RUSSIAN MILITARY REFORM: TEN YEARS OF FAILURE
by Pavel Felgenhauer
Defense and national security editor,
Sevodnya newspaper, Moscow.
RUSSIAN DEFENSE POLICY TOWARDS THE YEAR 2000.
Proceedings of a conference held at the
Naval Postgraduate School on March 26 and 27, 1997.
Ed. by Elizabeth Skinner and Mikhail Tsypkin
Talk of military reform began in Russia (the Soviet Union) in the late 1980s. But before the demise of the U.S.S.R no comprehensive reform plans were adopted. Despite overwhelming global changes after the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War, the Soviet military chiefs were only reacting to events: withdrawing weapons and troops as the Warsaw pact fell apart, moving tens of thousands of outdated pieces of armor and heavy weaponry east of the Urals and into Uzbekistan to "save" them from the CFE Treaty limitations.
Also to deceive the West on real CFE holdings, the Soviet General Staff began depleting the army of men and materiel, moving them into "other" forces. This activity continued in an aggravated form after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, creating a maze of independent armed forces (Interior Forces, Border Guard, Natural Calamity, Railroad Forces, etc.).
After the Soviet Union was disbanded in December 1991, the old Soviet Army also fell apart, with local military commanders swearing allegiance to the new republics. The generals in Moscow were amazed. They believed that the army would stick together, forming a base for a new, improved Union, after Mikhail Gorbachev was kicked out of the Kremlin. They did not expect the Great Red Army to disintegrate without a whimper. But in several months in 1992 it was all over. President Boris Yeltsin and the media were calling for military reform and the generals simply had to put something forward.
1. The Great Mobile Force
Russia inherited an armed force built to fight and win an all-out global war. After the Cold War suddenly ended, however, the Russian military was left with a shambles of an army and a totally confused military doctrine. With no more clear-cut opponents to face in central Europe or on the Chinese border, the "military-technical considerations" that played a dominant role in Soviet force development and deployment throughout the post-World War II period became obsolete.
In January, 1990, General Mikhail Moiseyev, then chief of the Soviet general staff, announced at a Military Doctrine Seminar in Vienna a set of guidelines for a new Soviet military doctrine. First, war will no longer be considered a means of achieving political objectives. Second, the Soviet Union will never initiate military actions against any other state. Third, the Soviet Union will never be the first to use nuclear weapons. Fourth, the Soviet Union has no territorial claims against any other state nor does it consider any other state to be its enemy. Fifth, the Soviet Union seeks to preserve military parity as a decisive factor in averting war, but at much lower levels than at present. Also, war prevention - instead of war preparation - emerged as the predominant political objective of the new doctrine.
These, of course, were fine words, but there was precious little of substance to help a military chief plan, reorganize and prepare a battle-ready armed force. Only the fifth guideline had any meaning at all, but except for the nuclear strategic balance with the United States, preserving "military parity" was out of the Russian military's reach as the Soviet Union collapsed. There was no longer any conventional "military parity" and there could never be "parity" between NATO and the fragments of the once proud Red Army.
In 1990, many in the West may have thought that this new Soviet "military doctrine" was just a strategic deception to screen the Kremlin's real and insidious intentions. But there were no real plans. The "new doctrine" only reflected the demoralized state of the Russian military chiefs.
This unfortunate state of events was also reflected in the official Russian military doctrine adopted by President Boris Yeltsin's decree of November 2, 1993. This decree also stated that Russia "does not consider any other state to be its enemy," that the threat of a global war has drastically diminished and that the main threat are local military conflicts.
But the guidelines on military action in local wars turned out to be misleading. The doctrine authorized the creation of special mobile forces that could be rapidly deployed in any part of Russia's extended land borders to deter any possible threat.
The creation of a Mobile Force was always the favorite idea of defense minister Pavel Grachev, a paratroops commander in the Afghan war who was obviously impressed by overblown media reports of the staggering strategic success of U.S.-lead Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991. Though the structure of a Russian Mobile Force was never officially approved, as a goal it was vigorously pursued despite severe shortages of men and money in the Russian defense ministry.
It is a new post-Soviet tradition that all Russian military reform programs are planned in three stages. Today Yury Baturin and Igor Rodionov are quarreling over a new military reform plan that will, in three stages, create a new and wonderful Russian army after the year 2005. But there was an earlier, now abandoned three-point reform package announced by Pavel Grachev in May, 1992, immediately after president Boris Yeltsin appointed General Grachev as defense minister.
The first stage of Grachev's reforms envisaged a "reform" of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces and the so-called "central apparatus" of the Defense Ministry with a planned 50 percent reduction in personnel. During the second stage of reform, due to take place from 1993 to 1995, according to Grachev's May, 1992, press conference statement, "the traditional branches of the armed forces (Ground Forces, Air Force, Navy, Strategic Rocket Forces, etc.) will be preserved, but also a new rapid-deployment operational command will be established," based on the existing Airborne Troop Command and "mobile" elements of other Russian forces.
