Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Reforms Subordinate Russia's Paratrooper Divisions

Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said Tuesday that Russia's airborne troops would be subordinated to the ground forces as part of reforms in the army.

The issue has been a source of heated debate since Rodionov announced the plan last September and had to back down amid vociferous opposition.

Presidential hopeful Alexander Lebed, a former paratrooper general, attacked planned cuts last year when he was Security Council chief, accusing Rodionov of effectively eliminating the paratroopers.

The plan was shelved for months after Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin accompanied Rodionov on a visit to an airborne regiment at Ryazan.

But after meeting with President Boris Yeltsin on Monday, Rodionov seemed to be implying he had won the battle. The airborne troops would retain their own identity, he said, but would become part of the ground forces.

Rodionov did not say whether the number of airborne troops would be reduced. The paratroopers, often considered the elite of the army forces, consist of five divisions and about 60,000 men. Analysts say that is more than Russia needs and can afford, but the airborne forces are resisting change.

Russia could not even get all its paratrooper divisions airborne if it needed to, said Michael Orr, military analyst at the Conflict Studies Research Institute at Sandhurst, England. By comparison, the United States has only one airborne division.

Rodionov's original plan was to cut the airborne forces to two divisions and a couple of brigades, Orr said. "There are lots of good military reasons for it. It was a good model for what needs to be done in the army as a whole."

Rodionov said Tuesday that Yeltsin gave him the go-ahead to remove several top-ranking military officials.

He said a presidential decree would be issued to dismiss General Vladimir Semyonov, the commander of the ground forces, Interfax reported.