THE MASTER PLAN…. A
shrewd and coarse xenophobia is part of General Aleksandr Lebed’s charm. The general won 15 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of June 1996, which got him what turned out to be a three-month stint as head of Russia’s interagency National Security Council. In that period he negotiated a peace agreement with Chechnya and gained approval for a new “national-security concept” that urged inward-looking policies. The peace with Chechnya collapsed last month. The national-security concept, which never showed much vitality, is now officially dead as well.
Lebed’s concept, shared by many pro-Western internationalists, held that Russia faced no “substantial external threat” and that “global pretensions” would be counterproductive. Russia should “devote its strength and resources” to building democracy and to “spiritual and economic revival.” President Boris Yeltsin approved this concept despite strong objections by then Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who insisted on Russia’s great-power status and global role.
Lebed was fired in October 1996, and Primakov’s ideas prevailed. Two weeks ago the National Security Council endorsed a new concept paper that follows the Primakov line. The draft paper, not yet published, postulates a United States drive for global hegemony and identifies it as a threat to Russia’s security, along with various forms of separatism and extremism. Indeed U.S. efforts to dominate the world are said to be aimed at constraining Russia’s actions on the world stage and preventing Moscow “from establishing its status as one of [the] influential centers of the multipolar world.” The paper is linked with a new military doctrine, approved in draft at the Defense Ministry on September 29, that identifies large-scale attack (presumably from the West) as well as local and regional conflicts as potential military threats.
To counter these threats, the NSC says Russian diplomacy and military policy must build regional blocs and alliances. Defense spending must rise. The national-security paper goes to parliament; the new military doctrine needs only the president’s approval.
But rhetoric is a long way from reality. The military force to back up Primakov’s diplomacy is not there. Last June’s paratroop dash across Serbia and the early successes in northern Chechnya have lifted the army in public esteem, but there are few signs of long-promised military reform and professionalization. Russian press reports say 115,000 officers have quit in the past three years, including 20,000 under the age of 30 in the year 1998 alone. The officer corps is graying, leaving gaps at the platoon and unit level. The old problems of abuse of recruits (which now includes the sale of soldiers by their sergeants to hostage-takers in the Caucasus) and trading in stolen military property (including avionics ripped out of combat aircraft and explosive material removed from bombs) persist unchecked. A recent law enforcement conference sponsored by the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office concluded that rising corruption in the military is a threat to combat readiness and national security. If Russian forces in Chechnya meet with setbacks, critics will have plenty of ammunition for an assault on the country’s political-military establishment.