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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rokhlin's Cure Can't Save Army

There was an air of unreality hanging over last weekend's founding convention of Lev Rokhlin's new Movement in Support of the Army.


Old folks carried Lenin banners and bearded Cossacks wandered about in uniform. The usual suspects showed up: Communist rabble-rouser Viktor Anpilov, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, National Bolshevik Eduard Limonov.


Rokhlin, chairman of the State Duma's defense committee and one of the leaders of the disastrous war in Chechnya, accused President Boris Yeltsin of ruining the army and said his movement aims to force the president's resignation.


Never mind the whiff of old-fashioned Latin American dictatorship surrounding Rokhlin's hints at overthrowing Yeltsin. By defying common sense and opposing military downsizing, and by playing the dangerous, irresponsible game of trying to turn the army's discontent into a political force, Rokhlin leaves little grounds for confidence in his judgment or leadership ability.


His assertions last week about alleged government plans to discredit him, or even kill him, didn't do much to inspire confidence, either. In fact, Rokhlin is doing the government a favor by splitting the core constituency of Alexander Lebed, another ambitious former general.


If nothing else, one would expect a general to face the facts dispassionately. Russia's treasury cannot sustain the huge army that faced down NATO for 50 years. It is an open question whether Russia can afford even the 1.2-million-man army envisioned in Yeltsin's halting reform program. The 1.7-million-man Cold War army is a fantasy, the more so because Russia just does not need a huge land army at the moment; it faces no serious external threats. The most serious military threat is internal -- from someone resembling Rokhlin.


There are a few more points worth considering. One of the most serious impediments to the army's combat readiness is corruption. And for that, Rokhlin need look no farther than his fellow officers. At one point, 18 officers of general rank, were under criminal investigation.


And neither Rokhlin, nor anyone else in his movement or the government, has much to say about the brutal practice of hazing conscript soldiers. That would be a constructive criticism, and one based on practical and even humane concerns.


Now, perhaps Rokhlin doesn't really believe the things he says and is just an opportunist hoping to take advantage of the military's discontent. That alternative view doesn't make him look any better.


What the military in Russia really needs is common sense. Rokhlin isn't supplying any.