Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev painted a dismal picture of conditions in the armed forces in remarks delivered to Russian lawmakers on December 11. The one-time Strategic Rocket Forces commander told the State Duma that about one-third of the armed forces’ military hardware is not combat-ready and that some 60 percent of the country’s strategic missile systems have been in service for twice their service life. Some 70 percent of the ships in Russia’s navy require repair, he continued, while in the air force about two-thirds of all aircraft are incapable of flying. So far this year, Sergeev said, the armed forces have not received a “single nuclear submarine, tank, combat plane, helicopter, or piece of artillery.” Of some 5.7 billion rubles (US$267.6 million) allocated for food, Sergeev said, his ministry received only 2.4 billion (US$112.7 million).
Not surprisingly, the situation is no better with regard to Russian military personnel. Of greatest concern is the fact that the military continues to hemorrhage officers under the age of thirty. Some 19,000 of them have left the armed forces this year, Sergeev said. At the same time, the government’s failure to pay out salaries and various types of allowances has hurt morale. Suicides among officers have grown “frequent,” Sergeev told lawmakers, while “many officers and their families are on the verge of poverty” (AP, Russian agencies, December 11).
Sergeev’s remarks are in part politically motivated. The Russian government is currently drafting the state budget for 1999, and the Defense Ministry is looking to raise projected military spending from some 2.5 percent of GDP–a figure which reportedly appeared on an earlier budget draft–to 3.5 percent of GDP–a level stipulated by Russian defense legislation (see the Monitor, December 11). At the same time, the state of the armed forces has also become a political issue in which the Kremlin’s political opponents accuse the Russian president of having destroyed the armed forces and endangered the country’s security.
Sergeev himself is under fire, moreover, for having embraced a military reform program backed by the Kremlin that calls for considerable cuts in the official strength of the Russian armed forces. Lawmakers and, reportedly, some in the military high command itself have also criticized Sergeev for his efforts to streamline both Russia’s force structure and its military district system. In the face of such criticism, and amid the army’s worsening economic woes, Sergeev has himself recently begun to speak out. Whereas the Russian defense chief had earlier distinguished himself as a “team player,” he has more recently begun to complain in public of military spending shortfalls. That criticism has reportedly irritated the Kremlin and raised questions about Sergeev’s future as defense minister (see the Monitor, December 9).
RUSSIA TRUMPETS SUCCESSFUL FREEING OF FRENCH HOSTAGE.