Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 233

Speculation is rife in Moscow that Russia’s political and military leaderships are discussing plans that would radically restructure and reduce the country’s entire military establishment. According to the newspaper Izvestiya, a reform program drafted by officers from Russia’s General Staff outlines a two-stage period of reform. During the first stage, from 1997-2000, the regular armed forces would be reduced to 1.2 million men (their nominal strength is currently 1.7 million) while military formations attached to other state agencies (the so-called "power structures") would be cut by 30 percent. The newspaper says that during the second stage, from 2001-2005, the total manpower strength of the armed forces would be 1.7 million. This figure presumably refers to the combined strength of the regular army plus the other power structures (believed now to be well in excess of three million troops), although the report does not make this clear. During this second stage Russia’s military forces would be manned solely by contract (which would fulfill Boris Yeltsin’s election campaign promise to end conscription), and some 500 generals would be retired.

The plan reportedly also calls for a redrawing of military district boundaries and an amalgamation of various military service branches and structures. The Air Defense and Air Force would be combined, for example, while the commands of Russia’s strategic forces and Ground Forces would be transferred to the General Staff — which emerges in this plan as Russia’s dominant military agency. Of equal or greater importance, the plan’s authors reportedly cite the need to reduce military spending as the primary reason for implementing such radical changes. They acknowledge, moreover, that Russia today is capable of waging no more than a localized military operation and suggest that, because of the weakness of Russia’s conventional forces, Moscow should make clear its readiness to employ nuclear weapons to prevent any large-scale war that would involve Russia and — in the newspaper’s words — "its allies." (Izvestiya, December 11)

Although it is unclear whether the program outlined by Izvestiya is among those being considered by Russia’s political and military leaders, it is consistent on several key points with military reform proposals described in recent days and weeks by, among others, Defense Council secretary Yuri Baturin. (RTR, December 11) These common elements include especially the enhancement of the General Staff’s authority within the armed forces, and the extension of its oversight responsibilities to Russia’s other power structures. Political leaders, moreover, have appeared in recent weeks to be increasingly receptive to the Defense Ministry’s demand that the other power structures undergo manpower reductions similar to those being imposed on the army. All of this suggests that radical military reform may at last be on the table — nearly ten years after Soviet defense reformers first began pleading its desirability. What is less clear is whether the political leadership has the political will and authority to carry it out, given the heated opposition that restructuring and reductions of this sort are sure to provoke from the well-entrenched and independent bureaucratic interests that currently comprise Russia’s defense and security establishment.

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