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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Pledges to Give More Cash to Military




President Boris Yeltsin, noting the serious problems facing Russia's military in his state-of-the-nation address Tuesday, pledged to raise the salaries and increase the benefits of servicemen even as he called for reduced federal spending.


"My requirement remains strict: there should be no debts to servicemen," Yeltsin said, speaking in the Kremlin's Marble Hall. He also promised to raise servicemen's salaries by the end of 1998.


But legislators decried Yeltsin's plans, largely because he did not mention increased spending to pay for his proposals, instead calling for a reduction of spending in the 1998 budget.


"The necessity to increase funding at the first stage of military reform was not reflected in the message at all," said Alexei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the State Duma's defense committee and member of the liberal Yabloko party.


Yeltsin also unveiled a government program begun last month that provides "housing certificates" to young officers as they enter military service. While an officer is in service, the government makes payments to a special account that backs the certificate. When the officer retires after serving at least 10 years, the certificate is used to pay part of the cost of a new home.


The president appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to head implementation of the program, expected to cost the government 25.5 billion rubles ($4.2 billion) over the next five years.


Eduard Vorobyov, a retired general and Duma deputy, said the program is to be funded jointly by the federal and regional governments through an as yet unestablished federal treasury system.


Despite Yeltsin's statement that "this money, down to the last kopeck, will be paid to those for whom it is intended," Vorobyov was skeptical as to whether the government housing subsidies will not be stolen.


Arbatov said the 1998 budget has only 2 billion rubles allocated for military housing projects and that the new program would require at least 5 billion this year.


"We don't see this money in the current budget," Arbatov said. "If we had seen this year that real money had been paid [by the government], we would have known that the rest of the program is substantiated,"


"The way it is, it generates more questions than answers," he said.


In the written part of Yeltsin's message, delivered to parliament members, the president summarized other aspects of military reform already under way.


This year, the government plans to reduce the number of people serving in the armed forces from 1.5 million to 1.2 million. And, in a bid to increase efficiency and cut expenses, Russia's strategic missile forces, military space forces and space defense are to be merged. The merger of the air force and air defense force is already under way.


Yeltsin's written message also said that "special attention" is being paid to fighting the military's notorious hazing and graft problems.


But the critics remain unconvinced. "Military reform, as a complex of political, economic, social, military and technical measures aimed to the implementation of the state's defense function, has still not been developed," Vorobyov said.