From 1993 to 1995 the Russian Armed Forces was to have been "rebuilt," with the number of servicemen cut to 2.1 million by 1995. From 1995 to 1999, military personnel should have been cut to 1.5 million, the structure of the Armed Forces thoroughly reorganized, and up to half of the non-commissioned officers and privates ought to have become "contract" volunteers.
The Mobile Forces were intended to fulfill "all defense tasks in any theater of war in real time." The Defense Ministry under Grachev was also planning to base army units evenly along Russia's borders, without any significant troop concentrations anywhere. The Mobile Forces were to have been positioned deep inside Russian territory, to be rushed in any direction if a threat suddenly appeared.
The idea sounded fine. Who in the world could be against a smaller, cheaper, mobile fighting force? Taken at face value, Grachev's reform plan does not seem to differ much from the ideas put forward today by Baturin.
It is obvious that in the early 90s the Defense Ministry simply did not know what enemy, if any, it might encounter on the battlefield in the foreseeable future, who were Russia's potential allies, and what the future scope of confrontation might be. In 1992, Grachev was planning to build an army that perhaps could fit into a world of growing stability, economic growth and peace - the predicted "end of history," not the true challenges of the coming 21st century.
2. A Reform that Failed
Without clear-cut guidelines, not knowing what kind of enemy to counter, with President Yeltsin as a Commander-in-Chief who is unwilling or unable to give extensive political leadership to the armed forces, and with utterly insufficient budget funding, the Russian armed forces under Grachev had no chance to "reform" in any meaningful way.
But for four years Grachev pronounced, against all odds, that military reform was on track. However, the war in Chechnya proved otherwise: the Russian army astonished outside observers with its weakness, low morale, poor discipline and almost total inability to defeat a lightly armed rebel force.
The military "professionals" in the General Staff, headed by General Mikhail Kolesnikov, were quietly sabotaging Grachev's "inappropriate" Mobile Force plans. They believed that for the time being the best policy was to keep as much of the structures and armaments of the good old Soviet Army alive as possible. They were simply buying time, waiting either for the economy to begin growing with more real money coming into the defense budget, or an obvious strategic enemy to appear that would unite the nation, increase societal support for the military and streamline defense planning in
one of several possible directions: East, West or South. The more Soviet-made hardware saved during the "lean years" of imaginary "reforms" and actual decay and demilitarization, the easier it would be to rebuild a new and strong quasi-Soviet force.
As Grachev's "second stage of military reform" was concluded in 1995, it became increasingly obvious that if anything was happening within the Russian military, it was not reform, but collapse. In the spring of 1995 rumors were circulating in Moscow that a bold new draft plan for military reform was being secretly finalized somewhere in the Kremlin. These rumors were not without foundation: a group of experts in the president's administration, headed by General Alexander Vladimirov, really was preparing a far-reaching military reform plan. A special high-level conference under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, that should have confirmed the reforms, was planned for the end of April, 1995.
But this conference never took place. In mid-May, 1995, General Vladimirov was sacked from office and from government service. His reform plan was also promptly rejected as "inappropriate." For almost a year the words "military reform" disappeared from the vocabulary of Russian officialdom.
The plans put forward by General Vladimirov were doomed from the beginning. When in April Vladimirov sent his draft to the Defense Ministry and the General Staff of the Armed Forces, the military chiefs rejected them out of hand, and this ended all military reform in 1995.
Of course, the Defense Ministry and General Staff were not doing nothing at all from 1992 till 1996. Some regiments, divisions, and army and corps staffs were disbanded or reorganized, some new brigades formed instead, and a Directorate on Military Reform was created in the defense ministry. The "mobile" Airborne Troops got a bigger share of meager resources than the Ground Forces. But when in December, 1994 General Grachev attempted to pull off a "rapid deployment" operation in Chechnya, the Airborne mostly performed as badly as any other unit.
Mobile Airborne units were maintained at the expense of the rest of the army. This created a lot of tension in the military hierarchy, especially after the battle of Grozny in January when understaffed, undertrained, unprepared tank and mechanized units were massacred by the Chechens. At the same time, "mobile" paratroopers often refused to attack enemy strongholds in their airborne aluminum-armored light tanks. In Grozny Grachev's "mobile force" dream of a single airborne regiment capturing the city in two hours went sour.
The Russian Army was an unhappy and disillusioned force even before Chechnya, but the war made the situation even worse. The disastrous campaign cost money, though not as much outside observers calculated. Defense Ministry financial officials say that the overall amount of money the Defense Ministry spent outright on the war in Chechnya is 7 trillion rubles (approximately $1.4 billion). This sum, obviously, does not take into account the cost of the mostly Soviet-era stocks of food, clothing, military equipment and ammunition that were used up. But since no additional defense funds were allocated to the meager Defense Ministry budget to fight the
war in Chechnya, those 7 trillion rubles exacerbated the army's money crisis.
The Russian soldiers are almost starving. The official cost of a daily regular army food ration in 1996 was no more than 9,220 rubles ($1.85); 12,537 rubles ($2.52) in the air force; 9,696 rubles ($1.95) in the navy and 14,269 rubles ($2.87) on submarines. Since the food supply trade in present-day Russia operates on a free market basis, the Defense Ministry pays the same price as any other customer. Of course, the Russian army still produces some food of its own at army farms, but the price of the final product tends to be even higher than on the open market. And, obviously, the soldiers seldom see their full ration's worth in the pot: The army attendants also need to get their cut.
