Russia to Slash Ground Forces, Rely on Nukes: Military Resists Reform Plan

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Russia plans to cut its ground forces in half by 2005 and will rely more on nuclear weapons for future conflicts, according to a classified intelligence report.

The report by the Joint Intelligence Committee states that Russia's new military doctrine will be approved later this year and will call for structuring forces to fight "local and regional conflicts" or "a major war."

"The use of nuclear weapons is not ruled out in either scenario. Indeed, the proposed reforms reinforce changes already underway in Russia's nuclear doctrine by placing increased weight on nuclear weapons (which remain under effective command and control) to deter aggression," said the report, labeled "top secret."

The analysis was approved Oct. 1 at a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a forum made up of intelligence officials from the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. Pentagon sources made a copy of the analysis available to The Washington Times.

"It will be several years at least before there is a perceptible increase in Russia's greatly reduced conventional capabilities," the report said. "Russia will maintain a credible strategic deterrent to compensate for the weaknesses in its conventional forces."

A U.S. government specialist on the Russian military said the reform program appears similar to a Soviet-era plan in the 1960s to utilize nuclear weapons with smaller conventional forces.

"This reform is not reform, but a turning back of the clock - structuring conventional forces to fight nuclear war - a lighter, mobile army that will be survivable on the nuclear battlefield," the official said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to respond to the report, and a Russian Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Many in the Russian military are opposing the plan, according to the report.

"There remains a widespread belief within the armed forces that the proposals do not constitute `real' reform, but simply weaken Russia's military strength, and that the primary objective is to save money," the report said.

Russian civilian leaders view the reform as "expensive in both political and financial terms" and are backing it "only so long as transition costs can be contained," the report said.

"As long as the defense budget is capped at the current 3.5 percent of gross domestic product, funding will be insufficient to maintain the momentum of reform until 2005 and beyond," the report said, noting that the reform is more likely to be done around 2010.

According to the intelligence report, military spending has been cut by 50 percent over the past five years.

While conventional forces have deteriorated rapidly in the past five years because of neglect, Russia is developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the SS-25 mobile ICBM and a new class of submarines equipped with new submarine-launched nuclear missiles. …