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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paratroopers Plead in Face of Cuts

Generals at Moscow's 45th spetsnaz paratrooper regiment Thursday used the U.S. Marines as their chief evidence that Defense Council Secretary Yury Baturin should not make Russia's airborne troops subject to the ground forces as a cost-saving measure.

As a paper-back edition of Tom Clancey's New York Times best-seller "Marine: A Guide Tour of a Marine Expeditionary Unit" was displayed as Item 41 on a table laden with war manuscripts, special forces generals employed colorful charts to tell how the Marines developed into the United States' most fearless troops.

"We need to learn from great democratic nations. American Marines have a fighting manual that runs 300 pages long. We still haven't translated the whole thing yet," said paratrooper Colonel Vladislav Promchik.

Baturin patiently listened to the speeches then said that paratroopers will probably never become Russia's equivalent of the U.S. Marines because of cash constraints.

"Not everything that was mentioned today will come into force," Baturin said.

The paratroopers and Russia's other branch of the military are feeling the heat as the Kremlin works out a plan to cut the cost of the army.

Thursday's hearings were part of an effort by Baturin to consult publicly with the armed forces on a program for military reform to be submitted to President Boris Yeltsin on July 25.

The financial crisis in Russia's army has driven ordinary soldiers to the brink of despair with a growing incidence of starvation and suicides.

Senior Russian generals have grown increasingly outspoken in their criticism of the slow pace of military reform.

While no long-term plan has been worked out yet, Yeltsin this week issued a decree demanding that all servicemen be paid their outstanding wages by Sept. 1.

The army's chief accountant, Lieutenant General Georgy Oleinik, reported at a press conference Thursday that Defense Ministry troops are owed 8.1 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion).

He said 4.6 trillion rubles will be issued to the military in July, with the rest of the debt paid back in August.

The elite airborne units have been repeatedly singled out over the past year as one branch of the military in need of reform.

But the paratroopers have resisted proposals for a merger with the rest of Russia's ground forces, fearing a loss of direct access to financing from the government.

When the idea of a merger was first floated last year, former Security Council secretary Alexander Lebed, himself a former paratrooper, warned of an armed rebellion.

In May, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov again proposed cutting airborne troops, but Yeltsin intervened, firing Rodionov at a meeting of the Defense Council the following day.

It is difficult to determine what Yeltsin's vision of reform really is. Yeltsin has ordered a reduction in servicemen to 1.2 million by the end of this year -- a cut of approximately 300,000 people.

In the heat of last year's presidential campaign, he pledged to turn the military into a fully professional force and to end conscription by the year 2000.

Yeltsin has placed Baturin and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais in direct charge of drafting a reform program.

Both men want to keep spending to a minimum.

State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, once a loyal supporter of the government, has recently mounted an attack against Chubais and Baturin's plans for the army. He is accusing the government of pursuing only cuts and not real reform.

This week he formed a new, cross-faction movement called "In Defense of the Army," whose members include Rodionov.

But Baturin, commenting on Rokhlin's new movement Thursday, said that he does not think it is in opposition to the government's own plans.

"Nobody is pushing anybody away from participation on the reform issue," Baturin said.