POLITICALLY strengthened by its crucial role in resolving Russia's power crisis earlier this month, an emboldened Russian Army is moving quickly to assert itself.
The Russian government is set to approve the Army's new military doctrine. The plan calls for creating a modern, professional military, armed with high-tech weapons and able to deploy rapidly to hot spots.
The Russian military is seeking higher levels of spending to finance this reformed force, reversing several years of decline in defense spending, officials say. And the Russian government, despite its broad commitment to curb spending to bring inflation down, is unable to resist these demands, the officials admit.
``The government is under pressure to increase defense expenditures,'' says Sergei Vasiliev, head of the Center for Economic Reform, a government think tank. ``It's a very understandable situation because for once the military has displayed loyalty to the president.''
According to Mr. Vasiliev, a key adviser to Vice Premier Yegor Gaidar, the Ministry of Defense has asked for a 50 percent increase in orders for defense equipment in 1994.
In the aftermath of the political events in Moscow, when Russian Army units intervened to squash an armed uprising called by the leadership of the parliament, the government has signaled its readiness to meet the Army's needs. On Oct. 6, just two days after the storming of the White House (the parliament building), the government's Security Council focused its entire meeting on finalizing a new military doctrine. The discussion of this document, which sets the overall defense policy and future structure of the military, has been dragging on for more than a year.
``We must adopt a military doctrine at last,'' President Boris Yeltsin reportedly told the meeting, which groups the Interior, Defense, and Security ministers as well as other key officials of the Yeltsin administration. With Mr. Yeltsin's backing, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev read a report on the document, demanding that the other Council members make their comments and approve the text by today.
A further closed-door meeting was held in the Defense Ministry on Oct. 12, attended by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and five senior vice premiers, including Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov and Privatization Minister Anatoly Chubais. Mr. Chernomyrdin told the armed forces leadership that the government regarded the military doctrine as its ``top priority.''
``When we make up our mind on military doctrine, we will know what to do about other issues,'' Chernomyrdin said. He called for the military to frankly set out its needs, including financing, and said that once these were known, ``the government and president will see what they can do.''
The basic outlines of defense policy have been clear for some time, aired in numerous public statements. In a speech to the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10, General Grachev described the main principles of the new doctrine and its implications for the future composition of Russia's armed forces.
``Our assessment of the military-political situation shows that the probability of a world nuclear war is minimal,'' Grachev said. ``The possibility of a large-scale conventional war has been substantially reduced, though the possibility of local wars, armed and other conflicts, triggered by territorial, economic, and inter-ethnic and religious contradictions, is likely to increase.''
From this perspective, the Russian military is aiming to reduce the huge concentrations of forces on its western borders, a legacy of the cold-war period, and to create mobile units to deal with local conflicts. This will allow Russia to reduce its forces to 1.5 million troops by Jan. 1, 1995, down from current levels of about 2 million, Grachev said. The leadership envisions a military that looks more like the US force that fought the Gulf war - smaller, professional, and equipped with ``smart'' weapons.
In stressing the danger of local wars, Russian officials point most to conflicts within the former Soviet Union, such as the war in the Caucasus between Georgia and separatist rebels in Abkhazia or to the growing involvement of Russian troops in fighting along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. At the Security Council discussion, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev proposed the creation of ``efficient peace-keeping forces,'' he told the daily Izvestia on Oct. 8.
The Russian military's assertiveness was also evident in an unusual front-page editorial yesterday in the Army daily Red Star, calling for the country to unite now around a patriotic commitment to Russia. ``One can pronounce the words `market' and `democracy' and at the same time not be ashamed of being guided in all our policy by Russian interests,'' it said. The editorial warned against ``blindly copying Western economic models and carrying out a toothless foreign policy of constant concessions.''