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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Uh-Oh: Here Come the Neo-Soviet Generals

Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexander Golts informs us that Neo-Soviet Russia is about to officially begin the Cold War, underway for some time now, by issuing a policy statement from its military junta that the United States is Russia's enemy.

Something strange is afoot this year in the Defense Ministry. Every other month or so there information is leaked about a group of high-ranking officers in the General Staff that is wrapping up work on a new military doctrine, which it will soon unveil to the country's military and political leadership. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov routinely denies the rumors, insisting that he knows nothing about a new doctrine.

It would be unfair to accuse Ivanov of knowing everything that goes on in his ministry. He recently told President Vladimir Putin that the navy's attack submarines carried nuclear weapons. If this were true, it would mean that Russia had decided to ignore the obligation it assumed in the early 1990s to place all tactical nuclear weapons in storage facilities.

In the case of the new military doctrine, Ivanov had to show some interest. Putin used his state-of-the-nation address this year to talk about necessary changes in the military doctrine to bring it up to date. There have also been reports that Ivanov will present the doctrine at a Cabinet meeting in the near future. Yet it seems increasingly clear that the Defense Ministry is not making any real progress on the doctrine.

The leaks have not simply been dreamt up by enterprising reporters, however. The people writing on this issue have obviously seen some sort of document, which they have quoted extensively. It is highly unlikely that someone in the ministry prepared a fake document just to swindle the press. More likely, the ministry drafted the new doctrine without direct orders from above.

If, as seems likely, we are dealing with an initiative coming from the military leadership, the new military doctrine points to a deterioration in the armed forces that has been going on since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

As the latest attempts to reform the military run out of steam, the top brass are beginning to demand a military doctrine from the Kremlin, arguing that they cannot build up their forces without a document that clearly identifies the country's enemies, its allies, and the sort of war we are supposed to be preparing for. In short, they're looking for the equivalent of the General Secretary's reports to the Soviet Communist Party congresses in the good old days.

The main question, of course, is who should be included in the list of Russia's potential enemies. The journalists who wrote the latest article on the new military doctrine said it singled out the United States and NATO. If the document was drafted without instructions from the Kremlin, this means that the military leadership is pushing the country into a new confrontation.

It's worth remembering that when the current military doctrine was being drawn up in 1999-2000, the General Staff argued that the United States and NATO posed a clear threat to Russian security. At the time, the Kremlin was irritated by the actions of the West in Yugoslavia, but Ivanov, who was then head of the Security Council, had the sense to remove this provocative statement from the final draft.

Now it seems the generals are riding a new wave of anti-Americanism to throw the same old arguments at the Kremlin. And not because they seriously think a military confrontation with the United States and NATO is likely. Their only interest is in preserving the current structure of the armed forces so that they can hold on to their jobs as long as possible.

At issue is the Soviet model of a mass conscription army designed exclusively to counter a global enemy. Since China does not fit the bill, only the United States and NATO are left.

If the Kremlin agrees with the anti-American provisions in the doctrine, the generals will be able to dismiss complaints about the inefficiency of the military. And the result will be an unworkable situation, since Russia's chief potential enemy will be identified as a country with a military budget more than 20 times larger than ours. Criticism could be deflected by citing the lack of funding.

In this situation, leaks to the press are a none-too-subtle way to blackmail the political leadership. If the new doctrine is not approved, the brass will argue that the Kremlin is unwilling to face the truth and to take the country's security seriously. And the Kremlin, where the tone is becoming increasingly anti-American, will find it very difficult to counter such accusations.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.

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