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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Seeks Support Of Military

President Boris Yeltsin's choice of Defense of the Fatherland Day to make his annual state of the nation address to parliament suggests that he plans to offer some good news to the country's demoralized armed forces, but analysts said Thursday that he is guaranteed a cool reception.


Yeltsin's address Friday comes eight days after his formal declaration in Yekaterinburg that he will run for re-election in June. And if in Yekaterinburg he promised to pay back all workers' salary arrears by March, this time he is expected to do something similar for the army.


"He will offer them the prospect of reform," said Dmitry Trenin, military analyst at the Institute of Europe. "He will give guarantees of continued government support over pay and housing and promise to ensure that the army gets its conscripts."


But whether such promises will have any effect is another matter. To start with, the military no longer votes as a block, partly because the democratic process prevents the comman military, who have seen a persistent neglect of the army by the government," Trenin said. "Yeltsin is not just the president, he is also the armed forces commander in chief, but he remembers that only when he needs their support, whether in a crisis or in an election."


Mikhail Gerasev, a military specialist at the USA and Canada Institute, said Yeltsin will have to address two issues in his speech: the current state of the army, and the prospects for peace in Chechnya. But in neither case is he likely to have anything concrete to say.


"Two weeks ago there were seven peace plans for Chechnya, then yesterday it was eight. Now there are probably 24, but that doesn't bring peace any closer," he said.


The once-mighty Soviet military machine has indeed fallen on hard times. Even before the war in Chechnya, the army's status had plummeted, crippled by chronic underfunding, large-scale draft evasion, appalling living conditions and poor training.


But the Chechen war has brought all these shortcomings to the fore, exposing the army's inadequacy as a fighting force. The financial burden of the war, as well as its dreadful cost in lives has dragged military morale down to an all-time low.


While long-awaited military reforms have failed to materialize, the armed forces have shrunk to about a third of their Soviet-era size.


According to Defense Ministry figures, the army is now made up of some 1.7 million officers and men, as against 4.25 million in 1989.


"An army, which for four years has had no military training, which has used up 90 percent of its emergency supplies and resources, which has no spare parts nor technology, in which the moral and psychological atmosphere has plummeted, not because of poor personnel, but because it is being led through government policy into chaos and catastrophe -- that army, if we tell people the truth, is incapable of defending the state or the people," wrote Major General Nikolai Bezborodov, deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, in Thursday's edition of Pravda.


Military analysts have argued that by handing over responsibility for military reform to the Defense Ministry, the country's leadership have washed their hands of the issue and ensured that the reforms would not be implemented.


"You cannot load the entire burden of reforming the army on the Defense Ministry, yet that is what is being done," Bezborodov wrote Thursday in the armed forces daily Krasnaya Zvezda.


The problem has been exacerbated by the attitude of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev who has done his best to prevent penetration of the armed forces by outside influences, helping to make him a b?te noir among reformist politicians.


Sergei Yushenkov, a Duma deputy for the liberal Russia's Democratic Choice party and former chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, this week cited the firing of Grachev as a major factor in determining whether Russia's Choice would back Yeltsin.


But according to Trenin, Yeltsin is not ready to see Grachev go, believing that while this would certainly appease the democrats, it would not necessarily go down well with the armed forces.


"Grachev has played a very clever game. Whenever he comes under fire from the democrats, he is quick to portray this as a personalized attack on the armed forces," Trenin said.


In any case, he added, it would be difficult for Yeltsin to find anyone as loyal as Grachev as a replacement.


"Grachev is totally loyal and has the advantage of having nowhere to go -- no other group would accept him -- so Yeltsin can rely on him to the end," he said.