President Boris Yeltsin yesterday told the Swedish parliament that Russia would, by the end of next year, "unilaterally cut its armed forces in northwest Russia by more than 40 percent." But as was the case with his remarks a day earlier about nuclear arms cuts (see yesterday’s Monitor), other Russian officials soon made it clear that Yeltsin was not in fact announcing any significant new initiatives. Kremlin press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that these latest reductions would be part of — and not an addition to — an already existing plan to reduce the size of the Russian armed forces from 1.7 to 1.2 million by January 1, 1999. Commenting at a NATO meeting in Brussels, Russia’s defense minister, Marshal Igor Sergeev, said that the cuts would come from the Kaliningrad Oblast, the Leningrad Military District, as well as the Baltic and the Northern Fleets.
Yeltsin’s announcement was well received throughout the Baltic region, despite the fact that it may offer little of substance. Military strengths as revealed by Russian officials often exist more on paper than in reality, insofar as such statistics generally refer to authorized strengths of units and services — a standard that no military organization in Russia today comes close to meeting. The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, for example, estimates that there were only some 1.2 million people actually serving in the Russian armed forces as of midyear.
The Russian military presence in Kaliningrad has been a particularly sensitive issue. Three years ago the oblast was declared to be a Special Defense Area. It contains the headquarters and most important base of the Baltic Fleet, as well as the 20,000-strong 11th Army. The commander of the Baltic Fleet, Adm. Vladimir Yegorov, commands all the military forces in the oblast, and on the first of this month Yegorov announced that the 11th Army had became a ground component of the Baltic Fleet. He also suggested that the Special Defense Area had been done away with. Defense Ministry officials in Moscow, meanwhile, were quoted as saying that up to 30,000 military personnel would be pulled out of Kaliningrad next year — a figure that is highly suspect.
Given these developments, it will be interesting to see how Russia treats the 11th Army at the Vienna negotiations on updating the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Naval forces are not covered by the treaty and the Soviet Union stirred up a hornet’s nest during the original negotiations when it transferred several motorized rifle divisions from the Ground Forces to the Navy. (Russian and Western media, December 1-3)
Russia and Sweden Sign Agreements.