Officers and NCOs returned to their garrisons from Chechnya to be confronted with the same problems they left behind when they went to war: low and irregular pay, bad housing, poor career prospects in the face of defense cuts. On top of that, they must now face accusations in the press that they are murderers, marauders and war criminals, when their moral is already low after the Chechen debacle.
3. The Presidential Election Campaign and Military Reform in 1996
After Chechnya no one in the Kremlin, the Duma or the Defense Ministry denies that reforms are necessary. Everyone agrees that Russia must have a battle-ready, professional, highly mobile and well-armed army instead of today's understaffed, undertrained, underpaid and unprepared force.
Since 1995 President Yeltsin has again called for an acceleration of military reform. The inability to shrink and reform the army was one of the serious accusations that Russian democrats, led by Yeltsin, leveled against former general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his Politburo between1989-1991. But in 1992, after some wavering, Yeltsin appointed General Pavel Grachev defense minister and turned responsibility for everything tied to military reform over to him.
In Yeltsin's address to Parliament in February, 1995, he admitted that "reforms in the armed forces have not proceeded satisfactorily" and promised that he would take decisive measures in 1995 to reorganize the army and other forces. On February 23, 1995, after a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier, Yeltsin said "the army has begun to fall to pieces," precisely because "we have been late in introducing reforms."
A year passed and nothing happened. In February, 1996, after a meeting of the Russian Security Council, it was announced that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin must put forward a plan for military reform within ten days. When I called the Defense Ministry to find out whether they were working around the clock to accomplish this on time, the officers there replied that they had heard the announcement, but that Grachev had gone to ex-Yugoslavia, his first deputy Andrei Kokoshin had a cold, and if Chernomyrdin was charged with reforming the army in ten days, that was his problem.
Clearly, the military had long since stopped taking Yeltsin's "imminent army reform" pronouncements seriously.
The 10 days passed and Yeltsin said he would create a new commission on military reform and again announced that such reform was going poorly, "although Grachev claims all the time that everything is going O.K."
However, with only a few months before the elections, Yeltsin could not have been serious in declaring a real start to meaningful military reform. This would inevitably involve painful and unpopular decisions such as closing down military bases, which would upset the regions where the bases are a source of jobs and income. It would also mean discharging from service hundreds of thousands of officers, NCOs and generals, which would require billions of dollars to be carved out of the budget to meet retirement benefits, resettlement and housing costs. And this is not to mention the price of cleaning up military bases and destroying excess weapons and ammunition.
What Yeltsin could do and did in an election year, was to fire Grachev and some other corrupt generals who squandered money from officers' payrolls and were to blame for all their hardships. Early in the presidential campaign the presidential aide on economics and later Finance Minister, Alexander Livshits, said that the enormous arrears in pay to the armed forces were the result of "wrong decisions" made by the Defense Ministry. Also, General Vasily Vorobyov, who had been in charge of the army's finances since 1992, was discharged from service by Yeltsin for "gross financial violations."
Yeltsin made the politically expedient move and ousted Grachev in June, 1996. Grachev was so unpopular in the army and in the country that his sacking enhanced Yeltsin's popularity and once again brought many democrats back into the president's fold before the critical July second round of voting. Military reform, however, was again postponed.
Instead the President suddenly signed a decree in 1996 to abolish conscription in Russia by the year 2000, and create an all-volunteer, professional force. General Igor Rodionov, who was then the chief of the General Staff Academy (Russia's top military school) told me that the presidential decree was clearly "dangerous and irresponsible electioneering rhetoric that at best would never really be implemented and at worst could cause the final downfall of the Russian army." He also added that former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and General Boris Gromov, who publicly supported the president's move, "were a disgrace to the military profession: They know full well that the decree is sheer lunacy from the professional
point of view, but still support it to gain favor with Yeltsin."
The origins of the decree was mysterious. High-ranking military officials insist that the Defense Ministry and General Staff of the Armed Forces did not prepare the document and were not informed beforehand of their contents. Igor Rodionov said that he made a private investigation to find out who promoted the professional army decree and was amazed to learn that the presidential aide on national security, Yury Baturin, also did not endorse the draft text.
Later, in October, 1996, Baturin, who was appointed Defense Council Secretary in July, 1996, said at a press conference that he was against Yeltsin's decree to form an all-volunteer Russian army, because it was impossible to implement. "I said so to the President in May, 1996, and I did not formally endorse it - no cost calculations were attached to it in May, 1996, and in the fall of 1996 the economic situation became even worse, making the idea of an all-volunteer force irrelevant." Baturin also added that he "fully agrees with Rodionov" on this point.
An all-volunteer defense force is still a very popular idea in Russia, especially with university and high-school students who do not want to do notional service. Some liberals close to Anatoly Chubais are still pressing President Yeltsin to go for a speedy transformation of the present Russian army into a "all-contract - professional" force. Vladimir Zhirinovsky also sometimes toys with the idea. But Zhirinovsky always says things that can help win
votes, no matter to what degree they are absurd or contradictory. During the 1995 State Duma election campaign Zhirinovsky promised to sharply increase military expenditures and the number of army troops to 4 million under 1 million officers. At the same time he also promised to decrease the time of conscript service and extent the number and availability of reasons to dodge the draft.
