- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2000

With the forthcoming election on Saturday of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as president, it is natural to speculate about whom he will bring into his administration and what policies he may pursue.

Fortunately, two recent Russian-language articles list and identify 26 individuals, already in government or soon to be occupying responsible positions as presidential appointees. Almost half of them have been identified as former or current KGB/FSB intelligence officers. The percentage may be even higher, because only sparse data are available on their backgrounds.

Assignment of current and/or former intelligence officers to key government positions suggests Russia is on its way again toward an authoritarian regime, as it had been from V.I. Lenin through Boris Yeltsin. Already,the FSB (domestic intelligence agency) has been ordered to monitor the allegiance of military personnel, i.e., becoming a police force in the armed services. At the same time, military training of schoolboys from age 15 was instituted on Dec. 31, the day Mr. Putin became acting president.

Early the following month, this man approved a law providing security agencies with access to all e-mail in Russia as well as other electronic traffic carried on the Internet. "This means Russia has become a police state," said Elena Bonner, widow of the late nuclear physicist and Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov. Mr. Putin himself has never condemned either the role played by the secret police or the mass deportations of the Chechen people by Josef Stalin. On the contrary, as acting president, he is quoted as having stated the following in an interview at the end of January: "The people want order to be introduced in Russia. And we are acting in the North Caucasus. I can firmly say we are doing this on the instruction of the Russian people."

The pro-government Russian Public Television (ORT) recently showed the bombing of a large Chechen village by TOS-1 rockets, filled with flammable liquid, and Tochka-U missiles that cover up to seven hectares of land with cluster shrapnel. The 1980 Geneva convention, signed and ratified by Russia, specifies that the use of such weapons constitutes a war crime. Since the order to do so had been approved by Mr. Putin, he should be tried as a war criminal. Mr. Yeltsin had never authorized use of such weapons during the 1994-96 war in Chechnya.

The Russian "people" furthermore want law and order, so this will be given to them under the current presidency over the next four years and perhaps even longer. However, while Mr. Putin headed the Federal Security Service in August 1998, a St. Petersburg news director (Anatoly Levin-Utkin) was beaten to death after publishing a series of exposes on corruption in business and government. One of these articles centered on Mr. Putin, and that murder has never been solved.

Three months later, a liberal deputy to the Duma and a grandmother, Galina Starovoitova, was shot and killed near her apartment. Mr. Putin assigned the case to veteran dissident-hunter Viktor Cherkesov (today, FSB deputy director), who investigated personal and political activities of the deceased, instead of the murder itself.

On the other hand, of more importance for the United States is the new national security concept, signed by Acting President Putin on Jan. 6. It should be noted that he had been responsible for producing this document as Mr. Yeltsin's national security adviser. Basic external threats to Russia, according to the document, include the following:

• Attempts to weaken the political, economic and military influence of Russia in the world.

• Strengthening politico-military blocs, especially through NATO expansion eastward.

• The possibility that foreign military blocs will appear within the immediate proximity of Russian borders.

• Proliferation of mass-destruction weapons and delivery systems.

• Intensification of centrifugal processes within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

• Penetration and escalation of conflicts near Russian and CIS borders.

• Territorial demands against Russia.

The above section states that the foregoing may also affect Russia's national interests in Europe, the Middle East, Trans-Caucasus, Central Asia and the Asian-Pacific region, i.e., most of the world outside of Africa and the Western Hemisphere.

In its conclusion, the new national security concept envisages the stationing of Russian troops in certain strategically important regions of the world. Such "limited military contingents" (the 100,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan during 1979-1989 as well as the combat brigade with nuclear weapons in Cuba during Oct. 25-Dec. 25, 1962, both had that same designation) would be located at overseas military bases, which could guarantee reaction to crisis situations in their initial stages.

Addressing a session of the Security Council in Moscow last Nov. 23, Mr. Putin, then the prime minister, stated that additional funds would be provided for deployment in the Mediterranean of Russia's sole aircraft carrier, the Adm. Kuznetsov, one destroyer, a frigate, one tanker and nuclear-powered submarines by November 2000. The Tartus base in Syria, first used for Russia's Mediterranean squadron in 1983, will be reactivated. Improvements at the Cam Ranh Bay naval installation for Russia's 15th Operational Squadron are also planned, based on the 1979 agreement with Vietnam, a pact that expires in 2004.

Two months later, as acting president, Mr. Putin announced at a meeting of his Cabinet that funds for the government's acquisition of new weapons systems would be increased by 150 percent compared with calendar 1999. He also revealed that the military-industrial complex had produced 30 percent more of high-technology arms during the past year than in 1998, all of world-class quality.

At the same Cabinet meeting on Jan. 27, Mr. Putin announced that defense spending would be 50 percent higher than during 1999. There also will take place a change in priorities from the policy in recent years of allocating 80 percent of all funds to modernizing strategic missile forces.

This will drop to 30 percent, with the rest to be spent for state-of-the-art conventional weapons systems.

The foregoing are obviously future intentions and should not be confused with capabilities. However, the West in general and the United States in particular have been placed on notice that Russia under its new president will become a rival in due course and not a partner.

Richard F. Staar is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution and visiting professor of political science at Duquesne University as well as author of "The New Military in Russia" (Naval Institute Press).

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