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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev: Give Forces Increased Funding

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev lobbied furiously Tuesday to secure additional funds for the armed forces on the eve of a parliamentary debate on the budget, warning that Russia's military is already on "starvation rations." Routine debate over the budget has become dominated by the politically explosive question of how much money should go to the military, which although powerful is in appalling financial straits. As the battle lines were drawn for Wednesday's debate, Yeltsin appeared to be allied with parliament's upper house -- the Federation Council -- and with the Defense Ministry in calling for a significant increase in defense spending. The Finance Ministry, the budget committee of the State Duma and the Duma's speaker, Ivan Rybkin, are arguing against the military on the ground of fiscal responsibility. Grachev set the tone on Tuesday with an interview published in the newspaper Trud, where he warned that the army was on "starvation rations" and that "poor financing inflicts irreparable damage on the armed forces." Several generals picked up the theme Tuesday as they testified at a State Duma hearing and appealed for an increase in the proposed 37 trillion rubles ($19 billion) budget allocation for defense. Parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, had voted last week to raise the allocation to 55 trillion rubles and threatened to veto the draft budget unless the change was made. Yeltsin also appeared to weigh in on the side of the Defense Ministry on Tuesday, telling Rybkin that he wanted the ministry's allocation indexed to inflation, although it was not entirely clear what that would entail. An informal poll of factions conducted Tuesday in the State Duma -- parliament's lower chamber -- also found a majority of deputies in favor of raising the defense allocation to 55 trillion rubles. Funding for the military has become an emotive issue as the Russian press repeatedly carries articles about the plight of army officers -- once among the most privileged people in Russian society -- who now find themselves poverty stricken and in some cases homeless."All that officers talk about at home is how much money they can make outside the army," Deputy Defense Minister Valeri Mironov told the hearing. "That makes for tension in families and an increase in divorces. Officers are distracted from service and they go in for illegal commercial activities." Mironov said that 75 percent of officers' families now live below the poverty line. In some garrisons, the food allocations have been so low that officers had to break out emergency supplies, substituting fresh food with a wartime diet of dried bread and canned meat, he said. "Do you know what it's like to live in a garrison somewhere in the Far East when you haven't gotten your salary for three months?" one young officer demanded angrily. The Defense Ministry's case is not only helped by its emotional power, but also by the strong political position the military occupies after rescuing Yeltsin last October from an armed uprising led by the former Supreme Soviet. Sergei Kondrashyov, deputy head of the Finance Ministry's military spending department, took up the cause of fiscal responsibility in responding to the ministry's appeals Tuesday."We can't allocate more because we can't afford a bigger deficit," he said, adding that in any case last year's free-spending Supreme Soviet had also allotted large sums for defense, but the military never saw any of the promised money because the government was unable to raise it. Kondrashyov added that in the first five months of 1994, the government only received 15 percent of tax revenues planned for this year, or less than 36 percent of the expected revenues for this period. "If everything is going to depend on the revenues, any plans we make will not be realistically feasible," said First Deputy Economics Minister Valery Mikhailov. Rybkin, the Duma's speaker, appeared to side with Kondrashyov in an interview in the daily Segodnya Tuesday, where he said that anyone demanding for 55 trillion in military spending was "dreaming." The Duma's budget committee on Tuesday stood firm against any radical increase in defense spending, agreeing to propose only an additional 3.5 trillion rubles for the military. The outcome of the debate over defense spending is critical because it would break an already fragile budget and force the government to print money -- a highly inflationary measure -- if it were to meet its commitments. Yeltsin appeared to take a middle road in the debate, telling Rybkin at a meeting Tuesday that defense spending in the draft budget for 1994 should be indexed to inflation, according to his spokesman, Anatoly Krasikov. Krasikov said he did not know what spending figure Yeltsin had in mind, nor whether the president had also suggested additional revenues to pay for the increase in defense spending. But he stressed he favored a "balanced budget," Krasikov added.