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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Critics: Nukes Take Funds From Army

Renewed fighting in the Caucasus has put political pressure on the cash-strapped Russian military to buy better conventional weapons, with defense critics and legislators saying that nuclear forces have gotten more than their fair share.

But so far, there's little evidence that Russia's top brass are listening, since the criticisms are the same ones that have been leveled since Russia's defeat in the 1994-96 Chechen war.

What Russia needs as it battles to seal off or destroy bands of Islamic militants, foreign and Russian experts say, are better radios, new helicopters, and night-vision equipment - not long-range nuclear missiles intended to confront the United States, or other nuclear powers.

A report by the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies said the Defense Ministry has bought practically no new conventional weaponry over the past five years, and that money has instead gone to nuclear forces.

"The priority financing of these forces looks quite strange, as it has become clear since 1994 that it is non-governmental armed formations that pose the main threat to the country," the report analyzing the performance of federal troops in Dagestan said.

Officially, the rocket forces receive only 8 to 10 percent of the Defense Ministry's budget. But critics say that in fact, the Defense Ministry, headed by former rocket forces commander Igor Sergeyev, diverts money to the rocket forces. These forces commissioned one regiment of new Topol-M intercontinental missiles last year, and are set to commission another one by 2000.

At the same time, Russia is still using older attack helicopters and planes fit for daylight missions only, while defense plants can't find orders for night-capable Ka-50 helicopters and modernized Sukhoi attack planes.

Political support for shifting more funds to conventional forces seems to be building. The federal government has already revised the 2000 defense budget draft, boosting it from 110 to 140 billion rubles ($5.43 billion), the chairman of the State Duma budget and finance committee, Alexander Zhukov, said last week.

The federal government will also be asked to specify in its 2000 budget draft just exactly what conventional weaponry will be procured - to prevent any diversion of funds by the Defense Ministry, said State Duma Deputy Roman Popkovich, who chairs the defense committee. He said no additional funds will be allocated to the rocket forces beyond what is already in the draft of the 2000 federal budget. Zinovii Pak, the government official in charge of procuring ammunition, told reporters last week an additional 4 billion rubles have been allocated this year by the federal government to fund the production of guns, armored vehicles and artillery systems, as well as optical sights and flak jackets.

Better communications and targeting systems are an urgent need, said Colonel Charles Blandy, expert with the Conflict Studies Center at the Sandhurst Military Academy in Sandhurst, Great Britain.

Blandy noted in a phone interview that lack of such systems has been partially responsible for friendly fire incidents - accidentally killing one's own soldiers - during the fighting in Dagestan and Chechnya.

Experts point to the fact that Defense Ministry units and Interior Ministry troops, which are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder in Dagestan, operate different field radios that are not compatible - meaning they can't coordinate their movements.

The Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies report concluded that federal forces have not managed to achieve "informational supremacy" in their campaign in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Most Russian Mi-24 helicopter gunships have no night-vision sights, both Blandy and Pukhov said. And according to the report, Su-25 attack planes can fire only "dumb" rockets, not guided missiles.

The report also called for the development of data links between Ka-50s and Russian Pchela unmanned aerial vehicles to seek and destroy rebel units in Dagestan and Chechnya.