Russian President Boris Yeltsin used his weekly radio address on February 20 to underscore the priority that the Kremlin attaches to both military reform and its goal of improving living conditions for military personnel. Yeltsin told his audience that Russia is building a new army: professional, mobile and able to meet the requirements of the modern world. The strength of the new army, he said, will be measured not in numbers but in the excellence of its training. (Radio Russia, February 20)
Yeltsin’s remarks came on the eve of celebrations marking Russia’s February 23 Defender of the Fatherland Day. The holiday was a major one during the Soviet period, when it was called Red Army or Soviet Army Day. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation, in spring of 1992, of an independent Russian army, nationalist and pro-Communist groups have used the occasion to rally against the government’s reformist policies. Yesterday was no exception. Several thousand people, described mainly as elderly Communists, demonstrated in Moscow by waving red flags and banners hailing the Soviet army. (AP, February 22) (See preceding story)
Leftist opposition groups were part of the rally. Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov criticized the Kremlin’s military reform policies and appealed to the American people not to allow the bombardment of Iraq. Lev Rokhlin, the general who heads a movement that claims to defend the rights of military and defense industry personnel, applauded yesterday’s demonstration as proof that the left wing groups could join forces. (RTR, February 22) Rokhlin has been accused in the past of calling for the overthrow of the Yeltsin government.
Yeltsin’s radio address notwithstanding, reform of the Russia’s shrinking army has been halting at best and the troops remain demoralized and poorly prepared to fight. The military leadership has only grudgingly embraced a promise made by Yeltsin in the last presidential campaign that called for the transition to an all-volunteer force by the year 2000. That goal clearly will not be met, in part because of the funding shortages that have hamstrung virtually aspect of the armed forces’ development. Corruption also remains widespread in the army, and reaches into the highest echelons of the military command.
More Accidents at Military Ammo Dumps.