US Military Not Rattled by Russia's Instability Much-Weakened Armed Forces Not Perceived as Major Security Risk

Article excerpt

THE United States Department of Defense is not in an uproar over Russian President Boris Yeltsin's political problems. Consider this evidence: The Army chief of staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, is currently thousands of miles from his Pentagon office, visiting Japan.

"If the Pentagon was sitting on edge about this situation, he'd be here in the building," points out one well-placed military official.

US security officials are far from callous about Mr. Yeltsin's fate. A new Russian leader less- friendly to the West could cause the US strategic problems, and would perhaps slow the decline in US defense spending.

But the days when the Pentagon published an annual volume ominously titled "Soviet Military Power" appear to be gone.

"The Russian military is in enormous disarray," said Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, at a breakfast with reporters on March 24.

The Russian crisis has sparked some musing about the wisdom of defense cuts on Capitol Hill. Republicans, in particular, have seized on Yeltsin's troubles as evidence that the world is still a dangerous, unpredictable place, and that President Clinton is proceeding too fast with defense cuts.

But many lawmakers and analysts say that a defiantly nationalistic Russia would be a different kind of security problem for the US than the old Soviet Union was. Representative Hamilton said that at this point he doesn't see much real pressure to slow defense reductions. Rep. Thomas Andrews (D) of Maine, an Armed Services Committee member, states it more forcefully: "We cannot go back. Ever."

Under communism, the Soviet armed forces had more than 5 million men under arms. Today Russia's military is estimated at around 2.8 million by Western analysts. Much old Soviet weaponry was appropriated by former republics as they became nations. Armenia, for instance, has absorbed the structure of the Soviet 7th Army, along with some 8,000 former Soviet troops.

Battle-readiness of these forces is abysmal. The Russian Navy hardly leaves port because it lacks fuel; Air Force training is similarly restricted. …