The War in Chechnya: Implications for Military Reform and Creation of Mobile Forces

Chapter Four
Dr. Col. Vitaly Shlykov (Ret.), formerly with the General Staff, currently a private consultant


Mikhail Gorbachev spoke out about the necessity for immediate military reform as early as 1987 and even created a working group of experts to outline a reform program.

From 1988 through August 1991 the issue of military reform appeared with ever-increasing frequency on the Soviet national security agenda. Reform advocacy was undertaken by a coalition that included rank-and-file military officers, civilian defense analysts and representatives of the civilian population at large.

The core issue of the reform that polarized the military institution was the system of personnel recruitment. Should the Soviet Army abandon the existing arrangement - a regular army staffed by career officers and soldiers recruited through mandatory conscription - and become a volunteer/professional army? The question overshadowed all other aspects of military reform to the extent that the very words "military reform" became synonymous with the introduction of a volunteer/professional army.

One of the first proposals for restructuring the armed forces appeared in November 1988 in the weekly Moscow News. Its author was Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Savinkin, a previously unknown former paratrooper who became instructor at the Philosophy Department of the Lenin Military-Political Academy.

Savinkin maintained that the process of change in the military sector had fallen behind the rapid reforms that were under way in Soviet society as a whole and that only an urgent military reform program could correct this deplorable situation. The Soviet army, Savinkin wrote, had to be organized into a "professional-militia" force, with a small core group of highly trained professionals and a network of local militia. This structure would be fully adequate to meet any security contingency and would be consistent with the new, strictly defensive Soviet military doctrine enunciated by Gorbachev in 1987.

The debate about military reform progressed against the general background of political change in the Soviet Union, and in particular the 1989 electoral campaign to the new Soviet parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies. Both advocates and opponents of military reform ran in these elections, and the campaign provided a convenient setting for bringing the debate before a wider audience. The reform-related proposals featured in candidates' platforms included plans for establishing territorial and ethnic units, reducing the term of compulsory military service, and rejecting extraterritorial principles of military conscription.

The parliamentary elections gave the reform movement a much needed independent institutional base. A group of maverick junior and mid-level officers elected into parliament and now invulnerable to retribution from the Ministry of Defense because of their status as deputies started to advance the military reform agenda in the new legislature.

In late winter 1990 a group of seventeen military deputies ranking from senior lieutenant to colonel made public its program for military reform, which became known as the "Project of the Seventeen." According to this program the main goal of reform was a gradual transition to a volunteer "professional army supported by a mobilization reserve on the territorial principle." The transition was to take four to five years to complete.

The submission of this program for consideration by the Supreme Soviet's Committee on Defense and State Security launched the legislative process in the area of military reform. This event marked the end of the Soviet High Command's previously unchallenged monopoly on representation of the entire military institution. Senior officials of the Ministry of Defense were left with no choice but to begin formulating a competing program for military reform.

In June 1990 the Ministry of Defense presented its first plan for military reform. According to this, the reform would take ten years to implement and would consist of the following three stages:

1. Withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe, their re-deployment and resettlement, reductions in military training institutions, and restructuring of the military-administrative system, all in the span of two years.
2. More troop reductions and cuts in strategic forces, which would take another three to four years.
3. Completion of troop cuts and resolution of social problems in the armed forces.

It is quite obvious that the proposed measures had little to do with military reform. The re-deployment and resettlement of troops from Eastern Europe, troop reductions and cuts in strategic forces prompted by external political developments, were simply being presented to the public as examples of real reform accomplishment.

After August 19-21, 1991 the Soviet Union disappeared, the Soviet Army was torn to pieces and economic reforms got underway. But officially the Soviet Army continued to exist for several more months, and with it the task of reforming.

At the end of August 1991 a special Committee for Military Reform assigned to the State Council of the USSR was established. Its chairman was Army General Konstantin Kobets, who from August 21 to August 24, 1991 was the first Russian Federation's Defense Minister. It soon became clear that the only reason for establishing the Committee for Military Reform was to find a sinecure for General Kobets after his job was abolished on August 24, 1991 and he didn't receive a senior position in the Soviet Ministry of Defense. Under General Kobets the Committee for Military Reform didn't produce any documents concerning military reform and was abolished in July 1992 due to the extinction of the object of reform, the Soviet Army.

