Grachev refuses to cut forces

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The Independent Online
OVERTURNING plans to cut Russia's armed forces to 1.5 million men, the Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev, yesterday said the country's demoralised military must not shrink below 2.1 million. He also said he believed Moscow should improve ties with Nato and that he was ready to sign a co-operation accord with the alliance if instructed to do so.

Next month Mr Grachev is to attend Nato's Brussels summit, which is expected to endorse a plan to step up co-operation with East European states without granting membership. Mr Grachev also said the East European countries and the three Baltic states, which have stepped up pressure to join Nato, had the right to determine how best to meet their security needs, including joining 'military-political unions'. But he said Russia did not want them 'to speculate on a mythical threat' from Russia and added that Moscow did not understand their desire to join Nato if it was solely to protect them from Russia.

At its peak in 1988 the Soviet military machine had nearly 5 million men under arms. Mr Grachev said Russia's forces now had 2.3 million men. The figure may be lower: most divisions are undermanned and conscription is in such disarray that few young Russians bother to serve. 'We plan to have 2.1 million by the end of 1994. We will kept the army at about this size, not at 1.5 million,' said Mr Grachev.

The change of plans could reflect the military's new clout following its support for President Boris Yeltsin in October, when officers resisted appeals for help from Vice- President Alexander Rutskoi and others holed up in the Russian White House parliament building and sent tanks to expel them. Mr Grachev's support for Mr Yeltsin, however, was far from unequivocal.

The Kremlin is alarmed by support within the military for the far- right nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Last week Mr Yeltsin said one-third of soldiers had voted for the Liberal Democratic Party in the 12 December election. 'We are worried about it and appropriate measures are already being taken,' Mr Yeltsin said.

Yesterday Mr Grachev challenged this estimate, which is far higher than the 22 per cent who voted for Mr Zhirinovsky. He said there was no reliable information on military voting patterns.

Many officers have voiced alarm at the scale and speed of personnel cuts, though others argue for a leaner, better trained carrier military instead of the sprawling conscript force inherited from Soviet days.

Mr Grachev described as flawed long-standing plans, endorsed by the old and now disbanded parliament, the Supreme Soviet, for a military of around 1.5 million by the end of the century. He said Russia's new parliament, which meets for its first session on 11 January, would be asked to review the decision. 'We will ask parliament to stop at 2.1 million soldiers,' he said.

Russia has been pressing for a revision of a treaty governing the deployment of conventional forces in Europe. It argues that the rules were fixed when Moscow's defence priorities were different; there is now a need for more flexibility to shift troops around, particularly to its southern borders, along the Caucasus and Central Asia.