Hero of Russia, Air Force Colonel, member of the Duma defense committee, Yeugeny Zelenov gave an interview to PRAVDA.Ru correspondent.
For many years already we have been witnessing a paradox answers to which cannot be found: how was it possible that country seriously destroyed and plundered after WWII managed to create such a great army? And why the same army that used to inspire fear is very poor and ragged in peaceful time? Now it’s actually very important to know if the Russian army has a chance to recover its mighty image.
- What is the reason of this miserable state of the national army? Even in hot spots (Chechnya, Abkhazia) where soldiers get additional payments and enjoy some privileges, they still drag out a miserable existence.
First of all, the liberal course of Yeltsin’s epoch brought the army to the present-day condition. And the second cause is the liberal economic course. Our economy is currently in a sad state; those positive changes that we observe have no considerable importance for formation and rehabilitation of the army.
Army, like any other organism is easy to be destroyed, but restoration is an extremely difficult process. The reason why the Air Force was very strong after WWII was thanks to the patience of our people, Soviet people were ready to pull in the belts in order to help protect the country from enemies. The times were extremely severe, but people after WWII remembered perfectly well what enemy means and understood it was very important to protect themselves from enemies. And that was one of priorities for the country.
At present, the state budget is our enemy. It is not so big to be effectively distributed between all institutions of the state. Let’s take the social policy for instance, where the number of problems is enormous. That is why the government has to face a dilemma: for which spheres financing should be increased, and which ones must be deprived of their rightful shares. When there is no financing, it’s no use to speak about any reforms, as no reforming is possible without money.
No wonder that budgetary assignment for army reform is insignificant. Over 5% GDP was appropriated for defense from the state budget in 1997, now the sum makes up only 2.6% (it is two times less as compared with 1997). Why is it so? It is considered that the country has no actual enemy and there is no outside threat, this is the reason why attitude of the state to security problems is careless. However, it seems that neither deputies that distribute budgetary financing, nor the government realize that the present-day situation is just an imitation of a lull, and the problem of national security is currently very acute.
Now the world is on the verge of another war. It’s obvious for everyone that the USA carries out its foreign policy ignoring opinions of other countries and influential international organizations. Contrary to opinions of other states, the USA seems to have taken a decision to attack Iraq. And Iraq is unable to resist the USA, and other countries cannot stop America.
Do you think that hypothetically this situation cannot repeat in Russia? At present, the problem of national security is actually very pressing, and we must employ all available resources to strengthen our army.
This year budgetary assignment for national defense made up 344 billion rubles, which makes up 4.7% of budgetary spending. Certainly, the sum is not enough to revive the army. What is more, in addition to financing we must develop our military doctrine, which is rather vague now. We are to be ready for waging of two local wars, not more, budgetary financing should be appropriated adequately to these objectives. But even under such conditions these sums are not enough, we can hardly maintain military operations in Chechnya.
- How much money is spent on these purposes?
It is a closed part of the budget which cannot be published. By the way, the USA openly declares how much is spent on military operations in different countries; information about war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq is available to the population. All taxpayers have access to this important information.
As for reforms in the army, we speak about transforming it into the army on a contractual basis. Enormous financing is necessary for this purpose. To my mind, it’s currently very important to equip the army with arms and military technique. At present, nothing is done to settle the problem. Russia’s army gets just few samples of military technique, in most cases old machines are repaired to prolong their life time.
The time is changing quickly. There are already pre-production models of fifth-generation arms, but financing is not enough to complete development of these models and to start tests. If the situation with army financing, especially financing of arms production doesn’t change, the system of Air Force and Navy will vanish by 2006 at all.
- What can be done to prevent such lamentable consequences?
Certainly, we must first of all guarantee necessary budgetary financing in order to maintain the present-day army operating at least. As for new military technique, much effort is spent to preserve the scientific and technical potential of the army. Design bureaus are still working on developments, there are pre-production models of new technique and weapons. However, this work is so much insignificant that it is unlikely that Russian army may get new weapons and technique in the nearest future.
For example, no additional finance for combustive-lubricating materials for the army is provided in the budget this year, the army needs 20.2 billion rubles more for these purposes. It means that combat training cannot be effective and adequate in the army. One pilot must have 70-100 hours of flight per year, but with the amount of kerosene “provided by the budget” he will be able to perform only 25-30 hours of flights. A driver of a battle machine must cover 450 kilometers per year at training grounds, but with budgetary financing for combustive-lubricating materials he will be able to cover only 50 kilometers. You see, the level of military training depends upon financing very much.
What is more, military men have to work only two hours per day instead of eight hours, as they have no opportunity to be occupied with military service completely. It is quite natural that military men may start thinking that army doesn’t need them at all.
I served in the army for a very long period myself. I had no privileges for payment of public utility bills, as military men have now. But I was paid quite enough to maintain my family adequately.
Now allowances of military men are not enough for normal life. The sum of allowances will be indexed in October, but this won’t be enough all the same. Let’s imagine that the budget will oblige military men to wear camouflage only. It is actually very comfortable and economical to wear camouflage, but in this case the army will lose its prestige. I remember that when I was a lieutenant, I was extremely proud to wear my full dress uniform, I was proud to be a Soviet officer. Do we now often see military men in a full dress uniform? There is no full dress at all; by the way, it is not only a material, but rather a moral stimulus for military men. When military men have no opportunity to wear the full dress uniform, they lose their military bearing. To tell the truth, military uniform is not the most important problem, but we must enhance the prestige of all aspects and attributes of the army.
We must determine priorities. I understand that the priority of national security is currently very pressing because some states make independent decisions in the military sphere. It is not ruled out that Russia may be threatened from outside as well. I speak about this probability just hypothetically, but any state must anticipate any hypothetical situations and take all possible measures to guarantee national security. But for this very purpose any state must have efficient army that will be able not only to wage two local wars, but also would be able to protect the state from outer enemies.
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