President Boris Yeltsin has approved a concept that will turn Russia’s border troops from a military structure into a special federal service, the chief of the border troops, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, announced in Moscow on December 10. With some 220,000 troops, the Federal Border Service has been the second largest military formation — following the Interior Ministry’s forces — outside the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry. Nikolaev has jealously guarded his empire and was particularly successful in resisting the efforts of former defense minister Pavel Grachev to rein in the border troops. Better paid and more securely funded, Nikolaev’s forces often held large regional exercises that were the envy of the country’s regular armed forces. While most military units are lucky to be manned at 75 percent of their authorized strength, Nikolaev announced proudly that his forces were manned to 97 percent.
The few details released about the latest plan indicate that the new border service will move in the direction of its counterparts in most other countries. It is to give up its heavy weapons, and many of its combat helicopters and ships. Responsibilities for protecting Russia’s maritime borders have been particularly confusing, with the Navy tasked to counter submarine threats, the Federal Border Service to deal with surface threats, and the Air Defense Troops to repel air threats. The Federal Border Service had inherited the fleet frigates and corvettes from the former KGB Maritime Border Troops. The larger of these will probably be turned over to the Navy with the smaller ones becoming part of a new Coast Guard. This service will have a mission oriented less toward defense and more towards protecting Russian fishing activities and policing of its maritime economic zone. (Russian media, December 10)
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