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Algora Publishing - Russia to slash ground forces, rely on nukes By Bill Gertz
                                               For a Kinder, Gentler Society
Russia to slash ground forces, rely on nukes By Bill Gertz
Washington Times 17 October 1997 [for personal use only] Russia to slash ground forces, rely on nukes By Bill Gertz Russia plans to cut its ground forces in half by 2005 and will rely more on nuclear weapons for future conflicts, according to a classified intelligence report.

The report by the Joint Intelligence Committee states that Russia's new military doctrine will be approved later this year and will call for structuring forces to fight "local and regional conflicts" or "a major war."

"The use of nuclear weapons is not ruled out in either scenario. Indeed, the proposed reforms reinforce changes already underway in Russia's nuclear doctrine by placing increased weight on nuclear weapons (which remain under effective command and control) to deter aggression," said the report, labeled "top secret."

The analysis was approved Oct. I at a meeting of the Joint Intelligence Committee, a forum made up of intelligence officials from the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. Pentagon sources made a copy of the analysis available to The Washington Times.

"It will be several years at least before there is a perceptible increase in Russia's greatly reduced conventional capabilities," the report said. "Russia will maintain a credible strategic deterrent to compensate for the weaknesses in its conventional forces."

A U.S. government specialist on the Russian military said the reform program appears similar to a Soviet-era plan in the 1960s to utilize nuclear weapons with smaller conventional forces.

"This reform is not reform, but a turning back of the clock -structuring conventional forces to fight nuclear war - a lighter, mobile army that will be survivable on the nuclear battlefield," the official said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to respond to the report, and a Russian Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Many in the Russian military are opposing the plan, according to the report.

"There remains a widespread belief within the armed forces that the proposals do not constitute 'real' reform, but simply weaken Russia's military strength, and that the primary objective is to save money," the report said.

Russian civilian leaders view the reform as "expensive in both political and financial terms" and are backing it "only so long as transition costs can be contained," the report said.

"As long as the defense budget is capped at the current 3.5 percent of gross domestic product funding will be insufficient to maintain the momentum of reform until 2005 and beyond," the report said, noting that the reform is more likely to be done around 20 10.

According to the intelligence report, military spending has been cut by 50 percent over the past five years.

While conventional forces have deteriorated rapidly in the past five years because of neglect, Russia is developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the SS-25 mobile ICBM and a new class of submarines equipped with new submarine-launched nuclear missiles.

Separately, a recent article in the Russian Defense Ministry publication Military Thought discusses the "possibility of transition to the use of nuclear weapons in peacetime." Written by a major general, the article said preparations should be made for the rapid use of nuclear arms that can be carried out secretly without detection by U.S. spy satellites.

Under the plan, the Red Army is expected to reduce its ground forces from an estimated 1.7 million troops today to 1.2 million by the end of 1998. By 2005, ground forces will number about 500,000 to 600,000 troops half of them reservists -- that will be organized in "brigades with a small number of divisions in key areas," the report said.

The total number of divisions will decline from the current 100 to about 50, according to the report.

"The Navy and Air Force can hope, at best to remain at about their current size and capability," the report said, adding: "Even success in priority research and development areas and the introduction of high technology weapons will not prevent a widening of the overall technology gap with NATO."

Overall major structural reforms are "likely to be implemented as planned."

"But the full proposed reorganization will require considerable resources and sustained support from key political leaders," the report said. "Both are in doubt."

According to the report Russian President Boris Yeltsin in July approved the outlines of a plan by Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who was commander of Russia's nuclear forces, that includes the following:

* Cut ground forces to 1.2 million troops by Jan. 1, 1999.

* Combine the various service branches into two: "strategic deterrence"
nuclear forces and "general purpose" ground, sea and air forces.
* Reduce deployment areas from the current eight regional military
districts to six.
* Set up within each district a "territorial" military command to take over
all conventional forces, including paramilitary units, that would report to
the general staff.

The Scrgeyev reform plan is supported by Russian military leaders who will benefit from it, including the Strategic Rocket Forces and Air Force, and faces "considerable opposition" from those that will lose, such as the Air Defense and Military Space Forces and others with "vested interests" in the status quo.

The plan is viewed by the Russian defense minister and his supporters as "the only way to arrest the decline in Russia's military capabilities until the economy can permit re-equipment."

"Sergeyev has mounted a personal campaign to win support for the plan within the officer corps," the report said,

The assessment describes the eight- to 10-year military reform plan as "the most concerted attempt to date to reform Russia's bloated and ineffective armed forces" and predicts that opposition will cause the plan to be modified.