May 7, 1992, President Boris Yeltsin signed decree No. 466 “On the organization of Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.” This decree (six months after the breakup of the Soviet Union) laid the foundation for the formation of a qualitatively new military organization of the state, which chose a democratic path. Russia inherited almost 60% of all the troops of the Armed Forces of the former Soviet Union, the most powerful in the world, which were deployed in Russia. After the organization of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, Russia also took part of the forces and means located outside its territory under its jurisdiction.
When the decree on the organization of Russian Armed Forces was signed, the authorized strength of the Armed Forces exceeded 2.8 million. This is an extremely large figure accounting for more than 1.8% of Russia’s population (in civilized countries, the strength of the armed forces lies within the limits of 1% of the population). The military budget consumed almost 12% of the GDP (foreign countries spend 3-4% of GDP on defense on average). It is quite understandable that Russia could not bear such expenditure for an extended period, which is why troop reduction became the main aim of military buildup between 1992 and 1996. During this period, authorized strength of the Armed Forces was reduced to 1.7 million. In 1997, the Forces were reduced by an additonal 200,000 servicemen, resulting in an authorized strength of 1.2 million by January 1, 1999. By 2005, the strength of the Armed Forces will be reduced by close to another 400,000 servicemen. According to the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, during the appointment of the new Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov March 28, this is one of “indicators of the demilitarization of Russian society.” Summarizing the results of the military buildup in Russia, a number of politicians note that after 1992, the Armed Forces were not reduced so radically, and troop reduction had to be accompanied by their comprehensive reorganization. It is possible to agree only partially with this opinion. Intensive reduction of the Armed Forces between 1992 and 1994 was accompanied by their equally intensive withdrawal from foreign countries and former Soviet republics, which required significant expenditure. According to official information from the Defense Ministry, between 1992 and 1994 a group including over 300,000 servicemen (totalling around 1.2 million, including members of their families) was withdrawn to Russia. The group comprised 29 mechanized infantry, tank, and airborne divisions, 51 missile, artillery, air defense missile brigades, and 66 aviation and helicopter regiments. Over 45,000 units of armaments, and 3.5 million tons of material and strategic reserves were returned to Russia. Experts admit that this was done in stringent financial and economic conditions, and that this operation had no counterpart in international practice according to scale and deadlines. President Yeltsin pronounced the accomplishment of the operation “the biggest success” of 1994.
A delay in taking the necessary military buildup measures occurred between 1995 and 1996. Blame for this can hardly be laid entirely at the doors of the military leadership of that time. It is known that the Armed Forces cannot reform themselves, and that state and society normally do this. Since there was no due civil control over the Armed Forces and Defense Ministry officials, the Armed Forces buildup progressed only in the framework of the measures vitally necessary for Russia at that time. Due to NATO intentions of eastward expansion between 1994 and 1996, a new operational-strategic territory was organized (Kaliningrad Special Area). After disclosure of insufficiency of armor protection of the Airborne Forces in Chechnya, they received additional tank and artillery units (although later the Airborne Forces changed the authorized strength once more, and inclusion of tanks and heavy artillery was considered to be a mistake). Following demands by Ukraine to divide the Black Sea Fleet, construction of a new naval base began near Novorossiysk. Withdrawal of Russian Armed Forces from Azerbaijan necessitated the arrangement of a new military infrastructure in Astrakhan, in the new base of the Caspian Flotilla. Military bases of Russian troops were organized in Georgia and Armenia, in accordance with agreements with these countries to counteract Turkey (Later two bases were withdrawn from Georgia, and the fate of the bases remaining in Akhalkalaki and Batumi is under negotiation). To perform peacekeeping missions and protect the national interests, in accordance with international obligations, Russia organized a Peacekeeping Forces group.
