Published on Thursday, January 18, 2001 in the Guardian of London
Russia Halts Military Cuts as Hawks Take Over in the US
by Ian Traynor in Moscow
The Kremlin has shelved plans to cut and restructure the Russian armed forces radically, a decision seen by Moscow analysts as its first concrete response to the incoming Bush administration's decision to press ahead with the "son of Star Wars" national missile defence system.
In November, after months of infighting between military commanders, President Vladimir Putin ordered them to put their house in order by reducing the 1.2m under arms by 360,000 in the next five years. He also ordered a shift in emphasis from the strategic nuclear missiles to conventional forces.
The reshaping was to have begun last month, but nothing will happen until March at the earliest. "The main reason for the delay is the first steps of the new US leadership," the respected military analyst Viktor Litovkin said.
Only time will tell whether Presidents Putin and Bush will strike up a friendly relationship, but the early signs are of increasing hostility between Moscow and Washington on security, arms control and economic and financial issues.
In the past few weeks Washington has accused Moscow of covertly deploying battlefield nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, its westernmost enclave, and has been angered by Russian moves to invigorate arms sales to Iran.
Moscow, in turn, accused the US last week of breaching the Start-I nuclear arms reduction agreement by going ahead with the national missile defence system (NMD). Mr Putin described the Kaliningrad allegation as "total rubbish."
George W Bush indicated at the weekend that his administration would halt much financial aid to Russia.
Yesterday the chairman of the Russian parliament's budget committee, Alexander Zhukov, brusquely responded: "Russia does not need large loans from foreign countries at the moment."
Yuri Gladkevich, a military observer at Moscow's independent Military News Agency, said: "There are signs of a worsening in relations, and it looks as though things will get a lot worse yet."
Moscow analysts see the people Mr Bush has named for his key cabinet posts - Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice - as hawks from a bygone era.
"These are people who see themselves as the victors of the cold war," said Alexander Golts, military commentator on the news magazine Itogi.
"The Kremlin and the generals are flattered by that, because it reminds them of the days of the USSR when they were a great power. But the new American administration is making a very strong and negative impact on our military."
Moscow sent three warships on patrol in the Pacific on Monday, its most ambitious naval display since the Soviet Union collapsed a decade ago.
Mr Putin has been pushing for a radical overhaul of the armed forces since the Kursk submarine disaster August, and that has provoked a public brawl between the defence minister, Igor Sergeyev, and the chief of the general staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, who wants the currently separate strategic missile forces integrated with the army, navy and air branches and scarce resources redirected to building up conventional forces.
Gen Kvashnin was generally supposed to be getting the better of the struggle, but Marshal Sergeyev's hand may have been strengthened by the new US administration's robust militaristic signals and "new realism" in international relations.
"Sergeyev wants to maintain the strategic missile forces as a political-military instrument, as the main lever for pressure on the US and Nato," Mr Gladkevich said.
"The new US administration means Putin won't weaken the strategic missiles forces to the degree that Kvashnin wants."
In the past year the Kremlin has repeatedly stated that it wants major arms reductions, including cutting its stockpile of nuclear warheads to 1,500. But Alexei Arbatov, an influential moderate on the parliamentary defence committee, now argues that Russia needs 4,500 nuclear warheads to maintain parity with the US.
"The Kremlin sees NMD as as threat to Russia's national security which will ignite a new arms race it can't afford," Mr Gladkevich said.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001