On May 7, 1992 a new Russian Army was officially proclaimed and on May 18, 1992 General Pavel Grachev was appointed the new Defense Minister of Russia. For a short time it looked as if a real reform of the old Soviet Army taken over by a new Russia drew closer. But then in July 1992 General Grachev made known his plan for military reform. Grachev suggested that the Russian Armed Forces be reformed in three stages over a period of six to eight years.

During the first stage (to be completed in 1992/93) it was planned "to set up a Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation; finalize the target numerical strength and structure of the Russian Armed Forces; determine a system to control them and establish the sequence and time-frame for their reform process; create a legal basis for their functioning, with due regard for the norms of international law and existing international agreements; and design a system of social guarantees for servicemen, members of their families and people discharged from military service.

During the second stage (two to three years), it was planned to complete the withdrawal of Russian troops from other states; to proceed with the reduction in personnel, bringing the total strength of the armed forces down to 2.1 million by 1995; and to introduce a mixed manning system (conscripts plus professional soldiers).

During the third stage (three to four years), withdrawal of all troops of the North-Western Group, located in the Baltic states, will be completed, and the reductions in deployed materiel levels called for by existing international agreements will be fully implemented. Structural and organizational reforms will be introduced, and total numerical strength may be brought down to 1.5 million.

According to General Grachev, "the implementation of this complex and diverse package of measures, which constitute a true military reform program, should ensure the creation of Russian Armed Forces of a fundamentally new quality." I quote General Grachev verbatim to show that his reform plan was essentially a replica of the old Yazov's plan of 1990 described above. The only significant difference from Yazov's plan was the emphasis put by Grachev on the need for more mobile forces. General Grachev put it like this:

"The building up of the armed forces must be carried out, in my view, with a particular regard for the requirements of the mobile defense concept. This presupposes the existence of small but powerful groups of forces, ready to immediate action wherever a real threat arises. In this context, it will be advisable to organize the armed forces along the following lines:
Constant readiness forces, capable of effectively influencing local conflicts;
Rapid deployment forces, to include airborne troops, marine infantry units, light motorized rifle troops, army aviation assets and all other necessary supporting and reinforcing means. These forces shall be backed by military transport assets for transfer to any region as quickly as possible to reinforce constant-readiness forces stationed there;
Strategic reserves, formed in peace-time and to be deployed only during a major crisis or in wartime (large-scale wars)."

After General Grachev's appointment as Minister of Defense, any serious and organized discussion of military reform stopped for more than two years.

The military reformers of 1988-1991 (the "Group of Seventeen" et al.), disillusioned by the appointment of a uniformed military officer to head the new Russian Ministry of Defense instead of a civilian (an idea they had been advocating all along), resigned in the majority from the ranks of the armed forces and gave up their drive for military reform as hopeless in the new situation. Their views were aptly expressed by Colonel (Ret.) Yury Deryugin, a former consultant at the Russian State Committee for Defense: "By appointing General Grachev as the new defense minister, the president for all practical purposes has buried military reform."

As for the official establishment, its representatives from time to time made optimistic statements to the effect that military reform was progressing according to plan. The speaker of the Federation Council (the upper chamber of the Russian parliament) Vladimir Shumeiko wrote in an appeal to the Duma for more money for the Ministry of Defense in December 1994, that "military reform has been going on for two years." As proof that military reform was progressing successfully, the officials in the executive and legislative branches were pointing to troop reductions and reallocations and even to a new uniform introduced into the armed forces. President Yeltsin's decree No.1833, issued November 2, 1993, "On The Main Guidelines Of The Military Doctrine Of The Russian Federation," a vague and misleading document, was officially presented as a great step forward in military reform, despite the fact that privately even high-ranking generals referred to it as "toilet paper."

"The Main Guidelines Of The Military Doctrine" was not the only useless but officially approved document designed to prove that military reform was moving on. Another was the so-called "Law on Defense," adopted in late 1992 and which still remains in force despite the fact that the new Constitution passed in the referendum of December 1993 contradicts it in many points.

President Yeltsin himself was a picture of optimism. Speaking before the highest commanding generals in Moscow on November 14, 1994, he stated that the creation of the mobile forces is being completed, a new concept of the building up of the Armed Forces and other Russian troops is drawing to a close and that Pavel Grachev is the best defense minister of the past decade.

