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The Associated Press, April 21, 2003

U.S. Victory Highlights Russian Weakness

By Vladimir Isachenkov

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 think tank.

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 Chechnya.

"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 top brass.

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 II patterns.

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.


See also:

Situation Around Iraq

The Russian Army

The Associated Press, April 21, 2003

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