Military Seeks Its Voice in Post-Soviet Politics Concerned about Impact of Reforms, the Army Takes Complaints to the Top

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1992 | Go to article overview

Military Seeks Its Voice in Post-Soviet Politics Concerned about Impact of Reforms, the Army Takes Complaints to the Top


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


THE Soviet military, unflinchingly subordinate to the party leadership during the communist era, appears to be developing into an independent political force as the new Commonwealth of Independent States moves away from a totalitarian tradition.

Indications that the armed forces are seeking a greater political role abounded at a Kremlin gathering Friday of 5,000 officers elected to represent military units from around the former Soviet Union.

The meeting featured plenty of angry rhetoric denouncing the political course of events since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late December. The officers called on the 11 republics comprising the new commonwealth to retain a united military. Sharp criticism was leveled at Ukraine for its effort to take over the Black Sea fleet of 300 vessels.

"We do not want the political ambitions and personal interests of some short-sighted politicians to separate us," read an appeal to the people and leaders of commonwealth states, adopted at the officers' gathering. Last barrier against chaos

A perceived lack of an authority figure who could restore stability to the commonwealth seems to be fueling politicization of the military. Gen. Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, commander of commonwealth armed forces, warned of a possible "global tragedy" in his speech. "The armed forces remain our last barrier against disintegration," he said.

The assembly also expressed deep dissatisfaction with the declining living standards of officers as a result of radical economic reforms in Russia and other commonwealth states.

During the meeting, the officers elected a council that will take their complaints directly to commonwealth political leaders.

Meanwhile, political leaders took steps to keep the lid on discontent. In a statement read by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev at Friday's meeting, the commonwealth heads of state pledged to pay more attention to officers' needs. They promised to build new housing for military personnel and preserve a common pension system. Any division or reduction in the armed forces would be resolved on a "legal basis," the statement said.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who faces widespread popular discontent with his government's economic reforms, tried to keep the officer corps on his side by vowing "to fight to the death" to preserve a unified military. In his speech to the officers, he asked them to be patient.

"As Russian president, elected by the people, I appeal to you to preserve civic calm," Mr. Yeltsin said. …

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