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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Russia plans military overhaul
troops
Conscription is unpopular and has led to shortages
Russia's National Security Council has drafted a policy document on the future of the country's armed forces.

Chechnya
Many units in Chechnya are below strength

The plan was unveiled at a meeting of the council - chaired by President Vladimir Putin - called after the country's armed forces were officially described as being "worse than critical".

The remark, by the Chief of the General Staff Anatoli Kvashnin, was one of the most dramatic official acknowledgments of the desperate condition of the once-mighty military, which has fallen into decay since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr Putin spoke of many police and military organisations that "duplicate each other's duties... and must be rid of their secondary tasks," French news agency AFP reported.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says military reform has defeated all of President Putin's predecessors.

But the crisis is worsening, and leading Western experts have warned that over the next 10 years the Russian military must either reform or disintegrate.

Salaries

General Kvashnin told a seminar in Moscow that the country's armed forces were beset by poverty and crime.

He warned that miserly salaries were prompting an increasing number of officers to quit the ranks.

General Kvashnin has warned that army staffing is in crisis.

Russian ICBM
Russia is already cutting its expensive nuclear arsenal

"If we fail to more than double wages, we will have no officers left," he said, according to Interfax-Military News Agency.

"Those in service since the Soviet times will leave, and there will be no-one to replace them."

Mr Putin has ordered the Cabinet to more than double military wages this year, but net incomes of officers have barely increased because the government simultaneously stripped the military of tax exemptions and other privileges.

Officers' wages are now about the equivalent of $100 a month.

Scavenging

General Kvashnin said soldiers regularly stole weapons and other equipment and openly offered them for sale.

In one example, thieves stole 21 tons of silver for making and maintaining weapons, he said.

Scavenging of weapons for precious metals has become so prolific, General Kvashnin said, that anonymous publishers have printed special scavenging instruction manuals.

The BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov says that Mr Putin is also keen to end the widespread practice of using soldiers as free labour for building dachas for the generals or performing similar 'non-essential' tasks.

The most worrying factor is the complicity of senior officers in these crimes.

According to General Kvashnin, there is an atmosphere of permissiveness and leniency towards rogue officers.

Budget call

Russia's military remains essentially a conscript force.

Conscription is unpopular and many young men are exempt for educational or family reasons.

General Anatoly Kvashnin
General Kvashnin: Soldiers regularly steal weapons
Russia's declining levels of public health also limit the effectiveness of the armed forces.

A Russian defence ministry study of the conscript intake from last year said that a third of the potential conscripts had to be excluded on health grounds and more than half of those who were actually sent to units had health limitations on their fitness for service.

The depth of the manpower crisis has been highlighted in the breakaway republic of Chechnya where many units are up to one quarter under-strength.

Numerous combat formations have had to be cobbled together from existing under-strength units.

Mr Putin's plan to abandon the draft and launch a swift transfer to a smaller professional army has met stiff resistance from senior officers, who say it would require a significant increase in the defence budget.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Pavel Felgenhauer, defence analyst
"Mr Putin has said Russia has too many armies"
See also:

11 Aug 00 | Europe
14 Jul 00 | Europe
10 Nov 00 | Europe
13 May 02 | In Depth
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