Meanwhile, between 1995 and 1996, Russia’s leaders and politicians were, so to speak, far from the real problems of reforming the Armed Forces. Absence of someone to coordinate the military buildup, the illness of Boris Yeltsin, parliamentary and presidential elections, and arguments about the war in Chechnya distracted both public opinion and politicians. Only after the recovery of the President and the appointment of new Defense Ministry and General Staff leaders in the persons of Igor Sergeev and Anatoly Kvashnin did attempts at accelerated and comprehensive military reform begin in the country. In 1997, Strategic Missile Forces, Military Space Forces, and Missile Space Defense Forces were united into the Strategic Missile Forces (This step is now considered to have been a mistake, and all of these forces were divided once again). The Main Ground Forces Command was disbanded a little later (This step was also later considered to be a mistake, and the Main Ground Forces Command was restored from April 1, 2001). The Air Force and Air Defense Forces were also merged. Some military districts were enlarged (the Siberian and Trans-Baikal military districts were merged into the Siberian Military District). Intensive troop reduction continued. Permanently ready divisions of combined armed forces were formed during this time. In 1998 (in one year!) the Armed Forces formed three divisions, four brigades, and 21 regiments complying with these requirements.
Despite some positive steps in the reform of the Armed Forces, dangerous trends persisted between 1998 and 2000. By 1998, the social and economic crisis in society and the Armed Forces peaked. The latter had almost no forces ready for the immediate fulfillment of combat tasks, besides the strategic nuclear forces, some permanently ready units, and airborne units. Practically all funds assigned to defense were spent on troop maintenance, although state debts to the Armed Forces were growing. Fifty percent of airplanes and 40% of SAM systems and helicopters were in bad repair. Although the command bodies of the troops were fully manned, one-third of company posts and platoons commander posts remained vacant, and people younger than 30 accounted for over 70% of officers resigning from the military service. The military education system turned out to be inefficient, since one-third of young people enlisting in such institutions did not complete the course.
Many of these problems (aging of vehicles and aircraft, insufficient manning of troops with junior officers, inefficient higher education system, and so on) remain topical for the Armed Forces still.
Proceeding from these problems, by January 2001, Russia’s authorities prepared and approved a plan for the buildup of the Armed Forces for the period from 2001 to 2005 and a state armament program for the period from 2001 to 2010 with the active assistance of the Security Council, General Staff, and President Putin personally. These documents include a broad range of measures aimed at improving the country’s defense structure.
According to Igor Sergeev, between 2001 and 2005 the Armed Forces will transit to the three-branch structure (Ground Forces, Air Force, and Navy). For this purpose the Strategic Missile Force was reorganized into an independent branch, and the Main Ground Forces Command was restored. The latter will centralize command over the whole group of ground forces, which should localize (neutralize) possible military conflicts by combining armed forces with peacetime strength in accordance with the realities of the current international situation. Against the background of comprehensive troop reduction, reinforcement of the groups of forces in the Central Asian and Northwestern directions will continue. The Air Force should be prepared for participation in local conflicts and the Navy should be ready to fulfill the tasks set-up at sea. The Armed Forces command system will also be changed. The Defense Ministry and General Staff will divide their functions more clearly. All security agencies in the country will have a uniform logistics system based on the territorial system. Whereas the majority of benefits for servicemen will be cancelled, social programs for servicemen include an increase of the money allowances by 60-100% in comparison to the wages of state employees.
However, no radical rearming of the Armed Forces will take place in the next five years. The state armament program for the period from 2001 to 2010 makes provision for the ordering of only a few armament units between 2001 and 2004, which has a big impact on combat readiness. The major part of funds assigned will be spent on the purchase of spare parts and components with a view to upgrade and repair available armament and combat material. In the future, when the defense order reaches 50-60% of the defense budget, it is planned to begin purchasing highly effective arms such as precision-guided weapons, cruise missiles, airplanes, helicopters, combat infantry vehicles, and fifth generation tanks. It is planned to spend at least 11-13% of the country’s defense budget on research and development.
Along with this, the incumbent country’s leaders and Defense Ministry officials say that all reform plans will be accomplished because the parameters of planned reforms strictly correspond to the country’s social and economic development outlook.
Thus, over the past nine years, the Armed Forces passed several stages. There were and are still considerable problems in reforming the Armed Forces, and their resolution will evidently take at least ten years. Time will show how the country’s new leadership manages to do this. However, it is evident that success of the military buildup will depend directly on the successful economic development of the country.