Russia shakes up 'inedible' army menu: report

Russia has moved to transform the daily diet of soldiers and officers which since Tsarist times has been dominated by food deemed by many to have been virtually inedible, a report said Thursday.

The Izvestia newspaper said Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov - a civilian entrusted with implementing major military reform - has issued strict orders for the army's traditional carbohydrate staple to be removed from the menu.

Pearl barley porridge - an unctuous concoction that is cheap but requires long cooking to be properly digestible - has been formally banned in favour of the more palatable and much more expensive buckwheat.

Izvestia said that Serdyukov has pressed ahead with the move despite buckwheat being five times more expensive than pearl barley, forcing the firing of a large number of civilian army cooks.

"The minister's decision is due to the extreme unpopularity of pearl barley, which is known as 'boot leather' on account of its inedibility," said the daily, quoting sources in the defence ministry.

Serdyukov - a former furniture salesman who Izvestia described as "being known for his aversion to traditional army attributes" - has ordered a 15,000 ruble (500 dollar) fine for any supplier who offers pearl barley porridge.

Commanders will now have to keep a check on the quality of rations and soldiers disgruntled with their diet can complain to the defence ministry on a special hotline.

"Before they are called up many conscripts have never eaten pearl barley as it is no longer prepared in many families," Izvestia quoted a former top military procurement figure as saying.

"Thus it was hard for them to get used to it in the army but we could not cook anything else for them."

Serdyukov's attempts to modernise the military have sometimes met fierce opposition from traditionalists inside the army.

His unmilitary bearing has also been the subject of mockery, most recently this summer when television pictures showed him getting in the way of a goose-stepping soldier at a parade in Siberia.