But almost all Russian generals, defense analysts and many influential politicians in government and in opposition are against the abolition of the draft in the foreseeable future. During the war in Chechnya many Russian battalions were partially or fully "professional." These contract soldiers were badly fed, ill-trained and ill-disciplined. Many of them were bums and jerks. Who else could possibly volunteer to fight in Chechnya under appalling conditions for a meager $200 to $300 a month? After the troops were withdrawn from Chechnya, nearly all contract solders deserted from the 205th army brigade and took their arms with them to sell or make mischief. The law-abiding citizen-soldiers stayed in barracks. If Russia had an all-volunteer force in 1996, it would have most likely marched from Grozny on to Moscow.
There are cases in world military history when good fighting troops were formed out of bums and jerks. One such example is the British army that fought Napoleon in Spain under the Duke of Wellington's command 190 years ago. In order to create disciplined troops from mercenaries, who are often drawn from the margins of society, well prepared, qualified and ruthless sergeants are needed, as is the case with the French Foreign Legion or the present American and British armies. But in Russia there are no professional
sergeants and no one who knows how to train them.
The May, 1996 decree to abolish conscription most likely gained Yeltsin some votes and helped him to win the 1996 presidential elections. The May decree and the spectacular June 1996 ouster of Defense minister Grachev also helped keep defense issues well out of the preelection debate. But these effective tactical moves by Yeltsin and his campaign team at the same time helped distract society and the professional military from the real challenge of post-Soviet army reform: creating a disciplined fighting force that Russia can afford, and that will not be a threat to civilian society. While President Yeltsin was fighting to get reelected and then surviving sickness and the aftermath of a multiple-bypass heart operation, military reform again stagnated. Instead, in July, 1996 Yeltsin created a high-ranking Defense Council
"to coordinate defense-related policies and programs." The main result was a bureaucratic feud between the newly appointed Defense Council Secretary Yury Baturin and the newly appointed Defense Minister Igor Rodionov that over several months became very public and acrimonious.
4. The Lion and The Unicorn - Baturin and Rodionov Fighting on Reform
The first meeting of the Defense Council was held in October, 1996 and chaired by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. It ended in an atmosphere of unprecedented unanimity of the interested agencies' views on all the key questions. Everyone agreed that military reform is essential. Everyone agreed that cuts in military personnel, not only in the Defense Ministry forces but also in the
"other" forces (Interior Ministry, Border Guards etc.), were essential. Rodionov said that the number of Defense Ministry military personnel should be cut to 1.2 million men by the end of 1997. Earlier, high-ranking officials in the Defense Ministry were even speaking of cutting the army to only 12 full divisions.
But already during the second Defense Council meeting in November, 1996, the situation was different: the fight against Alexander Lebed had managed for a time to glue the ruling elite together. Baturin, Rodionov, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov all wanted to oust Lebed. Once Lebed was out, and the immediate and distinct common goal disappeared, the infighting that has impaired all Yeltsin's governments resumed.
The Defense Ministry demands that the government pay wage arrears before there can be any serious talk of military reform. As Rodionov told me in January, 1997, during a lavish reception in Moscow: "What kind of '@*/?!' reforms are you talking about?! We are starving!!" Since November, 1996, the Russian government was falling behind on the schedule for repaying wage arrears to servicemen which it had itself approved in October.
In 1996 many Russian army officers were forced to survive without a paycheck for as long as five months. The total arrears that the state owed enlisted men in August were as high as 5 trillion rubles ($889 million) according to Defense Ministry officials. Lately, the situation has improved somewhat. But the basic reasons for the pay crisis did not disappear, and arrears can begin to pile up any moment.
The main reason is that the back wages crisis was deliberately organized by the Russian Defense Ministry to help boost defense spending. This intrigue was masterminded when General Pavel Grachev was defense minister. The present Defense Minister, Igor Rodionov was not directly involved, but high-ranking Defense Ministry officials freely admit - without being quoted - that such a plot did actually exist.
Defense Ministry officials deliberately diverted budget funds earmarked for officers' salaries to pay for procurement, building of defense installations, research and development in defense industry laboratories and other underfinanced military programs. The idea was to preserve essential defense industry capabilities by keeping a trickle of money coming in and at the same time to create a crisis over officers' pay.
Russian generals understand that the total freezing of construction work at all unfinished Russian underground military control centers and bunkers will hardly stir up public opinion. But over a million armed soldiers without paychecks is a different story. Today, Defense Ministry officials concede that they hoped a public outcry and the threat of a possible mutiny would have forced the Russian government to increase defense spending.
Since money for wages had already been spent on procurement, the Defense Ministry believed that the Kremlin would be forced to provide additional funding. The Defense Ministry also stopped paying its energy, water and other bills. The generals hoped that in the end the Kremlin would pay up and cover all their expenses.
