During a press conference in Moscow yesterday, Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov appeared to argue for higher levels of military spending and to place himself in opposition to government proposals that would cut Russia’s regular armed forces to 1.2 million men. Addressing reporters in tandem with General Staff chief Viktor Samsonov, Rodionov said that Russia’s army should be cut from its current strength of 1.7 million men to 1.5 million. By most accounts, however, Russia’s current real level of military manpower is already down to approximately 1.5 million — only its statutory strength remains at 1.7 million. Rodionov, moreover, had last year given grudging approval to government plans that called for cutting the army to 1.2 million. His remarks yesterday were the clearest indication that he has abandoned that position.
The Russian defense chief appeared yesterday also to condition even those more modest force reductions on the government’s willingness to finance a program aimed at re-equipping the army with the latest military hardware. That would be an expensive proposition, and one that probably exceeds what the government would like to spend on the army in the years to come. But despite these well-known budgetary constraints, Rodionov raised two familiar red flags with regard to the financing issue: he repeated earlier warnings that the army is reaching a crisis stage because of funding shortfalls, and he suggested that — absent greater defense spending — the armed forces would be unable to ensure Russia’s national security. (Interfax, Itar-Tass, January 16)
Neither of those two claims is likely to endear Rodionov to the Kremlin’s civilian leadership, which, according to some reports, has become disenchanted with the Defense Minister’s penchant for making alarmist statements in public. Yesterday’s comments also appeared to corroborate reports both that Rodionov’s harder line on defense reform is due at least in part to the influence of Russia’s general staff chief, and that the Defense Ministry and General Staff together are at odds with Russia’s Defense Council over the future shape of military reform. Although his illness did prove to be a genuine one, rumors had circulated on January 6 that Boris Yeltsin had canceled a Defense Council meeting scheduled two days later not for reasons of health, as claimed, but because he wanted to defer an anticipated clash between the two groups on precisely this complex of issues. Rodionov’s remarks yesterday suggest that this divergence of views may be widening. (See Monitor, January 7, 10)
Russian Duma Adopts Bill on Territorial Integrity.