Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 143

Although he has said that he will not be a candidate in Russia’s upcoming presidential election, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin appeared over the weekend to be using a trip to Russia’s Far East to do some old-fashioned politicking. In a Siberian defense industrial center, and then again in Vladivostok, Stepashin appeared determined to paint himself as a defender of the country’s defense industries and its armed forces.

The prime minister told reporters in Nizhny Tagil–home to a major Russian tank-building facility–that recent developments in the Balkans had demonstrated Moscow’s need for “new highly precise weapons, new equipment [and] new electronics. He also spoke in favor of building an all-professional army in Russia. “We will have a professional army,” he said. Stepashin admitted, however, that developing one would “require time and money.”

Indeed, money is by most accounts the key obstacle to rebuilding Russia’s armed forces, and Stepashin did not seem to offer any new solutions. The Russian prime minister was in Nizhny Tagil to attend a meeting of a new government commission tasked with solving the problems faced by Russia’s military-industrial complex. Stepashin said that the meeting, which was apparently attended by a number of regional defense managers, had helped to define priorities in weapons development. It had also, he said, approved “a number of decisions on paying off debts to defense enterprises” and on “conversion issues.” But he provided few details (AP, Russian agencies, July 23).

Nizhny Tagil, it is worth noting, is home to the Uralvagonzavod tank-making plant. Russian Defense Ministry officials have recently made public their intention to order some thirty T-90 tanks from that plant. It is not clear, however, whether the government has approved that decision. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who was brought into the cabinet by Stepashin himself to oversee defense industrial issues, has recently indicated that there is no money available for the purchase this year of any such new weapons systems by the Russian army (see the Monitor, July 22). The statements by the Defense Ministry and by Stepashin this weekend thus appear to fly in the face not only of what Klebanov had to say, but also of the harsh economic realities faced by the country’s Finance Ministry.