But the Russian generals planned their Kremlin campaign as poorly as the one in Chechnya. President Boris Yeltsin's aides assured him that the army was not really on the verge of an insurrection and the Kremlin did not panic. The Russian authorities began paying arrears, but slowly, without significantly drawing on the budget or increasing defense spending.
The change of Defense Minister was also important. Rodionov was new to the job and did not have a core of supporters in the Defense Ministry that would engage in a daring intrigue. He did not have the guts or inclination to blackmail the Kremlin. He pleaded for money instead.
Retired general Alexander Lebed was the only high-ranking official who tried to use the army wage arrears crisis, announcing several times that the army was ripe for mutiny. Because Lebed was Russia's security tsar, such announcements were very close to incitement of armed revolt.
Lebed's actions, however, were ill-planned, and he overestimated the unrest in the army. He was not interested in simply promoting defense budget increases, but actually wanted to take over the Kremlin. But when Yeltsin fired Lebed from his post, the army rank and file were not ready to stage a coup, which Lebed had apparently expected.
Lebed is still predicting an army revolt in the spring, although it seems less plausible in the coming months than last fall. Rodionov will hardly risk provoking one more army pay crisis. And the new 1997 defense budget provides at least enough money to cover officers' pay.
But having sufficient funds to pay salaries does not mean that Russia has enough money to keep the armed forces that it inherited from the Soviet Union in combat-ready shape. The Russian army is no longer capable of performing essential large- or medium-scale military exercises. This means that enlisted men get some basic military training in their units, but divisional commanders are not trained at all. Inexperienced generals and colonels have come to be one of the Russian army's main problems.
Arrears in officers' wage payments are not as huge as other defense debts for procurement, energy supplies and other services. These debts run into the tens of trillions of rubles. Economy Minister Jacob Urinson proposed in November, 1996 (he was then Deputy Economy Minister), to partially alleviate the problems of the indebted Defense Ministry and also clear other outstanding debt by converting domestic commodity producers' mutual liabilities. This could be done, for example, by converting agricultural producers' debts to the Russian State into direct supplies of food to the military. The Defense Ministry is opposed to the plan, realizing that as a result of all this mutual debt clearing via commodity supplies it will get many times less than if it were to spend promised budget money on the open market. Still the plan was approved by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin in March, 1997. The Economy Ministry also has a plan to reschedule payment of Defense Ministry procurement arrears and convert them into long-term government bonds that could be sold on the secondary market.
The Russian Defense ministry does not like all this. It is clamoring desperately for more money. But Rodionov cannot take on all of Yeltsin's administration. So he singled out Baturin, the Defense Council Secretary and Yeltsin's aid on defense and security matters, as the main villain.
The first head-on clash between Rodionov and Baturin happened during the November Security Council meeting over Russia's future military doctrine. The question of a new doctrine was included on the council's plan of action in advance, and Baturin insisted that "in accordance with the Constitution and in connection with changes in the geopolitical situation" a new doctrine was needed. A couple of days before the meeting, however, Rodionov sent a letter to the Defense Council asserting that "the fundamentals of the military doctrine of the Russian Federation, which were adopted in 1993, have not lost their significance and revising them now would be inadvisable."
The 1993 doctrine was never considered at the Defense
Ministry as a serious document. The top brass straightforwardly called it "toilet paper." But the Russian generals are a pragmatic bunch of people. Better one's own toilet paper than someone else's emery. Ranking sources at the Defense Council staff think that under Pavel Grachev the Defense Ministry achieved unprecedented independence in many areas of decision making, and would like to retain the current level of independence.
Baturin's Defense Council staffers think that without a new doctrine, whose drafting should involve civilian experts and proceed under their guidance, no effective system of civilian control over the military can be created. Generals in the Defense Ministry believe that Baturin and his subordinates are trespassing and should be checked.
In December, 1996, Baturin, with the help of Yeltsin's presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, got a presidential "ukaz" signed on "military organizational development" that the military did not like and simply will not implement. Also in December, 1996, officials from the Defense Council leaked to the press the outlines of a radical military reform plan that infuriated the generals even more.
The plan reportedly called for the regular armed forces to be reduced to 1.2 million men (their nominal strength is currently 1.7 million) from 1997 to 2000, while military formations attached to other state agencies such as the Interior Ministry, the Border Troops and the Federal Security Service would be cut by 30 percent. During the second stage, from 2001 to 2005, the total manpower strength of the armed forces would be 1.7 million. During this second stage
Russia's military forces would be manned mostly by contract, and some 500 generals would be retired.
The plan allegedly also called for a redrawing of military district boundaries and an amalgamation of various military service branches and structures. The Air Defense and Air Force would be combined, for example, while the commands of Russia's strategic forces and Ground Forces would be transferred to the General Staff, which emerges in this plan as Russia's dominant military agency. The need to reduce military spending was cited as the primary reason for implementing such radical changes.
The main difference between Baturin's men and the Defense Ministry is over spending. Defense Council officials say that they are planing a military reform based on present levels of defense spending, "since there is no extra money available in any case." The Defense Ministry is demanding an a 30 percent increase this year in the current defense budget and even more in the coming years. Baturin predicts that if the military gets its way, Russia may be spending up to 15 percent of its GNP on defense by the turn of the century. The military establishment of the Russian "power" ministries is prepared to carry out "reform" if extra money is provided, but it is not ready to downsize.
