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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unreformable Army At Heart of Reform

The struggle over military spending is a very dangerous game played with shadows. The outcome could be the fall of the government and the end of the sporadic efforts at reform: It is indicative of the great hole still at the heart of Russian reform, a hole which confronts the Russian politicians with dreadful choices which they are not yet making. The military is no doubt in a bad condition. Unpaid officers, surly underemployed troops, obsolete equipment (especially naval) and strategic confusion add up to a combination that would haunt and daunt any general staff. It is, however, a condition in part of their own making: The military, though it has changed, has not reformed; military industry, though it has been knocked about by cuts in procurement levels, has not converted; and strategy, though it no longer identifies the West as an implacable foe, has not learned to approach NATO as other than a potential opponent with whom only a zero-sum game can be played. The structure of the Soviet Army hangs about the body of the Russian one like an overlarge suit that has seen better days. The draft is way under strength, but it is still a conscript army where military duty is essential for the protection of the fatherland from encircling imperialism. There is a gross oversupply of tanks, but the factories still grind them out as if imperialism was still about to launch a long conventional war. There are more generals per soldier than in any army in the world, yet still they cling to their official cars, dachas, servants and pay, and more are promoted to join them. In some ways worse, the industry that served the military has also done little to change. The defense industrial barons do not like the market, and thus ignore promptings and even direct commands to stop military production -- presuming that, sooner or later, the government will pay their debts. Closed cities and research establishments still carry on, their functions hidden even from their own government. The fear of an abyss of unemployment and of social unrest paralyzes those who want to do something, while the hope that the good old days will come again energizes those who do not. As a devastating article in Tuesday's Rossiiskaya Gazeta by Anatoly Zhuravlyov pointed out, the military will probably end up taking the bulk of the budget expenditure in one form or another -- whatever the Duma and the Federation Council decides. Hidden away in the budget are little caches of trillions of rubles under headings which betray little of their true nature except that they are a cover for more money to be poured into the military and military-industrial trough. How could it be otherwise? The Soviet Union was an economy in which the military and the security forces were at the center. Everything, from science policy to location of plants, served a machine built for war and for suppression of its own society. To reform the machine involves more than just raising prices and privatizing enterprises -- though it may well be that it cannot be done centrally, but must be simply starved of sustenance and forced to change or die. In the coming weeks the struggle over spending will grow more intense. The government -- especially Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin -- must try to keep spending under control, since it has no other policy. But the vast structure which is the military sits athwart change, and will not be moved or reformed. John Lloyd is the Moscow bureau chief of the Financial Times.