- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

MOSCOW | Russia’s top military officer has banned officers from talking publicly about sweeping reforms to the armed forces, an apparent effort to stem growing discontent among the military’s top brass, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The daily Kommersant also reported that six top-ranking officers have tendered their resignations amid Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s reforms, aimed at modernizing Russia’s 1.1 million-member armed forces.

Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky could not be immediately reached for comment. But Interfax and RIA-Novosti quoted him as calling the report of resignations a “brazen lie.”

The Kremlin is grappling with growing opposition in the military to the most sweeping overhaul of Russia’s armed forces in more than a generation.

Last month, Mr. Serdyukov announced he was cutting hundreds of generals, disbanding nine out of every 10 army units and abolishing a bulky Soviet-era structure focused on divisions and regiments in favor of smaller brigades. The number of junior officers, such as lieutenants, will be increased by 10,000 to 60,000.

Kommersant reported that Gen. Nikolai Makarov, head of Russia’s joint chiefs of staff, on Nov. 11 signed an order barring officers from publicly discussing the reforms. Violators would be discharged and would face criminal charges, the paper reported.

It was unclear whom the prohibition specifically concerned.

Kommersant also said six senior officers have tendered their resignations since the Nov. 11 order, including Gen. Valentin Korabelnikov, the head of the joint chiefs’ Main Intelligence Directorate, known as GRU.

Russian media have been filled with reports of discontent among officers, and President Dmitry Medvedev didn’t attend the annual armed forces conference of top officers from all services, held in Moscow on Nov. 11. The daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta said Mr. Medvedev’s absence — the first time since 1996 that a Russian president had missed the meeting — reflected the Kremlin’s unease with the discontent.

Earlier this month, several retired generals publicly warned that the reforms were destroying Russia’s military capability and suggested the Kremlin could face open revolt.

Russian national pride has surged in recent years. Extensive state-run TV coverage of military maneuvers - such as sending long-range bombers on trans-Atlantic missions or a naval flotilla to the Caribbean for exercises - has given Russians renewed confidence in their armed forces.

Pride also surged in the wake of the August war in the South Caucasus, where Russian troops humiliated Georgia’s U.S.-trained armed forces.

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