The official line of the Defense Ministry is: "Military reform can only go ahead if adequate financing and defense procurement is provided." In other words, without extra money, there won't be reform. Baturin told journalists in January, 1997, that if the Defense Ministry gets the money it is asking for, there will be no need to reform at all. Russia could then simply resume the Soviet-style defense buildup and arms race, which was stopped in 1991.
On Christmas Day, 1996, Rodionov remarked that "the activity of the North Atlantic alliance, which has made a radical decision to expand eastward, is a potential source of danger which could grow into a military threat." He added that the "activities of some Asian states such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Japan, China and others are potential sources of military danger to CIS members." The Defense Ministry is apparently seeking excuses to ask for money to build a
Soviet-style continental perimeter defense against everyone.
5. The Military Reform Debate Goes Public.
In a clear departure from the good old Soviet tradition of keeping everything of substance concerning defense and national security completely secret, since January, 1997, Russian political heavy-weights, including President Boris Yeltsin, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yury Baturin have joined the public debate on how to reform Russia's disintegrating armed forces.
Baturin was the first to move the defense debate out into the open. In January, 1997, he feared that a planned, but later cancelled, meeting of the Defense Council would endorse a Defense Ministry resolution that would have diminished any prospects of meaningful military reform.
So Baturin began a well-designed public relations offensive by calling several background briefings in the Kremlin with leading Russian journalists, to explain the substance of his feud with the Defense Ministry.
Baturin's public relations blitz was effective - he got a very favorable press response. Generals asking for more money are not very popular in any country. All major television networks and national papers carried the story of greedy high brass seeking to impose a massive rearmament program on Russia's fragile and unbalanced budget.
Rodionov was losing the power struggle. He told me in January, 1997, that he was sending letters to Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin begging for help but was getting no response. In desperation, Rodionov decided to counterattack Baturin by telling the press "the whole truth" in the most dramatic fashion: Russia could soon lose control of its vast nuclear arsenal unless there were a sizable increase in defense funding.
Such a new openness was obviously not an easy move for a 60-year old former Soviet career general. But it worked: Rodionov got very favorable press coverage and universal expressions of sympathy. This was especially true after Chernomyrdin, during a press conference in Chicago, infuriated journalists by saying that the press was maliciously misquoting the defense minister.
Yeltsin, as always a brilliant tactician, went with the wave of public sympathy and strongly reassured Rodionov, instead of reprimanding or dismissing him. Yeltsin also endorsed the Defense Ministry plan to cut the armed forces from the official figure of 1.7 million men to 1.5 million in 1997. Since the real number of servicemen in the Russian Defense ministry is already 1.5 million, the announced "cuts" can hardly be considered serious.
Then, on Red Army Day, February 23, 1997, Rodionov went further and publicly attacked Baturin, accusing him of extreme incompetence, and also assaulted "New Russians" for pushing forward the idea of an all-volunteer contract army in Russia. "If there is war, the New Russians will want the professional army to fight while they continue to fly for relaxation to the Canary Islands, as they do today."
Yeltsin decided that Rodionov was talking too much and slapped him down, publicly telling his Defense Minister to "stop whining." But Yeltsin did not dismiss ether Rodionov, or Baturin, though in February - March, 1997, public rumor in Moscow was that one of them should go. Yeltsin is as always keeping the balance - channeling the discontent of distinct social and professional groups in Russia toward different senior figures in his administration. As a result, different parties have both someone to attack and someone to support in the administration, while the President stays clean.
The public debate on military reform in Russia continues to be as inconclusive as ever. In March,1997, in his annual address to the Federal Assembly President Yeltsin announced official guidelines of future military reform that are so ambiguous they could fit almost any future executive decision.
In the opinion of the President, it is necessary:
1. To bring the state's entire military organization in line with the potential threats and challenges to Russia's security, within the country's economic capabilities. The structure of the armed services and the Armed Forces will be optimized; the number of Ministries and departments that are allowed to have armed formations will be cut; and the numerical strength of the Armed Forces and other troops will be reduced. The authorized strength of the Armed Forces is to be cut by 200,000 this year alone.
2. To strengthen social protections, social support and retraining in civilian specialties for officers and warrant officers discharged from the Armed Forces, and other troops in connection with their reduction, on the basis of existing and specially drafted state programs.
3. To build highly mobile forces as a component of military districts on the regional principle.
4. To put the manning of the Armed Forces and other troops onto a contract footing, as the necessary infrastructure is built.
5. To focus military-technical policy efforts on the provision of high-quality equipment, and on growth in the combat efficiency of the Armed Forces and other troops. The eventual purpose of military reform is to build sufficient defenses and qualitatively new Armed Forces and other troops, which would be fitted out with up-to-date military equipment and boast high professional skill.
Also the address specifically calls for the creation of a professional NCO corps in the Armed Forces.
