- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

MOSCOW Ten years after the Soviet collapse, the Russian military has fallen on the worst of times. It lacks the money to properly clothe and feed its soldiers, but still has hundreds of generals commanding divisions and armies, many of which exist only on paper.
The military is so short of fuel that pilots fly one-eighth of the hours stipulated as minimum in Western air forces. An estimated 70 percent of navy ships need overhaul. Wages are low, morale poor, draft-dodging rampant.
Yet the top brass has sought repeatedly to thwart attempts to streamline the Soviet-era military, a Cold War relic whose primary mission of fighting NATO has been rendered irrelevant now that the Western alliance is no longer the enemy.
Military reform tops President Vladimir Putin's agenda but it faces two major obstacles: the military elite's continuing perception of the West as Russia's main enemy, and the dreadful condition of the servicemen and their weapons.
"There is nothing worse for the military than losing its enemy," Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, said. "The new friendship with the United States means that the entire military structure must be changed."
When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, the former Soviet republics that became independent countries inherited the bases and arsenals of the 4 million-strong Soviet Army.
The Russian military retained all the nuclear arms but lost a large share of the most advanced conventional weapons deployed in other republics.
The generals are now struggling to preserve a Soviet-style military machine on a fraction of its once-generous budget, and the result has been a shambles.
"Throughout the 1990s, the military refused to abandon the huge Soviet-era mobilization system intended for a global war," Mr. Felgenhauer said. "It wants to preserve the Soviet-era ability to draft 20 million people and field 100,000 tanks."
Military depots across the country still hold huge arsenals, but the number of serviceable weapons has dwindled sharply and troops get little or no training.
The air force is so short of fuel that pilots fly 25 hours a year on average, compared with the West's minimum of 200 hours. The result: More crashes caused by pilot error and poor maintenance.
The sinking of the submarine Kursk in August 2000, with 118 sailors on board, revealed to Russians that the navy had mothballed all its rescue vessels years ago and fired deep-sea divers to save money.
The exercise during which the Kursk sank was intended as training for the Russian navy's first major deployment to the Mediterranean since the Soviet collapse, but the disaster thwarted the plan.
The navy has complained that it lacks funds to even combat poachers in its own waters, let alone send ships on long ocean voyages.
Military morale, which suffered a heavy blow during the botched war in Afghanistan, has plummeted to new depths amid misery, corruption, rampant theft and vicious hazing. Young conscripts can be seen begging outside stores for food and cigarettes.
Draft-dodging is widespread, fueled by the brutal war in Chechnya, where troops are often sent into battle without radios or night-vision goggles. A recent newspaper report said the military asked parents in Russia's Far East to buy warm clothes for their children being sent to Chechnya. Residents of Chechnya frequently report cases of Russian soldiers raiding homes and demanding food.
Mr. Putin is determined to change this grim picture.
His far-reaching reform plan would trim Russia's 1.2 million military personnel by nearly a third in the next three years, modernize arsenals, gradually abolish the draft and turn the military into a fully professional force.
Along with a lack of money, the plan faces fierce ideological opposition from the brass, which points to Washington's missile defense plans and NATO's eastward expansion as Russia's biggest threats a view formalized by the nation's current military and national security doctrines.
By placing Russia firmly in the U.S. camp in the war against terrorism, Mr. Putin has stunned the Russian military elite.
"The Russian military has been trained to view the United States and NATO as its enemy, and it feels irritated by the latest policy changes," said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Mr. Putin's endorsement of the U.S. military presence in the Central Asian republics, his calm response to Mr. Bush's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and his push for closer ties with NATO have shocked the military.
"Russia lacks a geopolitical doctrine, and it makes our foreign policy inconsistent and subservient to American and Western policy," said Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, who until recently headed the Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation.
In an interview with the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Gen. Ivashov lamented Mr. Putin's decision to close an electronic intelligence station in Cuba and a naval base in Vietnam symbols of Soviet global reach. He also criticized the Kremlin for letting U.S. troops into Central Asia.
The generals showed their muscle when former President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree in 1996 ordering the military to end the draft within four years. The generals rebuffed it, saying they didn't have the money. But when they tried the same argument on Mr. Putin, he simply told them to reorder their spending priorities.
Mr. Volk does not think the discontent threatens Mr. Putin. "The military opposition is limited to angry talk in smoking rooms and over the kitchen table," he said.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was briefly ousted in the failed 1991 coup by Communist Party military and security officials, also doesn't see a threat.
"No, I don't think that there could be some kind of coup. I exclude that," said Mr. Gorbachev in an interview with the Associated Press.
The rapprochement with the United States has given Mr. Putin an unprecedented chance to cut costs and free up funds for restructuring the military.
"The favorable foreign policy changes allow Russia to concentrate on military reform," said retired Lt. Gen. Vasily Lata, the former deputy chief of staff of Russia's strategic missile forces. He is now a consultant to the PIR Center, an independent military policy think tank in Moscow.


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