The war in Chechnya, which exposed the many shortcomings of the Russian armed forces, shattered this optimism. This war, which began December 11, 1994, got off to a rocky start from the beginning. On the ground, inexperienced Russian troops were badly battered at the hands of the lightly armed Chechen guerrillas, especially in the failed New Year's Eve assault on the Chechen capital. Casualties were high and many young soldiers surrendered rather than fight. Officers and men balked, saying they did not understand why they were being sent to fight on Russian territory. Several high-ranking generals publicly denounced the war, including the first deputy commander-in-chief of the Ground Forces Colonel General E. Vorobyev, who resigned in protest. By early April 1995 the Russian Army had cashiered 557 officers who refused to fight in the war in Chechnya, and started criminal proceedings against 11 of them.

All this brought the problem of military reform into focus again.

In his annual address to the Russian parliament on February 16, 1995. President Yeltsin indicated that he considered the situation in the Armed Forces unsatisfactory and said that urgent measures for reforming the Armed Forces and other troops will be a priority in 1995.

Speaking during an official ceremony on February 23, 1995, the "Day of the Defender of the Fatherland" (a new title for the annual Armed Forces holiday, the "Day of the Soviet Army and Navy"), President Yeltsin said that "the army is slowly beginning to get out of hand - the conflict in Chechnya convinced us once more that we are late with reform of the army."

In his February annual address to lawmakers, Yeltsin promised to make a statement before parliament on military reform and assigned Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin the task of devising a plan for military reform. He also promised that a permanent presidential commission on military reform would be established this year. He pointed out that "military construction" (voyennoe stroitelstvo, a term broadly used in the Soviet and now Russian military language to encompass all activities of the state with regard to the armed forces - their manning, equipping, financing etc.) is not only the job of ministries and other institutions of the Russian Federation which possess armed formations," but that "military construction should be organized in the first place by the state."

The reaction of the Russian military towards Yeltsin's urging to speed up reform was lukewarm, if not completely rejecting.

At the wreath-laying ceremony by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President Yeltsin expressed his dissatisfaction with the slow pace of military reform. Questioned by the journalists on his reaction immediately after, General Grachev answered non-chalantly, "If there is money, there will be reform."

The Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Mikhail Kolesnikov expressed a similar attitude in a more careful way:

"As far as the reform of the Armed Forces is concerned, I'd like to point out that we are actually late with it. There is only one cause for the slow pace of reform - the weakening of the country's economy. ...Regrettably, we can speak about reforming and re-equipping the Armed Forces with the existing methods and volumes of their financing only very conditionally."

The most direct reaction came from the Commander-in-Chief of the Airborne Forces Colonel General Yevgeny Podkolzin, who said in an interview to the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti: "If we don't have the money to normally feed the soldiers and house the officers, all this talk about military reform is worthless. ...If we had the same material basis as the Americans, we would not be talking today about any reform."

The military also refused to accept accusations of poor performance in Chechnya. General Grachev stated that actually the casualties of the Russian forces in Chechnya had been less than planned. The only lesson he agreed to draw from the war in Chechnya was the following one, which he gave in the popular TV broadcast Itogi: "Everybody keeps saying - reform, reform. The (tank) T-72 has proved itself wonderfully in Chechnya. So we will be making reform on the basis of T-72."

Colonel General Igor Rodionov, Chief of the General Staff Academy, firmly refuses to see the connection between the need for military reform and the war in Chechnya. He writes:

"Recently there has been a lot of talk that the military conflict, or as it is often called in the press, the war in Chechnya is almost the main reason why military reform is called for. The combat readiness of the armed forces, the skills of their commanders are being measured on the basis of military operations, failures and mishaps in the Chechen conflict. There are attempts to adjust even the organizational and personnel structures of the armed forces of the future in such a way as to make them suitable to solving tasks analogous to those in Chechnya-type armed conflicts. Here we have an old illness: only that is frightening which frightens us now. From here comes the exaggeration of the dangers which are by far not the main ones. The Chechen tragedy no doubt has had its influence on the military construction processes. It sped up the understanding by both the political leadership and society of the need for reforming in the military realm of the country's activities. But the events in Chechnya are not the cause for military reform. It ought to be well understood by all those on whom the future defense of the country and its armed forces of the twenty-first century depend."

The Russian military leadership rejects the experiences of the Chechen war to the extent that it prohibited their inclusion in the study programs of the military academies and schools. According to the Ministry of Defense, this conflict is atypical because it is being waged on Russian territory. Instead, studies of the war in Afghanistan are being strengthened.