To forestall possible public criticism of such an ambiguous address on military reform, during his speech to the Federal Assembly Yeltsin added that before long he will take "a principled decision on military reform," and that "only military reform is capable of rectifying the situation." A crucial and long delayed meeting of the Security Council on military reform is planned for the end of March or the beginning of April, 1997.
Meanwhile the openness of the acrimonious debate between Baturin and Rodionov has made more facts and figures on the state of Russia's crumbling army public, as generals and government officials clamor to get the attention of the press.
Baturin has told journalists that as of January, 1997, the overall number of military personnel positions in all of Russia's armed services is 2,401,127. 83.9 percent of these positions are actually occupied, which puts the number of military personnel at 2,014,545 men and women. The number of military personnel positions in the Interior Ministry Forces is 251,543; 85 percent of them are occupied; the overall actual number - 213,812. The Border Guards have 205,154 military personnel positions; 93.8 percent occupied; the overall actual number - 192,434. The number of generals in all active services in 1996 was 2,965. There were 3,853 generals in the Soviet Union in 1991.
Still, despite all the data that have been disclosed, the overall picture continues to be murky and controversial. The validity of the facts presented to the public is often unclear. Rodionov insists that the number of military personnel positions in the Defense Ministry Armed Forces is 1,700,000, and that 200,000 positions will be cut in 1997. But Baturin's subordinates from the Defense Council say that the actual number is not 1,700,000, but 1,590,560, which means the announced 1997 reduction of military personnel is no big deal.
As Baturin and Rodionov slogged it out in front of the press, it became increasingly clear that neither of them had bothered to put together a detailed plan of reforms. Baturin has a two page shortened presidential version and a full nine page overall military reform plan. Rodionov also has not yet produced anything detailed, which makes the whole debate seem increasingly absurd.
Baturin and his men have not yet produced any comprehensive evidence that the Armed Forces can be effectively reformed with no additional budgetary expenses, or that the army Russia would get as a result of such reforms will be more capable than the existing one. Baturin's opponents argue that plunging headlong into such reforms is madness, and that the result will be a total breakup of the Russian army as in the year 1917.
Yeltsin will still have to decide how to bolster his crumbling army and whose advice - Rodionov's or Baturin's - he should follow. This will not be an easy decision. Yeltsin, however, is a natural-born optimist. Like many Americans, he believes that there always is a quick and easy solution. In 1991, he was persuaded to believe that the "invisible hand" of the free market would on its own reform Russia's militarized economy. Now some of the same liberal advisers
are pushing for a quick transformation to an American-style professional army. The result may be an all-volunteer armored, nuclear armed, OMON-type force of reckless desperados.
6. Can a Consensus on NATO Expansion Transform into a Consensus on Army Reform?
After ten years of unsuccessful attempts to reform the former Soviet military, there may be only one glimmer of hope left - the possibility that an obvious external threat could unite the Russian nation behind its military as has happened several times in Russian history.
The Russian army lost the war in Chechnya. Russia's military is underfunded and demoralized. Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told journalists that "the armed forces have reached a borderline, beyond which any further fall in their combat readiness could lead to unpredictable, catastrophic consequences." A report submitted to the U.S. Congress last year by the Defense Intelligence Agency depicts the Russian military as a dilapidated force that will not be capable of mounting effective offensive operations against China or deep into Europe for at least 10 years.
For several centuries, defense was considered the most important responsibility of any Russian government. The well-being of citizens was always much less important. The two most brutal transformations of Russian society - carried out by Peter the Great and Josef Stalin - were in the long term accepted by Russians because they modernized the army and bolstered the country's defenses. Any attempt on the part of reformers today to Westernize Russia while ruining its defense forces may be futile.
However, up to now the decay of the Russian army has not caused an overwhelming public backlash. Nationalist parties that promise a prompt restoration of Russia's' military greatness do get votes in elections, but not enough to take over government.
But many Russian generals believe that they still have a chance to increase substantially their share of the budget, especially when NATO is expanding. High-ranking Defense Ministry officials are telling the public: The enemy is at the doorstep, while the Russian army is being starved to death by its own Finance Ministry.
The first deputy chief of the Russian armed forces' General Staff, Nikolai Pishchev, told journalists that "if the government does not allocate additional funds, we will freeze the current structure of the Armed Forces, since the budget for 1997 does not provide enough money for any major reorganization or reform." Pishchev added that strategic and conventional units will in essence "pass away" when their weapons become unusable, because of lack of funds for maintenance, repair or replacement. "If a cruiser or ballistic nuclear rocket base cannot be used any more, we will discharge its crews from the Armed Forces. The Russian army will be cut down in size as it 'dies.' If NATO expands, in the year 2000 Western combat-ready divisions may be concentrated at Russian borders. But the Russian army will be already 'dead' and incapable of defending the country."
The Defense Ministry wants up to 6 percent of Russia's gross national product (against today's 3.8 percent). If they do not get the money, the generals say they will not be able to defend Russia at all, and not only against NATO's armored divisions. Pishchev told me that the Russian peacetime army can hardly cope in the future with a Chechen-type regional war. "To fight in a regional conflict we will have to mobilize reservists and reinforce our forces." Which in real
terms means that Russia at present is incapable of winning any regional war. Reservists are not being called up for retraining and so there is no one to "mobilize." Reservists will first have to be retrained from scratch.
