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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paratroops Celebrate In Subdued Fashion

When Russia's famed airborne troops marked their 66th anniversary at a base south of Moscow on Friday, the theme was economy. Gone were the large crowds and lavish festivities of years past. Gone even were the airplanes, leaving the paratroopers to run relay races and listen to the band.


"We celebrate at different locations each year, depending on financial and political possibilities," said Colonel Igor Kashin, chief spokesman for the airborne troops. Plans to celebrate at Tushino airfield, as they did last year, were spoiled because the paratroopers could not afford to rent the field for the day at the current price of 100 million rubles ($19,200).


So the top airborne brass converged on the modest 27th Airborne Brigade base in the Tyoply Stan region for two hours of mock battles, demonstrations of hand-to-hand combat and a spirited performance by dancers who donned the soldiers' blue-and-white jerseys and the occasional tutu.


Russia's most famous paratrooper, Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed, failed to show, however, and the disappointment was visible on the faces of the officers who waited for him in the parking lot long after the close of festivities.


Colonel General Yevgeny Podkolzin, commander of the airborne troops, said the financial crisis that has brought Russia's armed forces almost to their knees made President Boris Yeltsin's call for an all-volunteer army by the year 2000 an impossibility.


"In these difficult economic conditions, this is impossible," Podkolzin said, adding that the airborne troops have only 70 percent of the personnel they need, despite their active role in hot spots such as Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia. Of 50,000 inductees from the spring draft, Podkolzin said he received only 4,000 recruits to fill his ranks.


But in his speech to a crowd of some 1,000 soldiers and guests, Podkolzin stressed former glories in World War II and Afghanistan, and the important role now played by the army at home. "As always at such historical turning points, the army has become the guarantor of stability, territorial integrity and life itself," he said.


Podkolzin spoke critically of the decision to send troops to Chechnya, a position he has voiced since February 1995, when he charged that intelligence services had provided faulty information to the government, contributing to Yeltsin's call to send in the tanks.


The conflict should have been settled by political means, Podkolzin said. If a political solution had been sought, he said, "today there would be no terrorist attacks, and our citizens would not have it in the back of their minds that a bomb could go off next to them at any time."