In the absence of real military reform, Russian generals are naturally trying to solve the military's most pressing problems through whatever means available. The decision to increase the military draft is just one such means.

On April 7, 1995 the Duma passed a bill which alters the existing Law on Military Service in Russia. Deputies approved changes which extend the length of required military service from 18 months to 2 years from October 1, 1995 and act retroactively for those drafted in 1993-1994. The bill also introduces universal conscription of young men graduating from institutes of higher learning.

According to the new law, college graduates will have to spend a year in the armed forces after graduation regardless of whether or not they received reserve officer training in college, as many Russian students do. Before that, a college graduate with reserve training automatically became a reserve lieutenant. Now such a student will only receive the rank after serving for one year as a sergeant.

The "operation" to change the existing law was conducted in the best Soviet military tradition - secretly and quickly. The Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Mikhail Kolesnikov had requested that the hearing be closed to the press because he said he would reveal top secret information to the Duma. Actually no such information was disclosed, but safe from prying TV cameras, all factions (including the liberal Yabloko, led by Grigory Yavlinsky) except one supported the bill after an impassioned speech by General Kolesnikov, who assured the deputies that the army was so understaffed that it was not ready for combat.

The only faction which opposed the bill was the reformist Russia's Choice, led by Yegor Gaidar. It pointed out that in recent years there had been a general trend toward shorter terms of conscript service in the militaries of the most developed nations around the world, as well as the development of professional, contract-based armies. These trends are the result of the reduced threat of a global military confrontation and the increasingly high qualifications that young people bring with them into service. Gaidar's faction insisted that Russia should be following these trends as well.

After the vote on the new conscription law, the influential newspaper Izvestia, which usually supports Russia's Choice, published an article titled "The Duma Buried Military Reform." Colonel General (Ret.) Eduard. Vorobyev, who runs as number four on Russia's Choice's electoral ticket, said in an interview to the newspaper Segodnya:

"The increase in the duration of compulsory service, the conscription of the college students to serve as privates is abnormal, dictated by a sense of hopelessness. This is a step away from military reform."

President Yeltsin's acknowledgment in his February annual message to the parliament that military reform "was the business of the state, and military construction ought to be organized primarily by the state institutions" freed Russia's military leadership from the need to justify its passivity in advancing military reform. On the contrary, the military made an about face and started demanding from the country's leadership to be reformed from above, by the president, the legislature, and the government.

The State Duma, in its turn, decided to cede to the president the responsibility of tackling military reform. The Duma Committee on Defense voted not to introduce for plenary discussion of the Duma seventeen new draft laws concerning defense and prepared by the Committee until President Yeltsin presents his proposals on military reform to the parliament, as promised in his annual message in February 1995.

In Russia the Administration sees to it that the president's orders are executed and promises kept. So, the Administration (on Yeltsin's direct orders, as far as I know) decided to stage a super-conference on military reform. The conference, titled Military Reform in Russia, was scheduled to take place at the end of April and was to last three days.

The list of speakers included all the top personalities in Russian politics. The conference was to be chaired by the Chief of the Presidential Administration Sergei Filatov. Here are some names and the titles of the reports, taken from the agenda sent to the participants:

Oleg Soskovets (First Deputy Prime Minister). Military Reform In Russia And The Management Of The Defense Sphere.
Anatoly Chubais (First Deputy Prime Minister). The Market, Property And Power Institutions Of The State.
Pavel Grachev (Minister of Defense). The Reform Of The Armed Forces - The Present And The Perspective.
Andrei Kokoshin (First Deputy Minister of Defense). Military-Technical Policy And The Mobilization Preparedness Of The State.
Yuri Yarov (Deputy Prime Minister). Military Reform And Its Social Aspects.
Andrei Nikolayev (Director of the Federal Border Service). The State And The Development Of The Federal Border Service.

Besides plenary discussions the conference agenda included four panels on such different aspects of military reform as "The Military Doctrine Of The Russian Federation - Problems of Improvement," led by Deputy Secretary of the Security Council Colonel General V.Manilov; "The Economy In The Transitional Period And Military Reform," led by Economics Minister Y. Yasin; "Finances And Military Reform," led by Finance Minister V. Panskov; and others, altogether more than 40 reports.