Russia's generals are in fact telling the civilian authorities that the armed forces are already partially on strike and contemplating a full walkout. In the coming months Yeltsin will have to make a decision: to force the army into a radical reorganization the generals will hate and oppose, or mobilize the Russian public against the NATO threat and then give the generals the money they want.
Now the strategic position of Russia is much clearer. President Yeltsin has already said that he fears that an expanded NATO will build a new "cordon sanitaire" on Russia's western borders. But Yeltsin does not believe that NATO will attack, since Russia could fight back with nuclear weapons.
This statement appears to set the basis for a real military reform: to build and preserve a Russian force capable of deterring unfriendly NATO forces with nuclear weapons. It also means that the main military threat is coming from the West and the Russian Defense Ministry can concentrate in one direction. Of course, Russia can afford to keep only a relatively small peace time army. But
conscription should continue to maintain a reserve for possible mobilization if Western unfriendliness suddenly becomes aggressive. It seems that the existing national consensus in Russia against NATO expansion may help reach a national consensus on the main principals and goals of future military reform.
During the 1997 Helsinki summit, Washington apparently got what it needed: Yeltsin muttered something that could be interpreted as a tacit agreement to NATO expansion in principal. Now everything is fully on track and the timetable of expansion can be executed according to plan.
The U.S. still believes that the main problem with accepting NATO expansion in Moscow is psychological and, as Sherman Garnett (a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment) has written in the Washington Post, the result of "serious intellectual weakness." The Moscow foreign policy elite is seen from Washington as simply too stupid and to rash to understand all the goodies NATO expansion will bring Russia. And, if they are so stupid, they should be fooled for their own good. Yeltsin was handed the bitter pill with some sweeteners added. It will be his problem to sell the NATO deal to the Russian public, while the West will be busy consolidating its "historic Cold War victory" over Russia.
Russia is now an open country with a relatively free press. Tens of thousands of foreigners are permanent residents in Moscow. But Western leaders and policy-makers still understand Russia as imperfectly as during the Cold War. Russia is not occupied Germany in May, 1945, nor devastated Japan. Russia is a wounded, restless and increasingly terrified nuclear superpower, that can wipe out the entire trans-Atlantic civilization if it is too far provoked.
During the Cold War, especially in the 1970s and 80s, the West was quite wrong in its assessment of Russia's intentions. In reality, Moscow was panic-stricken about NATO, Western potential military might and the outcome of any possible war. Military preparations in Central Europe were more the manifestation of fear than the preliminaries to aggression. It was fear, indeed, and the panic it evoked in the top leadership, that was potentially capable of causing nuclear war.
Soviet troops and their Warsaw Pact allies were supposed to attack from the very first moment of a war in Europe, but this was not so much an aggressive policy as an act of desperation. A preventive attack was seen as the only way of avoiding defeat.
Now Western military and political leaders believe that since the Russian conventional army is so obviously weak and not capable of any offensive action, there is no threat to Europe whatsoever. But Russian generals only look at changes in numbers and deployments, at the same time believing that the overall strategic situation has not changed so dramatically.
As during the Cold War, today Russia is in a defensive position, and the threat is still there. In some respects the situation has become worse, since Russian conventional forces are much weaker and are positioned much closer to Moscow. However, the nuclear deterrent is still intact.
Which means that in any confrontation with the expanding West (say, a conflict over Russian military transit in and out of the Kaliningrad enclave), Russian generals will feel compelled to prevent the massing of superior enemy forces not with a preventive conventional offensive, but with a first and early local nuclear strike.
In many ways, the Cold War tables have turned: Russia will in the future exercise "forward defense" of Kaliningrad and a "flexible" nuclear response, whereas the West will rely on rapid deployment of superior U.S., German and UK conventional forces near the new front line in the East.
The quarrel between Baturin and Rodionov's Defense Ministry and General Staff is very public and very acrimonious. They disagree on the ways and means of reforming Russia's Armed Forces, but they do agree on the basic principles of the future Russian army.
The Russian army should be partially conscripted, partially volunteer. The peace-time "cadre" army should be small, but Russia will retain a mobilization potential to drastically expand forces in an emergency. Russia will continue to be a nuclear superpower at all costs, with the potential to break through any possible future U.S. national ABM defense.
This future Armed Forces will no longer have as their main strategic aim possible local wars with Asian tribes. Baturin is still talking of some small rapid reaction forces in each military district, and even put such ideas into the President's 1997 address. But the General Staff is firmly against such divinations. Anyway, almost everyone in Moscow believes that any serious threat from the South could only be a Western (U.S.) sponsored insurgence, such as the current Taliban menace in Afghanistan, and so should be dealt with as any other Western-backed assault from any other direction.
As always happens in Russia, no one has bothered to fully calculate the cost and the availability of such a new Armed Force. But at least there is some basis for an all-party consensus on defense policy to emerge in Russia. Without any consensus there can be no meaningful reform whatsoever. That is the main conclusion after ten years of military reform failure.