| The quick defeat of Saddam Hussein's military, which
was modeled on the rigid Soviet war machine, at the hands of a motivated
high-tech adversary has thrown a spotlight on the weakness of Russia's
own crumbling armed forces and strengthened the hand of proponents
of radical military reform.
"The Iraqi war has proven once again that a volunteer contract
force equipped with state-of-the art weapons and using modern
tactics can fulfill any task ... and do it with minimal casualties
among civilians," said State Duma Deputy Alexei
Arbatov, a leading advocate of a volunteer army.
When the U.S.-led war against Hussein began, Russian generals
forecast a long and fierce battle, claiming that U.S. forces would
suffer heavy casualties if they tried to storm Iraqi cities.
Just a week before the fall of Baghdad, Defense Minister Sergei
Ivanov extolled the strength of the Iraqi army and said that a
U.S. victory was "far from certain."
"There were expectations of a new Vietnam," said Yury
Fyodorov, a deputy director of the PIR-Center, an independent
Russian generals and diplomats, who predicted an all-out battle
for Baghdad, relied on Russia's own botched experience in storming
Grozny, which was virtually destroyed during the 1994-96 war in
"The U.S. victory in Iraq has become an unpleasant surprise
for the Russian political and military elite, which based its
plans on the assumption that the Americans would get bogged down
in Iraq," said Yevgeny Volk, head of the Moscow office of
the Heritage Foundation, a U.S. think tank.
The Iraqi army closely copied Soviet military organization and
tactics and was equipped with mostly Soviet-built tanks, aircraft
and missiles. Although official military contacts were severed
after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, some retired Russian
generals reportedly visited Baghdad just days before the U.S.-led
attacks started in March to advise its defenders.
After coping with the initial shock, Russian officials and analysts
began discussing the war lessons. Some said that apart from its
nuclear forces, the Russian military has much in common with Hussein's
army in both weapons and morale. "Go on the street and ask
who is ready to defend the motherland, and you will immediately
see unpleasant parallels," said retired General Andrei Nikolayev,
head of the Duma's defense affairs committee. "The outcome
of a war depends on an army's morale."
Nezavisimaya Gazeta commentator Maxim Glikin recalled his own
experience in the Soviet military in the late 1980s, saying he
and his comrades would have surrendered just like Hussein's soldiers.
"We would have thrown away our rifles and changed into civilian
clothes before an aggressor approached our unit," Glikin
wrote, adding that the troops' morale has further plummeted in
the last decade.
The Russian military has seen a steady decline since the 1991
Soviet collapse, lacking funds to modernize its Soviet-built weapons,
hold exercises and even properly feed and dress servicemen.
President Vladimir Putin has sought to reverse the military's
meltdown by ordering a gradual transfer from the draft to a volunteer
force by 2010. The plan has faced stubborn resistance from military
In stark contrast to the computerized, satellite-guided U.S.
military, the Russian army's arsenals are of Cold War vintage,
precision weapons are few and tactics largely imitate World War
Bad maintenance of weapons, the lack of proper training for troops,
rigid command and poor coordination, which are believed to have
contributed to the Iraqi defeat, are also sapping the readiness
of the Russian army.
While the top brass is using the Iraqi war as a pretext to plead
for more funds, critics are urging the military to further trim
ranks, get rid of excessive weapons and radically streamline its
bloated, antiquated structure.
"Pumping more cash into the outdated defense structure would
be a useless waste of money," said Konstantin Kosachev, deputy
head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee.
Putin has named Major General Alexander Burutin to be his adviser
on the military-industrial complex and state defense orders, the
presidential press service reported Saturday. Burutin has been
working in the General Staff since 1992, RIA news agency said.