All in all it looked as if the problems of military reform were becoming a priority for Russia's political leadership, as promised by President Yeltsin in his February message to parliament .

Overall responsibility for the preparation and organization of the conference was given to Major-General (Ret.) Alexander Vladimirov, a well-known reformer in the early 1990s who for the last three years had headed the group analyzing the problems of the Armed Forces and the military-industrial complex in the Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration.

Then, several days before the conference was to take place, Vladimirov was summoned into the office of Dmitry Rumyantsev, the Chief of Personnel in Yeltsin's Administration, and told without any explanation that he was fired and the conference canceled.

Sergei Filatov, Chief of the Administration, when approached by Vladimirov, told him that he had nothing against Vladimirov and the orders to fire him came from "high above him."

To me it is obvious that Vladimirov (and to a certain extent Filatov, who is known as Gaidar's supporter) simply fell victim to the general resistance of the officials invited to speak at the conference to discuss such an abstruse subject as military reform, and to make fools of themselves before their colleagues. So it was probably not difficult for them to convince Yeltsin or, more likely, somebody close to him, like Yeltsin's security chief Korzhakov, to get rid of such an eager beaver as Vladimirov.

Yeltsin apparently decided to take notice of the military's demand for more money as a precondition of any reform. Speaking at a cadets' graduation ceremony in Moscow on June 28, 1995, Yeltsin acknowledged that "a lack of resources was partly to blame for the slow pace of military reform, but it should now get moving." Yeltsin also pledged to stop cutting back on military spending. "In the 1996 budget we have laid down the principle that the allocation of resources for national defense must be preserved at the level of 1995," he said.

This was, to my knowledge, the last time President Yeltsin mentioned military reform. Since July 1995 the phrase "military reform" has disappeared from the statements and speeches of Russian high officials. My guess is that the country's leadership decided not to openly discuss the subject of military reform, which drew such a hostile reaction from the military, which is plagued by poor financing and other problems. The Soviet policy of covering all major decisions concerning the military with a veil of secrecy seemed, apparently, a better proposition.

According to some, in August 1995 President Yeltsin signed an executive order "On Military Construction" and made Prime Minister Chernomyrdin chairman of a special "State Commission on Military Construction," with the task of preparing a plan for development of the Russian Armed Forces and other troops until 2005. That was certainly not a very happy choice because the "power ministers" (defense, interior, security services, border guards, etc.) are not responsible to the Prime Minister, but instead are under direct control of the President. Besides, Viktor Chernomyrdin has very few chances to survive as Prime Minister after the parliamentary elections on December 17, 1995, if, of course, they actually take place.

The War In Chechnya And The Mobile Forces

The war in Chechnya made obvious the fact that Russia had failed to build up efficient mobile forces despite President Yeltsin's optimistic statement in November 1994 that the creation of mobile forces was drawing to a close.

Although the official Russian military doctrine adopted by Yeltsin's decree of November 2, 1993 authorized the creation of special mobile forces, the structure of such a rapid deployment force was never officially approved. Nevertheless, the Russian military establishment has long been debating how to form mobile forces.

The creation of special mobile forces that could be rapidly deployed in any part of Russia's extensive land borders has always been a favorite idea of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, a paratroops commander in the Afghan war. He has been insisting on the creation of an autonomous operational command based on an airborne force with its own airlift.

His opponents say that the creation of a new command is inefficient, and that the military simply cannot afford the expenses involved in securing the necessary aircraft. They suggest that a system of local mobile defense forces be created that would be fully staffed and equipped with all the equipment of a modern motorized rifle division. These units would cover military activity in their own theaters of operation, monitoring and preparing for intervention in local conflicts.

There also exists a certain ideological, anti-Western undercurrent in these disputes. Colonel General Igor Rodionov writes, for example: "We should view more critically certain proposals on the part of proponents of pro-Western, pro-American orientation - reduction of the number of armed services to three, exaggeration of the role of mobile forces [italics mine - V. Sh.], separation of the Ministry of Defense from the General Staff, etc."

The war in Chechnya brought some of these differences into the open.

Strangely enough, the greatest criticism of Grachev's concept of the mobile forces came from the Airborne Troops (VDV) themselves, who were supposed to be the core of the mobile forces. In an interview with the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti, the Commander-in-Chief of the VDV Colonel-General Yevgeny Podkolzin said, when questioned about the rumors that the paratroopers had performed poorly in Chechnya, that these rumors were being disseminated with one purpose only - to prepare the ground for an attempt to dissolve the paratroopers in other formations and create a mobile force on the basis of the VDV.

