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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troops at the Ready Need Bases, Arms

"You must be ready at any moment for a military operation either here in Russia or abroad," Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told the soldiers and officers of the 22nd Special Operations Brigade of the General Staff's Chief Intelligence Directorate last week. This brigade, which during the 1980s fought in Afghanistan, is currently based near Rostov-on-Don. Its members are specially trained for operations behind enemy lines and must be able to speak two foreign languages to interrogate prisoners themselves. The unit as a result seeks out the most intelligent recruits. However, this ?lite unit is currently crammed into several small barracks that, for the most part, they built themselves in the last two years. Their equipment lies under the open sky. The Defense Ministry is building two residential blocks on the base, but it lacks the funds to complete the construction. Grachev brought the head of the local administration to the base and asked him for money and construction materials, in exchange for which the 22nd would help local authorities, if necessary, to "liquidate the region's powerful bands, according to the president's decree on crime." Throughout the rest of his three-day tour of the North Caucasus Military District, Grachev explained to the local authorities that they must help the army station its ?lite units, since these units will soon be helping in the struggle against organized crime, as well as patrolling the streets and helping to maintain order. Everywhere he went, including Dagestan, according to Grachev, he was promised support. General Yevgeny Podkolzin, the commander of local airborne forces who escorted Grachev, told journalists in Anap: "I am in favor of our military forces joining with the troops of the Interior Ministry and with the police to patrol the streets and protects our citizens." However, the general is not in favor of sending troops into the streets armed only with bayonets, as was the practice in Soviet times. Podkolzin told how he and the commander of the Moscow Military District, General Leonty Kuznetsov, in a meeting with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, said they would only send troops to patrol Moscow if they were equipped with firearms. "We have no intention of sending unarmed boys into the line of fire." Luzhkov said he would consider that position, but so far official permission to distribute rifles to the soldiers and officers on patrol in Moscow has not been received. Podkolzin said he is prepared to bring arms onto the streets if that is what it takes to defend the population. It now appears that President Boris Yeltsin's decree will allow the military to patrol the streets with their weapons and under ordinary conditions, that is, without the imposition of martial law. Many officers think 18-year-olds with Kalashnikovs are much more likely to kill some innocent person in the dark than an experienced police officer. But the effort to interest local authorities in the problems faced by the army has turned out to be stronger than the traditional distaste for soldiers performing police functions. Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Sevodnya.