On June 28, the State Duma defence committee held a session in the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces. The committee members, most of whom once held high posts in the defence department, heard reports from Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the Main Intelligence Department (GRU) Valentin Korobeinikov, head of the Main Operations Department of the General Staff Alexander Rukshin, and head of the Main Organisational-Mobilisation Department of the General Staff, Vasily Smirnov.
The session was held behind closed doors and was attended by only those committee members who have access to state secrets. As a result, military experts can only wonder about the issues on the agenda. Comment in the Russian press was largely dedicated to General Kvashnin, one of the most popular characters of recent reports about the defence department. During a recent cabinet session that discussed the parameters of the 2005 defence budget, Kvashnin harshly criticised the Finance Ministry's draft. He said its figures "do not give any grounds to believe in the possibility of any increase in efforts in the sphere of national defence and end the crisis in the Armed Forces."
Kvashnin demanded that the government not only "specify the suggested parameters" but overhaul them with due respect for allocations to state armaments programmes, the growth of material outlays due to inflation and rising energy prices, and the task of ensuring the transparent replacement of servicemen's privileges with monetary compensations. This public statement from the chief of the General Staff - the first part of the cabinet session was broadcast to the press centre - prompted experts and journalists to assume that "the General Staff has moved from a defensive to an offensive operation" and write "Kvashnin strikes back."
The Russian press carried similar reports that dropped hints about the adoption of the presidential amendments to the law "On Defence," approved by the State Duma in three readings. The amendments will greatly reduce the role of the General Staff in the military hierarchy, but Kvashnin had not been informed about their essence. Since he cannot change them now, say journalists, he has launched an offensive at the government and the Kremlin "on another part of the frontline."
Admittedly, the situation looks just like the newspapers describe it, but its roots are deep down under the surface and cannot be reduced to a subjective confrontation between military leaders, government officials and Duma deputies. It is true that the parameters of the 2005 defence budget provoke many questions, and not only in the defence department. It has been increased by 19.2% compared to 2004 and amounts to 519,464 million roubles or 17.8% of all budgetary expenses. However, this is not enough to solve the acute problems facing the army and navy, including the acquisition of the requisite weapons, munitions and hardware, the provision of service and permanent housing to servicemen, the accruement of mortgage funds, an increase in servicemen's salaries, replacement of privileges with monetary compensations, as well as combat training for conscripts and contract troops.
One example. The Finance Ministry expects inflation to be kept under 10% in 2005, but passenger transportation fees will grow by 18%, the price of freight transportation will increase by 12%, petrol prices will grow by 16% and diesel by 13%. These are only some components of combat training. In other words, it will cost the defence department and each military unit much more than is stipulated in the budget. And the same is true for all other aspects of the defence budget. This is why Kvashnin demanded that the government make calculations for 2005 with due regard for the real cost of living, rather than the theories of financial officials.
The same goes for housing construction. It is good that the old and painful problem of servicemen is to be solved through the accrued mortgage system, which will be launched in January 2005. But it is designed for young officers who will sign contracts in 2005. What should the 164,000 homeless officers, who have been faithfully serving their country for years, do? They make up one-third of the officers' corps, and they have wives, children and parents. In addition to this army of homeless servicemen, there are thousands of others who live in dilapidated houses, which was confirmed during the recent visit of President Putin to the Vilyuchiysk garrison in the Kamchatka, which the crews of strategic nuclear submarines call Rybachy.
"The material base of social facilities is lamentable," said the president. "This is absolutely intolerable." The 2005 defence budget does not stipulate allocations for solving this problem in Rybachy or thousands of other similar garrisons.
The Russian army has many more such problems, but the most acute of them is the shortage of modern weapons and hardware. Generals do not like to express their opinion of this problem publicly, but one reason why the Ingush policemen did not receive promptly assistance in their battle with terrorists is that it is extremely dangerous to drive armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles to the site of battles at night, as they can lose many more lives in ambushes. Motorised units and even divisions do not have landing or fire support helicopters, and technological mobility is highly important, if not indispensable, for combating terrorism.
In short, the meeting between the General Staff leaders and the Duma defence committee was not limited to personal problems. The generals called on the lawmakers to adopt a budget that will at long last help the army and the navy to start fighting back at their crisis next year. Importantly, this will not call for additional outlays or injections; the deputies should simply re-distribute the funds more reasonably.
In their turn, the deputies called on the generals to spend the funds more thriftily. Irresponsibility and squandering of budgetary resources are the Achilles' heel of the military, which is why the Finance Ministry and other supervision agencies question every word of the generals about the shortage of defence allocations.
The United States and NATO are conducting provocative activities both in airspace and waters of the Black Sea, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu said