MOSCOW — THE weeds have grown high around the handsome pastel-blue building with white trim set in a quiet tree-filled glade off Leningradsky Prospekt. Until two years ago this was the headquarters of the Warsaw Pact, the now-defunct military alliance imposed by Moscow on its Eastern European satellites.
Last week the building's new occupants - the joint armed forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the 11-member group of former Soviet republics - held their first press conference. The choice of headquarters invites obvious parallels with the previous tenants.
After less than half a year of existence, the commonwealth joint military has already proven itself to be as powerless as the Warsaw Pact. In reality, the Warsaw Pact was window dressing on a Soviet Army, which many say viewed the armies of Eastern Europe more as potential foes than allies.
Similarly, the commonwealth force amounts to the Russian Army and its few remaining dependents among the former Soviet Central Asian republics. And the commonwealth command is more occupied with conflicts between members than with any potential enemy.
Russia was among the last of the former Soviet republics to create its own army but it is now seizing as much of the assets of the former Soviet Army as possible.
The newly appointed Russian defense minister, Gen. Pavel Grachev, now sits in the vast marble-walled complex of the former Soviet Defense Ministry in central Moscow. Virtually the whole former Soviet general staff and its huge apparatus is effectively Russified. The Russians have claimed control of all the former Soviet armed forces not already "nationalized" by Ukraine and others, including all Soviet forces stationed abroad.
Commonwealth Commander-in-Chief Yevgeny Shaposhnikov is already plotting an early retirement, says an informed Defense Ministry source. The former chief of the Soviet Air Force is apparently despondent after failing to win the Russian defense leadership position.
"Grachev is much more acceptable to the military than Shaposhnikov," says Sergei Blagovolin, president of the Institute for National Security and Strategic Studies. "Shaposhnikov is becoming completely irrelevant." Strategic forces
In theory Shaposhnikov will have control over the "strategic forces" that make up the joint commonwealth command, including all the nuclear forces of the former Soviet Army. At the May 26 press conference, Shaposhnikov described the joint command's role as also responding to local conflicts on the borders of the former Soviet Union and providing military analysis to the commonwealth leadership.
In practical terms, though, Shaposhnikov will command almost nothing. The defense establishments of the commonwealth states have no plans to post permanent representatives at the new headquarters.
"There will be no representatives of states in this building, only Marshal Shaposhnikov and his small staff," says Gen. Ivan Bizhan, the Ukrainian deputy defense minister. According to the Russian source, the staff will number about 75.
When the Russian government was still nominally committed to a joint armed force, it argued for a broad definition of "strategic forces," which would include all of the Air Force, air defense units, the missile forces, most of the Navy, and a large part of the ground troops.
But now that Russia is forming its own army, its leaders have sharply narrowed the definition of "strategic forces." As Shaposhnikov revealed last week, the commonwealth command will now cover only the long-range missile forces, the Air Force's strategic bombers, the Navy's nuclear-missile-carrying submarines, the early warning systems, and space units. The majority of the Air Force and Navy, including the Black Sea Fleet, which has been the subject of a fierce battle for control between Russia and Ukrai ne, are now removed from the commonwealth forces, he said.
Even the nuclear forces are practically under Russian control. Col. Gen. Leonti Kuznetsov, acting head of the Russian general staff, said May 26 that "the [commonwealth] countries have delegated to Russia the complete responsibility over nuclear weapons."
The Russian armed forces are to be formed out of the troops currently deployed on Russian territory plus the former Soviet Army troops in Germany, Poland, and the three former Baltic republics that are to be withdrawn over the next few years. In addition, the Russians are claiming the Soviet Army units based in a number of former republics including the 14th Army in Moldova and the armies in the Transcaucasian republics.
The troops based in the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan will become part of the Russian troops after negotiations are held, General Grachev says. The troops outside Russia number about 600,000 men, he says, among them some of the most elite units in the former Soviet Army.
The Russians have some authority to base units in other republics under the collective security pact signed at the last commonwealth meeting on May 15 by Russia, the five Central Asian states, and Armenia. Russia "will not send Russian boys where they may be killed, where Russian blood may be spilled," Grachev said.
While the Russians show no hesitation to take and defend what they consider theirs, they are also ready to hide behind the banner of joint commonwealth forces to prevent other republics from doing the same. Russian officials continue to insist that the Black Sea fleet, which they admit no longer has a "strategic function," should be part of the joint command.
"Ukraine's leaders regard the Black Sea fleet as a Ukrainian fleet," Grachev said in an interview published Monday in the Russian government daily Rossiskiye Vesti. "This fleet belongs to the entire community and therefore it must be definitely under the command of the united armed forces."
Shaposhnikov complained to the Army daily Red Star in a May 29 interview that he is spending 90 percent of his time trying to mediate such political battles. "Is it possible under conditions of centrifugal trends, when each state cares only about creating its own armed forces, to have a single concept of building armed forces?" he said. "Of course not."Part 2 of this report will appear June 9.