He made several strong statements which deserve to be quoted verbatim. Asked whether or not he was opposed to the mobile forces he answered:

"The mobile forces are necessary. I am all for it. But this project needs detailed calculations. We need a clear answer to the question: what are we going to gain and what to lose as a result of reform. Until I get a clear answer to this question I won't tolerate a disintegration of the VDV. Otherwise the defensive capability of the country will suffer an irreparable loss.

...I don't understand the need for these experiments with the VDV. Our troops, who possess the best professional training comprise only 2 percent of the strength of the Armed Forces and have been carrying the main combat burden since 1988. The five divisions of the VDV are still a real fighting force. If we continue to torture them with experiments the country might remain without combat ready units."

Podkolzin complained that the airborne troops in Chechnya were subordinated to local commanders from other branches of the armed forces who didn't use them efficiently and who tried to blame the paratroopers for their own mistakes. He added that with one full-strength airborne division he would have disarmed Chechnya long ago without heavy bloodshed.

On October 6, 1995 the newspaper Segodnya published a big article by Maria Dementyeva "From the Skies to the Ground. Russia's Airborne Troops Will Probably Cease to Exist." The author, quoting "competent sources," wrote that the Russian General Staff had prepared a document, already signed by Defense Minister General Grachev, which contains a new concept for the development of the airborne troops. According to the document, the VDV are to be reduced from the present five to two or three divisions (the USSR had seven airborne divisions). The existing airborne brigades are to be transferred to the military district commanders.

Asked about the existence of such a document, Colonel Igor Kashin, spokesman for the VDV Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Y. Podkolzin, admitted that "there is a plan ... that stipulates reduction of VDV units" and that the plan to scrap the VDV is "one of several different conceptions of overall reforms in the national armed forces" currently being considered by top-brass analysts within the General Staff. So far, Kashin stressed, none of these conceptions has gathered the crucial support necessary among General Staff planners to be submitted for Defense Minister General Grachev's endorsement. As to the anonymous source at headquarters, quoted by Segodnya, Kashin called him into doubt. "We would have known if such a document had been signed," he said. Yet Kashin supported Segodnya's criticism of the plan to cut back the Airborne Troops, which, in his opinion, remain the most capable branch of Russia's undermanned military. "We don't deserve such cutbacks; what we need is well-thought reform," said Kashin.

In his turn, when contacted by the press, Grachev's press service dismissed Segodnya's report, reiterating the Defense Ministry's intention to base mobile forces on airborne divisions. "I see no reason why VDV should be cut," said Colonel Ivan Skrylnik, spokesman for the Defense Ministry.

But still the argument goes on. For example, one of the senior experts at the Military Research Center of the United States and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Konstantin Oznobischev, stated in an interview that such a drastic reduction is "quite possible." Oznobischev linked the plans to scrap airborne divisions to Grachev's reported dissatisfaction with VDV Commander-in-Chief Podkolzin, who had criticized the Defense Ministry's methods of campaigning in Chechnya. The Defense Ministry's strategists, according to Oznobischev, chose to push rebels out gradually while Podkolzin favored a blitzkrieg by airborne troops. "It could well happen that in the course of all these in-house intrigues a situation arises whereby personal likes and dislikes influence strategic decisions," said Oznobischev.

So far Grachev himself didn't openly express his opinion about the dispute. His last public statement about the mobile forces was made in September 1995 in Vladivostok, where he announced the beginning of the creation of mobile forces in the Russian Pacific Fleet. According to Grachev, the naval infantry division stationed in Vladivostok by the end of 1995 will include an assault battalion, representing the core of the Pacific Fleet mobile forces. The completion of the build-up of such forces, according to Grachev, is scheduled by year 2000.

A Revival of Interest in Military Reform in Russia

Despite an obvious unwillingness of the present Russian leadership to openly discuss military reform, it will hardly succeed in avoiding public debate on the subject. The reason is that military reform (or rather, its absence) is turning into one of the powerful weapons of the political opposition in its struggle for power.

There is a veritable resurgence of public interest in military reform.

