directly in those earlier policy-making efforts, might be more accurately accused of having hindered the reform process in an effort to forestall any real restructuring of Russia’s increasingly decrepit military machine.
Efforts to politicize the military reform issue by those opposed to the government’s reform program appear to have elicited an additional response from the Kremlin. On July 19 the head of the military counter-intelligence department of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) told the newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta that his organization has the situation in the armed forces "under continuous and unremitting" observation. Military counter-intelligence has been "given clear-cut instructions" to prevent penetration of the armed forces by extremist political groups, he continued, and to neutralize attempts to get the army involved in any sort of political confrontation. (Russian agencies, July 19) The intelligence officer’s comments underline the Kremlin’s awareness both of growing disgruntlement in the Russian army, and of the potential receptivity of its officer corps to appeals from outside political forces.
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