Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 90

On the eve of celebrations marking the fifth anniversary of the Russian armed forces, President Boris Yeltsin was quoted in the country’s main military newspaper yesterday as saying that he would press ahead with the creation of a professional army in Russia, "no matter how unrealistic this might seem because of current financial shortages." (Itar-Tass, May 6)

Yeltsin’s remarks appeared to be at least a partial reaffirmation of a pledge he made during last year’s presidential election campaign to end conscription and move the country to an all-volunteer force by the end the decade. Many questioned the feasibility of such a rapid transition at that time, and in the intervening months top commanders in Russia’s Defense Ministry and General Staff have repeatedly raised similar doubts. They have pointed especially to a declining military budget and to chronic defense funding shortages in arguing that Russia cannot afford a volunteer force.

The issue of funding for the armed forces was certainly in the foreground yesterday, as the Russian government approved the state defense order for this year while legislators were simultaneously indicating that defense spending is to be slashed by more than 20 percent in the government’s revised budget. Gennady Kulik, the deputy head of the Duma’s Budget Committee, said that the government’s revised budget would cut defense spending from 104.3 trillion rubles to 83.1 trillion. (AP, April 6) Ministry of Defense officials had already argued that the original budget would only fund the armed forces for 9 months. (RIA-Novosti, April 22)

The defense order, endorsed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, would keep weapons procurement at last year’s low level while increasing the money spent on research and development. Although defense workers were promised their back wages in cash, the government would reduce its large debt to defense enterprises by offsets and other means. Yeltsin pointed to such "clever maneuvering" as a way funding for the military could be improved in the current financial crisis. He also cautioned that the upcoming "forced reductions" in the budget must not affect the "protected items" in the military budget — wages, food supplies, and the like. But the armed forces lack the money to cover these "protected items" in the first place, and Yeltsin’s exhortations are unlikely to reverse the situation. (Interfax, RIA Novosti, April 6; Interfax, April 7) Yeltsin is scheduled to deliver a speech during a military parade to be held on May 9 in Red Square, and is likely to address some of these issues.

Government Presents United Front on Monopolies.