Magazine article National Defense

Russia's Military Decaying Rapidly

Magazine article National Defense

Russia's Military Decaying Rapidly

Article excerpt

Former superpower's clout stems from large nuclear arsenal, studies say

As an angry Russia rattled its saber denouncing the air war in Yugoslavia, a series of sobering reports were circulating in Washington. D.C., providing new and unusually detailed information about the alarming dissolution of the armed forces of the nation long considered to be the United States' most formidable opponent.

The decline of the Russian military in recent years is well known, but several studies, all released within weeks of each other, paint a compelling picture illustrating the depths of Moscow's defense problems and their implications for the United States. Although unclassified, the reports echoed information in secret intelligence reports.

One particularly authoritative document-the State Department's annual report to Congress on international military expenditures-said the combat readiness of Russian armed services is in "rapid decay." The report quoted an internal assessment by the Russian Defense Ministry saying that the average Russian soldier is "only marginally combat capable."

Today's Russian military, the study indicated, is a mere shadow of the Soviet Union's once mighty Red Army which destroyed Nazi Germany's eastern front during World War II, seized control of Eastern Europe for nearly half a century, and competed with the United States for world domination during the Cold War.

Russia's ongoing economic crisis has aggravated what was already a dismal financial situation for the country's armed forces, the study said. Despite aggressive lobbying, the military was allocated only $13.6 billion for 1998. By the end of November of that year, the Defense Ministry had received less than half that amount.

As an indication of how much Russia's defense spending has shrunk, consider that in 1998, Russia's defense budget represented 2.7 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). In 1989, the State Department said, defense spending constituted an estimated 15 to 17 percent of the GDP of the Soviet Union.

During that same decade, the Russian GDP and industrial production has been cut in half, according to a recent study by Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. The official Russian GDP now is only the size of New Jersey's and Pennsylvania's combined, Eland said. The Russian economy, Eland said, "is undergoing a shrinkage comparable to the Great Depression" in this country.

As a result of these money problems, the State Department report said, training for Russia's army, navy and air force has been cut back sharply. Field tactical exercises are reduced to the command post-level. Funds for fuel, ammunition and training equipment are diverted from other sources.

In Russia's ground forces, only 35 percent of regimental-level and 73 percent of battalion-level tactical exercises planned for 1998 were conducted. In the navy, sea duty for Russian fleet submarines was reduced by 25 percent and for surface vessels 33 percent. Russian air force units completed between 15 and 40 percent of their standard training activities.

Combined devaluation of the ruble and rampant inflation have further reduced the military's spending power, leaving the defense ministry with debts of 60 billion rubles-about $9 billion. Of this debt, approximately $2.5 billion is for back pay and entitlements to active duty and retired service personnel. Throughout 1998, the government remained three to four months behind in paying military wages.

As a result, living standards in the Russian armed forces have plummeted to the low end of the country's socioeconomic scale. This decline in living standards is contributing to the increase in crime, corruption, suicides, and widespread evasion of military service, the State Department report said.

Troop Cutbacks

Russia is trying to resolve some of these problems by cutting the size of its armed services. …

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