Two conceptions for the further reform of the Russian Armed Forces contradict each other.

It appears that the Kremlin has not yet developed its view of the problems of further reforming Russian military structures. Since his inauguration in May 2000, Vladimir Putin has never uttered a word about the manner in which he intends to continue the reform of the military. Everybody was waiting for his annual address during which he would presumably discuss this matter. However, during the July 8 speech, President Putin spoke only briefly about issues of military security. He dedicated his entire report to economic problems (specially focusing on the necessity of liberalizing the Russian economy) and noted that “in the near future, the state will have to undertake the development of certain sectors of the Russian economy… such as the military industrial complex. The strategically important industrial branches will be under constant state control.” When speaking about the necessity of strengthening the Russian Federation, President Putin stated that Chechnya “has become a base for the expansion of international terrorism to Russia… The 1999 events in Chechnya reminded us of our former mistakes. Only the counter-terrorist operation managed to prevent Russia’s disintegration. Professional Russian servicemen helped preserve the state’s dignity and integrity. We highly praise them! But my God! What a price we paid for that!”

Thus, as we may see, the president’s speech reflects the problems of guaranteeing Russia’s military security, but does not contain a single hint at the ways in which President Putin is going to support the Russian military industrial complex. And the necessity of that support is obvious. Reports by the Russian Defense Ministry’s Central Body and other media reflect the position of Russian top-ranking military leaders and politicians; these reports state the necessity of continuing the current reforms of the Army and Navy and of other security ministries.

Judging form those reports, a dramatic confrontation is taking place between the Strategic Missile Forces’ (SMF) command and the chief officials of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces over the reform of the nuclear triad’s command system.

As is known, in accordance with the recent presidential decree, Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander-in-Chief of the SMF, was promoted to general of the army. At first glance, this is an ordinary event. However, at the time of General Yakovlev’s promotion, none of the other candidacies for top military posts had been confirmed yet (generals resigned after President Putin’s inauguration). Yakovlev’s promotion took place simultaneously with the intensification of rumors about an upcoming radical reform of the Army and Navy.

These rumors were spread by Yakovlev himself and this is another important fact. At the graduation ceremony of Peter the Great’s Academy, Yakovlev stated that after the completion of the Chechen campaign (according to our military sources, this day will soon come), a proposal will be made to concentrate the command of the entire nuclear triad in a uniform center. Simultaneously, the Kremlin and Defense Ministry intensified their efforts to counteract the US’ intention to deploy a national anti-missile defense system on its territory. The missile topic is being intensely discussed in Russian society. The so-called “missile lobby,” headed by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Yakovlev, has renewed its struggle against their opponents (members of the General Staff). Rumors have been circulating that Sergeev and Yakovlev are married to each other’s sisters. Apparently, this “tandem of relations” is one of the reasons for the idea to unite all the nuclear forces (i.e. the SMF, the nuclear submarine fleet and the strategic nuclear-capable bombers) under a uniform commander in the rank of the deputy defense minister. Since the SMF are the major component of the Russian nuclear triad, according to the “missile lobby’s” plan, the post of deputy defense minister in charge of the nuclear forces should be given to Yakovlev. The Defense Ministry has repeatedly officially denied such reports stating that there have never been any radical confrontations between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff. Meanwhile, media reports testify to the contrary: such a confrontation is continuing now. A year and a half ago, the “missile lobby’s” idea was submitted to then President Yeltsin and was discussed, but not supported by the Kremlin. At that time, Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin enjoyed a powerful lobby in the Kremlin in the person of President Yeltsin’s daughter Tatiana Dyachenko, Chief of the Presidential Administration Alexander Voloshin and Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin. Mr. Kvashnin persuaded the Kremlin that the act of concentrating the components of the nuclear triad under a common command center would require enormous sums of money. At that time, the SMF consumed nearly 80% of all the military expenses of the budget and Marshal Sergeev was sternly criticized for such a misbalance.

However, now Mr. Putin is the president. How will he behave, whose side will he take? Analysts of the General Staff are calm so far. They believe that in the near future, the strategic nuclear command will not be radically reformed. Firstly, because currently the idea of a uniform command center of the nuclear triad cannot be fulfilled so long as the Chechen war continues. So, until the troops are withdrawn from Chechnya and stability is established in the republic, the idea to merge the nuclear forces will hardly be seriously considered.

Secondly, no radical reforms are likely to be undertaken in the army within the next several months. Before that, President Putin must at least complete the process of establishing vertical civilian power. If he focuses his attention on the military, his position will weaken. (…) President Putin is aware of this danger and this is another possible reason why Kvashnin was recently appointed to the Security Council. The president is seeking to preserve a balance of different forces (influence groups) in the Defense Ministry and wants to avoid openly expressing good will toward Mr. Sergeev. (…)

Thirdly, in the field of supporting the idea of a uniform nuclear command, Marshal Sergeev has opponents in the person of the commanders-in-chief of the Air Force and the Navy, who are unwilling to part with the nuclear components they are currently in charge of. (…)

Meanwhile, military sources report that in the event of an improvement of the political situation in Russia and stabilization in the North Caucasus, the Kremlin may well introduce radical military reform. This possibility depends on a number of factors: the ongoing economic problems and the necessity of curtailing military expenses. Observer Alexander Golts maintained in one of the latest issues of the magazine “Itogi” that the General Staff in the person of its chief Mr. Kvashnin suggested undertaking not the improvement of the nuclear triad’s command but, on the contrary, radically reducing it. Information has leaked to the press that there exist several conceptions for the further reform of the Army and Navy. In the July 5 issue of the newspaper “Izvestia,” Vladimir Yermolin, a former “Krasnaya Zvezda” correspondent, wrote that one of those conceptions stipulates reducing the SMF’s arsenals to 500 nuclear charges and increasing spending on the development of the conventional forces. Another conception stipulates perfection of the nuclear triad.

When commenting on this situation for “Izvestia,” General of the Army Yakovlev indirectly confirmed the existence of the said two conceptions of reforming the Russian Armed Forces. When asked about possible methods of reforming the SMF, he said, “The fate of the SMF will be decided by the political leadership.” The SMF commander-in-chief also noted that already now, Russia has suggested reducing the number of nuclear-capable missiles to 1,500 in the framework of the START II Treaty that is currently being discussed. Thus, apparently, the rumors about the impending possible radical reform of the Army and Navy are based on real facts. Obviously, the Kremlin is now considering possible ways of implementing this reform.