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After Disintegrating During The 1990s The Russian Army Is Back

Vladimir Putin has claimed credit for restoring the Russian Army after years of neglect.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/22/2012, 5:39 AM

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Reuters

It was perhaps inevitable that Vladimir Putin's campaign for the presidency, with its distinctly anti-American undertone, would eventually turn to the issue of the military.

Putin has been successful in stoking up fear of the Americans. The respected Levada Center published a poll showing a significant increase in the percentage of Russians who fear for their security. Within a year, the number of those who considered a military threat to Russia to be a real possibility jumped from 47% to 55%.

Although concentrating on the military, Putin's article essentially has the same story line as his previously published articles in the campaign. They are designed to showcase Putin as both a leader with a record of achievement and as a profound original thinker who can cope with the challenges of modernity.

Putin continuously runs against the 1990s, the decade that the Soviet Union collapsed - and before he took power and "rescued" Russia. The 1990s are accurately described by Putin as a decade of military collapse, when soldiers were literally thrown into the streets and humiliated.

Officers received no wages for months on end. To be honest, the country even had trouble feeding its military personnel. Tens of thousands of officers and soldiers were being discharged. The number of generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors exceeded that of captains and lieutenants. Many defence industry companies stood idle, accumulated debt and lost their most valuable and unique specialists

The media was harsh with the armed forces. Day after day, a few "activists" considered it imperative to "kick" and humiliate the army in the most painful manner and to defile everything linked with such concepts as the oath of allegiance, the call to duty, service to the Motherland, patriotism and this country's military history. Actually, they believed that any day when this wasn't done, was lost in vain. I have thought about this, and I still consider it a real moral crime and an act of treason.

The wake-up call that no so coincidently accelerated Putin's rise to power was the terrorist campaign in the Caucasus that awakened Russia to the need for strong modern army.

It was tough going at first. Russia's Pacific submarine fleet had to be sustained by private industry, whom Putin solicited. Now, under Putin, the Russian Armed Forces is back at full strength, although it no longer resembles the obsolete forces of the Soviet era. The Army has greater firepower and is being thoroughly modernized, with Putin reciting a laundry list of modern weaponry that is in the procurement stage.

As a result, the armed forces are again a projection of Russian power: "

The Russian Navy has resumed patrols of the strategic areas of the world's oceans, including the Mediterranean. We will continue with these displays of the Russian flag.

This modernization does not overlook the need to provide decent conditions and benefits for Russia's soldiers including hundreds of thousands of housing units. The policy will be retroactively applied the soldiers discharged during the chaotic 1990s.

Putin is aware that many in Russia seek to avoid military service, primarily due to the bullying of recruits in Russia. He announced he will achieve a professional army gradually, and that the soldiers are to get preferential terms and scholarships when they finish the service and apply to universities. Emphasizing his cozy relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin believes that military chaplains will improve social relations in the army.

Having reformed the army, Putin has now set his sights on the military procurement process. Although he has waxed nostalgic about the Soviet Union, he presents himself to the voter as someone who is aware of its faults, thus distinguishing himself from the Communists.

Today Russia cannot maintain a military-industrial complex separate from the civilian economy, argues Putin. As in the West, innovations in the military sphere have to migrate and benefit the civilian economy. Conversely, Russia should follow the Western example and use civilian institutes to help find solutions for the army.