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Tuesday, 28 March, 2000, 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Military reform: A test for Putin
Russian soldiers in Chechnya carry out maintenance work on tanks
Soldiers in Chechnya on tank maintenance duty
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Russia's economic woes may be top of President-elect Vladimir Putin's agenda, but defence policy may also prove a significant test of his leadership.

The reform of Russia's creaking military machine has defeated all Russian leaders since the collapse of communism, and the problem remains today.

According to respected Western commentators, far from demonstrating an improvement in Russia's military capability, the war in Chechnya served to underline the failure of reform.

Subordinates

At best Russian commanders proved adept at working within the limitations of poorly trained manpower and ageing equipment.


Sergeyev: contract extended
Sergeyev: Contract extended
But the real issues of military reform remain to be grappled with - Russia needs much smaller, more professional forces and they need to be equipped with modern weaponry.

Much will depend upon Mr Putin's choice of key subordinates - his defence minister and chief of the general staff.

These appointments will determine whether the Russian president hears the real message about what is going on within the armed forces.

The choice of defence minister appears already to have been decided, as Mr Putin extended the contract of the existing minister, Igor Sergeyev.

Export earners

Many in the military may feel that Mr Putin is in their debt - that their campaign in Chechnya helped him to victory - but it is not yet clear if Mr Putin will have the time or stamina to push through military reform given the many other issues on his agenda.

One area where Mr Putin has already shown interest is in Russia's defence and aerospace industries.

These are important export earners, but are also badly in need of head-to-toe reorganisation.

Mr Putin' s recent flight to Chechnya in the back seat of a combat jet reinforced his image of a man with close ties to the military.

But image alone will not be enough to tackle the continuing crisis in the Russian armed forces.

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