Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 68

Meanwhile, accompanying Russian diplomatic efforts, more saber-rattling sounded in Moscow yesterday. The communist-dominated Russian State Duma overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution which urges President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian government to “take measures to supply the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with armaments and spare parts.” Shortly after the vote, moreover, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials were reported to have received notification that six Russian warships will sail through the Turkish Straits en route to the Mediterranean Sea on April 12-13 (UPI, Russian agencies, April 7).

Top Russian government officials have said in recent days that Moscow has no intention of violating a UN embargo by supplying arms to Yugoslavia. That has not, however, stopped a wide range of Russian political figures from urging the government to provide military-technical assistance. On the issue of the Russian warships, yesterday’s announcement appeared to contradict an earlier report. The earlier statement quoted the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as saying that there was now no point in dispatching the Russian naval vessels to the Mediterranean (see the Monitor, April 7). Russia has sent one naval reconnaissance vessel to the Mediterranean, ostensibly to monitor NATO military actions directed toward Yugoslavia from that area.

In a related development, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev announced yesterday that the Russian High Command is considering a number of measures in response to recent NATO actions. Those measures, he said, include revisions in the army’s troop reduction plans and an increase in defense spending. He warned that the NATO military strikes on Yugoslavia could also force further delays in Russia’s ratification of the START II treaty. Sergeev accused NATO of trying to assume “the role of world policeman.” He also expressed concern over proposals which would have NATO change its strategic concept to include out-of-area operations and possibly launch military actions without UN approval (Itar-Tass, April 7). Each of those ideas has been pushed by the United States as the NATO alliance looks to redefine its mission for the twenty-first century.

Sergeev’s threats do not, however, carry a great deal of credibility. He said that Russia would improve the combat readiness of its forces, not by raising the number of men in uniform (currently said to be at 1.2 million), but by transforming a specified number of support units into combat units. It is unclear, though, how the cash-strapped Russian government will fund any significant re-equipping of Russian military units, let alone a broader increase in defense spending. The army, meanwhile, has been singularly unsuccessful for many years now in its efforts to address several glaring deficiencies. These include its inability to attract well-qualified volunteer soldiers, place those volunteers in key combat units or retain the army’s more capable junior officers. More generally, the military leadership has failed to improve either the abysmal living conditions of many of its draftees or the image of military service among Russia’s reluctant draft-age population.

Sergeev’s threat regarding the START II treaty also rings somewhat hollow. The Russian State Duma has delayed treaty ratification so many times that the threat of yet another postponement is unlikely to have much impact in the West. Russian ratification of START II, moreover, would appear to meet Russia’s own desperate defense needs more completely than it would those of the United States. That point has been made repeatedly by Russian government officials–including by Sergeev himself–in their long-standing efforts to persuade Russian lawmakers to line up behind the treaty.