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Vremya Novostei, June 23, 2003

Stagnation and Profanation
Yabloko lashes out at military reform plans

By Natalia Rozhkova

Last Friday, members of the Yabloko party criticized both the government's military reform plan and the alternative proposed by the Union of Right-Wing Forces.

Alexei Arbatov, Deputy Chairman of the Party and deputy chairman of the State Duma defense committee, described the current military reforms as "stagnation and profanation". He noted that according to the Defense Ministry plan, implementation of the reform requires 130 billion rubles to transfer 30% of privates and ensigns over four years to contract service. At the same time, Arbatov stresses, only "20% of these means are allocated for increasing money allowances - the rest are to be spent on the aims that should be pursued regardless of the reform", such as purchasing equipment, combat training, and providing accommodation for the military. All this is necessary for both professional and regular army and these expenses should not be included into reform expenses, Arbatov says.

According to Arbatov, the idea of the Union of Right-Wing Forces for six-month conscription is "useless and harmful". Arbatov stresses that in the immediate future, most recruits will be those born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the birth rate substantially decreased in Russia. That is why that the government would, in order to recruit enough soldiers, have to "cancel all deferrals, and conscript drug addicts, criminals, the mentally retarded, and women." The Yabloko thinks it is possible to combine conscription with contractors for only one or two years while the reform is being carried out.

Yabloko members are convinced that military reform can be carried out with less expenditure and more efficiently that the Defense Ministry proposes. Alexei Arbatov says that in order to transfer the present Russian army on a contract basis it is necessary to increase the present defense budget by 5%; it is to be increased by 25% if wages for the military are doubled. However, Yabloko says the best option is to decrease the number of the Armed Forces from 1,200,000 people to 800,000 people - then, the military budget is to be increased by only 15%.

Alexei Arbatov and Grigory Yavlinsky believe that this money would be enough for severance pay, housing for servicemen who resign, for transition of the remaining units to the contract system, and for "doubling the monetary allowance of all servicemen, from soldier to general". Yavlinsky is convinced that all this can be done within two years.

Deputies believe that an important step toward reforming the army is the introduction of public oversight for appropriation of budget funds: consequently it is necessary to make the military budget transparent. A specific step in this direction would involve amending the law on budget secrecy, as Arbatov has said. He said: "Let the military budget be described not by three figures but by 850 items so that everyone could see these figures. At present, it is so secret that I don't even have a right to say how many enlisted me then are in the Army now."

The Yabloko leader finished the conference with a pessimistic forecast: "In 2015, rearmament and reform of the Chinese Army will finish. If we sabotage serious efforts to reform the Russian Army, it will be difficult to talk about a future for the nation after 2010."


Vremya Novostei, June 23, 2003

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