Russia's Peacetime Battlefield: Presidential versus General Staff Military Reform

Article excerpt

Conclusions

* President Boris Yeltsin's restructuring concept (approved in July 1997) for the armed forces under the Ministry of Defense is unpopular in the military and serious obstacles have caused several revisions. The concept may be further revised or even discarded over the next two years.

* Yeltsin's indifference to the impact of military reform on readiness, and continual attempts by the General Staff to expand military--and political--control present serious problems for reform.

* Economic and political reformers, closely associated with Yeltsin, will continue attempts to weaken the military's potential political influence and reduce the military's economic burden on Russia.

* The General Staff is likely to publicly support "reform" even as it attempts to consolidate control over all of Russia's military forces.

* Rampant crime may lead law-and-order presidential candidates to endorse the totalitarian-like domestic command system proposed by the Chief of the General Staff. The military--always a potential king-maker in Russian politics--would then be in a good position to dictate the terms of its own "reform."

Yeltsin's 1997 Concept of Reform

Concurrent with appointing Igor Sergeyev Minister of Defense in May 1997, President Yeltsin established two presidential commissions to make recommendations on how to proceed with reform of the Russian military forces. The first commission, under then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, was to recommend priority measures for reform and organizational changes needed to support reform. It was also to analyze the operational costs of the Ministry of Defense (MOD) in particular. (President Yeltsin had already limited future budgets of the Defense Ministry to 3.5 percent of the gross national product.) The second commission, under then First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Chubais, was to explore possible methods that could be used to fund the Russian military forces in the future.

The immediate results of the Chernomyrdin commission were a series of presidential decrees on "military reform." These decrees were aimed at restructuring, downsizing, and changing the chain-of-command authority within the Ministry of Defense only.

The July 1997 "military reform" decrees clearly embodied the essence of what President Yeltsin wanted to do. They focused on the MOD itself, redesigning its chain of operational command to reduce the authority of service commanders-in-chief, while increasing that of the Chief of the General Staff and the military district commanders. The Ground Forces--a major seat of resistance to political control since 1992--was to have been abolished and turned into two directorates under the General Staff.

Under the July decrees, components of other services were to re-combine in a series of steps that would eventually reduce the services under the Ministry of Defense from five to three and reduce the headquarters staffs of most existing organizations by approximately 30 percent. The new Minister of Defense emphasized the near-term increase in readiness that would be achieved in the units that were to remain and forecasted that Ministry of Defense forces would be fully equipped with 21st century weapons and technology in little more than a decade. (He later changed the forecasted completion date to the year 2025.)

The General Staff's Grand Design

From the beginning the General Staff had an agenda that differed from that of the President. Chief of the Gene-ral Staff, Colonel General Anatolii Kvashnin, immediately became the driving force behind the Chernomyrdin commission. By the fall of last year, reports of the commission's work indicated that it was, in large measure, advocating the same reorganization plan that had been advocated by two previous Chiefs of the General Staff--despite Yeltsin's previous rejections of those plans.

The plan reportedly called for the General Staff to have peacetime and wartime control over major activities of all military forces--including those outside the Ministry of Defense. …