Facebook Twitter



The Soviet military threat has vanished, but don't yet count Russia out as a significant military power.

Five years after the political end of the Soviet Union, the military juggernaut of the one-time Communist superpower is in tatters.The force has been weakened and divided by the split-up of the Soviet Union into independent and, in some cases, hostile neighboring republics. Its budget has been slashed, its aging equipment for the most part is not being replaced, and many of its uniformed military personnel are homeless in their own land, analysts say.

The Russian military has been described as "an army of ruins and debris" - not by a skeptical foreign observer, but by the country's own defense minister, Gen. Pavel Grachev.

Experts caution that the firewall separating Moscow's military from inner-circle politics may no longer work.

"You could have the military become a kingmaker in the presidential election," said Dan Goure, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "You never saw this under the communist system."

The Russian military's current weaknesses are well-documented, but the force constitutes a "skeleton" for potential rebirth, Goure said. "It's smaller, weaker and at home," he said of the Russian military, "but it isn't gone and it isn't going away."

Several key components of the Russian military continue to receive adequate funding and remain effective, including the strategic rocket forces, the Russian navy's submarine force and parts of the air force.

But overall, experts say, the total havoc the former Soviet military has suffered underscores the obstacles confronting any Russian leader who might want to rebuild the force.

Since 1990, Moscow has moved 37 front-line army divisions from East Germany and other Warsaw Pact nations to Russia, where many of them have been forced into primitive tent cities while awaiting permanent bases. Another 57 Red Army divisions went over to the independent states of Ukraine and Belarus.

The Russian navy, with the exception of its advanced nuclear submarines, has been rotting at pierside since 1991.

Moscow has lost half of the Black Sea fleet to Ukraine and has suffered reduced access to the open ocean from losses of bases in the Baltic and Black seas.

The Soviet air force and PVO Strany air defense forces have shrunk by hundreds of bombers and more than 1,000 fighters as a result of arms treaties, the breakup of the Soviet Union and budget cuts in the '90s.

Manpower cuts within the existing Russian military will continue as the force is both reorganized and shrunk. The Association of the U.S. Army estimates that the Russian military will be trimmed from 2 million personnel in 1995 to 1.1 million or fewer by next year.You could have the military become a kingmaker in the pres-i-den-tial election.

Dan Goure

Military analyst

Not all developments have been negative, experts say. For example, Russia and three other former Soviet republics have held to the schedule of nuclear arms reductions stipulated in the START 1 treaty.

However, the difficulty in absorbing Russian units transferred from eastern Europe and the military campaign against Chechnya placed Russia in technical violation of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. At a recent conference, Russia was given until 1999 to comply with the treaty.

The bitter military campaign in the breakaway region of Chechnya is the most graphic example of how far the Red Army has fallen, many experts say. Russian units initially deployed to suppress the rebellion were outfought by the insurgents, and subsequent battles have been notorious for widespread destruction and high civilian casualties.

In addition to Chechnya, Moscow is involved in peacekeeping operations in "the near abroad," the band of former Soviet republics adjacent to Russia.

Examples include Tajikistan, where Russia is supporting the Tajik government's fight against Afghan-backed rebels, and Georgia, where Russians are enforcing a tenuous cease-fire in the country's civil war.

In Europe today, political leaders no longer fear the Red Army, former CIA Director Robert Gates said. "Their concern is not that the Russian army is coming but (that) an army of Russian refugees is coming," he said.