Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 90

President Boris Yeltsin used Russia’s May 9 Victory Day celebration to hail the courage of the country’s soldiers and citizenry during World War II. But the Russian leader also made mention of the army’s current problems and of his faith in the ability of today’s soldiers to ensure Russia’s security. “Our army is going through difficult times,” Yeltsin said. “But I firmly believe that new soldiers will always continue to joint its ranks to ensure that there is no threat to peaceful life.” Yeltsin also said that Russia threatens no other country. Its priorities, he pointed out, have not changed: “the territorial integrity of the country, international cooperation and the strengthening of security in Europe and in the world as a whole.” (Russian TV, May 9)

Yeltsin’s brief remarks come as the country embarks on a defense reform program that involves both considerable military personnel reductions and restructuring of both the armed forces’ command and administrative structures. Those changes have been anything but popular in the armed forces themselves, and have been strongly criticized by Yeltsin’s political opposition. The reforms, moreover, come after nearly ten years of upheaval that have left military personnel demoralized and embittered. The army has found itself increasingly unable to retain the services of its best young officers or to attract capable replacements for them. Problems abound also in the conscript army. Military service is exceedingly unpopular. Most are able to avoid the draft legally. Of those drafted, thousands have gone AWOL and the quality of those remaining in uniform has fallen. Efforts to recruit volunteers have yielded mixed results at best.

Yeltsin addressed these problems more frankly in remarks to a large audience of military commanders on May 8. He reiterated the Kremlin’s goal of a smaller but more capable armed forces — calling it a “tough but achievable object.” Without elaborating, Yeltsin also said that the possibility of aggression against Russia could not be discounted. Yeltsin said military reform would not affect Russia’s ability to defend itself, described the reform as one of the government’s top priorities and said that financial support for the armed forces would increase this year. (Russian agencies, May 8)