Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 167

As debate continues on Russia’s draft 1997 state budget, tensions seem set to rise between the nation’s regular armed forces and it’s other "power structures," that is, those ministries and agencies that command their own military or paramilitary forces (According to a Russian legislator, Russia currently has some 3.5 million men in uniform, serving under 24 different ministries and departments. Less than half of that total serve in the regular armed forces. See Kuranty, August 21). The clash between these various institutional interests is nothing new, and, indeed, displeasure over the regular army’s decline relative to these other agencies — the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Federal Border Forces in particular — was a theme voiced regularly but without seeming effect by Russia’s disgraced former minister of defense, Pavel Grachev.

But several factors have emerged in recent months that may have shifted the "correlation of forces" that underlay this conflict. One is the appointment in mid-July of Igor Rodionov to the Defense Ministry post. Rodionov commands far greater respect both inside and outside of the armed forces than did his predecessor, and he also enjoys the patronage of powerful Kremlin security supremo Aleksandr Lebed, himself a former paratrooper who is committed to rebuilding Russia’s military might. The army’s plight also seems likely to get greater attention because Yeltsin made its reform a key plank in his reelection campaign, and, in appointing Rodionov, entrusted him specifically with rebuilding the army. Campaign promises are, of course, not always the most easily redeemable form of political capital, but a third factor — Russia’s abysmal military performance in Chechnya and the feelings of national revulsion that have accompanied it — seems likely to strengthen Rodionov’s hand.

Rodionov has already complained publicly of the wasteful creation of "parallel armies" under other ministries and the harmful way in which they have siphoned off scarce state funding from the regular armed forces. (See Monitor, August 26) But a recent article in the Russian Defense Ministry’s main military newspaper, Krasnaya zvezda, makes explicit Rodionov’s broader argument that "military reform" cannot proceed without a restructuring and downsizing of forces subordinated to the other power ministries that is every bit as radical as that being asked of the army. In fact, the article makes the obvious but little discussed point that "reform" of Russia’s other power ministries since 1992 seems to have proceeded in exactly the opposite direction from that of the regular army. That is, as the Defense Ministry cut its forces by more than 1 million men and saw its technical base deteriorate, the other agencies were adding forces and acquiring the technical means to perform some functions typically tasked to the armed forces. The article claims, for example, that Russia’s Federal Border Forces now possess almost as many divisions as the army’s ground forces and have begun to train their own pilots. (Krasnaya zvezda, September 6)

But if recent history is any indicator, satisfaction of the Defense Ministry’s claim to a greater portion of the State funding allocated to the "power structures" is likely to depend less on sober analysis of Russia’s national interests than on Kremlin in-fighting. And although Lebed and Rodionov are themselves generally considered incorruptible, Russia’s high command is unlikely to be well-served in this skirmish by the public perception that it has wasted or stolen large portions of the funding that has been sent its way in the recent past.

Kremlin Battles Governor of Far Eastern Region.