Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 17

Russia’s Army: The Gathering Storm

By Andrei Koliev

Betrayal: that is the word which characterizes the attitude ofRussian society towards its own army.

The Army’s Financial Situation

The main blow struck against the army was the destruction of itsmaterial and technical base which came with the dissolution ofthe USSR. For example, seven long-range radar stations, each ofwhich, it is estimated, cost five to seven billion dollars tobuild, were destroyed. The army’s destruction continues today.The army’s budget is only half of what it was in 1992, and lessthan one-sixth what it was in 1990, before the USSR’s demise.

According to the 1996 budget, the Ministry of Defense has beenallotted 82.4 trillion rubles ($18.3 billion). If half of thatsum is spent on the upkeep of the army and navy (the rest goesto purchases of weapons and other military equipment, researchand development, the pension fund, etc.), then the cost of theaverage soldier in uniform is 25.7 million rubles per year ($5,711).In NATO, the corresponding figure is $90,000. Experts think thatthe cost of maintaining the average soldier should not drop below$10,000, or a country’s military potential will drop below acceptablelevels, without any hope that it can be revived. This is happeningnow.

Moreover, even the hope that the army would be guaranteed at leastthe "starvation ration" allotted to it in the budgethave proven to be in vain. Here are the figures. Of the 7.5 trillionrubles allocated for the Ministry of Defense in 1993, 6.5 trillionrubles were actually paid, in 1994, the Ministry of Defense didnot receive about a third of its appropriation–12 trillion rubles,and in 1995, it did not receive another 7.9 trillion rubles. In1996, the money most likely was spent on Boris Yeltsin’s reelectioncampaign. As a result, the Ministry of Defense, which is now impoverishedand trying to scale back expenses across the board, owes its personneland suppliers 16.7 trillion rubles.

The sums appropriated for the purchase of weapons, other militaryequipment, and research and development in 1996 were so miserlythat it will be virtually impossible to reverse the decline ofthe Russian defense sector’s unique industrial and scientificinstitutions. As a result of the shortage of funds, not a singledivision-level exercise was held in the Russian army between 1992and 1996. As regards regimental and battalion live-fire exercises,in many cases, they have had to be replaced with headquartersmap exercises. And in this case, there is no point even talkingabout readiness.

Pay, Housing, Food Supplies

There are now more than 125,000 military families without housing.The government program which guaranteed housing to dischargedsoldiers from 1993 to 1995, is now practically defunct. Insteadof the 85,000 apartments which were planned to be built in 1995,only 27,000 could be built with the money that was allocated.In 1996, 7.6 trillion rubles were allocated to housing constructionfor the armed forces, which, in the best possible case, will makeit possible to build about 10,000 apartments.

In August 1996, only 2.3 percent of the amount needed for salariesand monetary allowances for the Ministry of Defense was allocated.On September 1, the Ministry of Defense owed 6.1 trillion rublesin salaries and monetary allowances, about 500 billion in subsidiesfor children, and about 200 billion in payments to victims ofChernobyl.

The food supply situation in the Armed Forces is close to catastrophic.The stores of food necessary to supply military personnel havevirtually run out in many military districts and fleets. Eventhe emergency stores have been affected. Rations for pilots andsubmariners are so scanty that they often do not cover the expenditureof physical energy. In the garrisons of Dauriya, Borzya, Priargunsk,Drovyanaya, Kandalaksha (above the Arctic Circle), Sundzha, Gusi-Ozersk,Nerchinsk, Bilitui, Dasatui, Sugol, and elsewhere, people arestarting to starve. And in August, the debt to bakeries in theUrals Military District alone is 3 billion rubles, and as a consequence,they refused to supply military units with bread. The situationis similar in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and many other garrisons. In total,the Ministry of Defense owes its food suppliers about 900 billionrubles. Where will the money come from? Neither the state northe military has, as yet, any answer to this question.

Misappropriation of State Property

But frequently, the shortage of money in the army is due to itsbeing stolen. Today, the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office has11 criminal cases in which government money has been "diverted"through commercial structures. The money sent by the Ministryof Defense through the Central Bank of Russia to the soldiershas disappeared, more than once, from the military leadership’sfield of vision. At times, sums sufficient to pay the personnelof an entire military district for a month have disappeared. In1994-95, the scale of this "diversion" of defense moneybegan to grow at a feverish pace. Not millions, but hundreds ofmillions of rubles have gotten "stuck," God knows where.

The machinations connected with the money from the sale of theproperty of the liquidated Western Group of Forces, and its "migration"to the account of a joint venture in Belgium have become a well-knownscandal. $20 million of the $20.6 million earned from the saleof stocks of arms and military property in Bulgaria somehow "migrated"to an account in Deutsche Bank. On November 23, 1995, PresidentYeltsin, with his Order No. 1175, removed the head of the MainMilitary Budget and Finance Administration, Col. Gen. V. V. Vorobiev,"for crude financial violations, and unsatisfactory enforcementof government directives." But Minister of Defense PavelGrachev prevented this order from being carried out for severalmonths, and did not permit audits into the activities of someof his other subordinates.

Today, the Military Prosecutor’s Office is investigating 12 criminalcases against various generals, including some top military officials.This figure does not reflect the true level of corruption in themilitary. After all, a general here receives a lower salary thana Moscow trolleybus driver.

On the Brink of a Mutiny

Over the first seven and a half months of this year, 5,446 crimeswere committed in the Armed Forces, as a result of which 392 servicemen(877 in 1995) died. 123 servicemen committed suicide (304 in 1995).Polls show that the patience of military men is running out. Ninety-sevenpercent of servicemen are dissatisfied with the way the stateis caring for its armed forces. The likelihood of an outbreakof mass protest, and even mutiny, in the army grows with eachpassing day.

Here is only a partial list of protest actions in the army reportedin the press:

* Air Defense Forces: the 472nd Fighter Regiment in Kursk.Women blocked an airstrip because their husbands hadn’t been paid;

* Baltic Fleet: Nevinsk garrison. Servicemen’s wives attemptedto block the Kaliningrad- Bagrationovsk highway, to protest difficultliving conditions;

* Pacific Fleet: 26th Submarine Division. Servicemen’swives attempted to prevent submarines from going out on patrol,to protest the fact that their husbands have not been paid;

* Urals Military District: Ekaterinburg. Servicemen’s wivespicketed the city and oblast administration building, demandingthat salaries be paid;

* Space Forces: Commanders have been sued for delays inthe payment of salaries;

* Air Force: 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Division in Engels.Servicemen’s wives, with their children, blockaded an airstrip,and sent a complaint to the president and the State Duma;

* Strategic Missile Forces: Chitinsk garrison, Units No.74102 and 44039. Servicemen and their wives are ready to protestafter the government’s statement on liquidating its debt to budgetorganizations. They are planning to block the roads leading totheir units;

So far, all these actions look like an outbreak of desperation.The army has escaped mass military protests, possibly with theuse of the weapons at their disposal, by a miracle. But if thesituation does not improve immediately, one may expect hungerriots and the direct expropriation of the means necessary to supportthe lives of military units. If the army is forced to overstepcertain clearly-defined moral barriers, social and political stabilizationwill become nothing but a bad myth.

Translated by Mark Eckert