On September 24, 1995 a new social-political movement "For Military Reform" has been launched. It is based on Russia's Choice and its affiliates. Among the founders of the new movement are Yegor Gaidar, Alexander N. Yakovlev (head of the state radio and television and former CPSU Politburo member), Colonel General (Ret.) Eduard Vorobyov and "The Military For Democracy" movement, uniting mostly military reformers (all now retired) of the first "democratic" wave of 1988 - 1991.

Less than a month later, on October 15, 1995, another movement, called "Honor and Motherland" (Chest' i Rodina) was established with a proclaimed aim of advancing military reform. Its founders had all along wanted to call the movement "The Public Committee for Military Reform" but had to change the name to Honor and Motherland at the last moment to prevent confusion with Gaidar's movement.

Honor and Motherland has been created under the aegis of Lieutenant General (Ret.) Aleksander Lebed's electoral bloc, the Congress of Russian Communities (CRC). The Congress of Russian Communities has gone from obscurity to prominence since General Lebed lent it his considerable charisma. Lebed himself is looked upon is one of the most serious contenders for the presidential seat next June and is now hard on the parliamentary campaign trail.

The two new movements, For Military Reform and Honor and Motherland, attack the present government's policies on military reform from two opposite directions, aiming for different voting blocs.

According to Gaidar, he rejects joining Chernomyrdin's electoral bloc, Our Home is Russia, for two reasons: first, the war in Chechnya, for which Gaidar blames the government, and second, military reform, which, Gaidar claims, the "government wants to replace by a re-militarization of society."

Russia's Choice and the movement For Military Reform aim at that part of the electorate which is unhappy with heavy military expenditures and the lengthening of the conscription service. According to its electoral program, Russia's Choice understands the following to fall under military reform:

establishing civilian control over the Armed Forces;
introducing alternative military service, which would allow the conscripts to reject service in "hot spots" (areas of armed conflicts) or far from home in favor of the alternative service;
changing the structure and reducing the personnel strength of the Armed Forces;
giving up conscription in stages and introducing a voluntary military service.

Honor and Motherland is radically different in its approach both to military reform and to the voters.

Lebed's movement is geared at his most natural electoral constituency, the military, and he is not shy about exploiting the discontent in the army to bolster his own political ends. It is a shrewd move considering that servicemen constitute one of the most disciplined voting blocs in the country. Estimates of the military's strength in the electorate run as high as 20 million voters, if one counts active duty and retired servicemen, their spouses and workers in the military-industrial complex.

In his one-hour long speech at the conference of Honor and Motherland, Lebed said that the present Russian army is "in a state of coma" and found the present situation "criminal," when soldiers live in "second-rate chicken coops" and are fed only once a day. He pledged to remedy the situation and added that the army would hardly forgive the politicians responsible for the self-destroying reforms which caused the present state of affairs when Russia lost its military and international significance.

According to Lebed, Russia as a state had survived in the past only because it "always began its reforms with the army" and "strengthened and prospered thanks to the presence of a soundly organized military might." He said he was sure that Russia's economic and political survival should begin with a "military revival." With "a good army," which, said Lebed, doesn't fight but through its sheer existence not only deters, but kills the whole idea of an aggression, Russia would be able "to complete reforms which were not completed from the time of Peter the Great, Alexander II and Stolypin." In Lebed's words, Honor and Motherland will develop its own program of military reform and will see to it that it is carried out.

The main expert on military reform in Honor and Motherland is Colonel General Igor Rodionov, Chief of the General Staff Academy, who made the main report on military reform at the conference.

As a conclusion I'd like to stress, that one of the most significant results of the war in Chechnya is the serious change in the role of the military factor in the current balance of political forces in Russia. While earlier the army did everything possible to avoid being drawn into the political struggle, now we are seeing a markedly increased readiness of the army to enter the political fray. The military is actively seeking out political figures with whom they can cooperate.

Lebed's Congress of Russian Communities is not the only group that has tried to bring the powerful military bloc under its wing. It is difficult to find a major party that does not boast a general in its top lineup. Colonel General Boris Gromov, popular hero of the war in Afghanistan, heads his own party, My Fatherland; Lieutenant General Lev Rokhlin, who rose to prominence during the Chechnya conflict, is number three on the Our Home is Russia list; and so on. All this means that we'll hear a lot more about military reform in the months and years ahead, especially if Russia ends up with a general as its next leader.


© 2007 Chechen Republic Online