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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

World: Europe

Russia's army: Demoralised and ill-equipped

Low morale taking its toll on the armed forces

The Russian armed forces are in a woeful state, with the country's economic crisis frustrating attempts to turn them into a more professional body.

Military expert Anatole Lieven: "The Russian army is demoralised and pretty badly equipped"
They are undermanned because of draft-dodging and the shortage of funds means they are poorly maintained and equipped.

The cash crisis has hit hardest the mechanised infantry and artillery units.

With no money to pay wages, young, well-qualified officers have been quitting the military. According to a recent report, the armed forces are expected to be short of about 19,000 officers this year.

Battle for the Caucasus
The army's standing in society has plummeted in the last 10 years. Many of its best officers have left for lucrative jobs in the civilian world.

In its early days, the army was ill-equipped, but fired with enthusiasm and had high morale. Nowadays it is ill-equipped but lacking in enthusiasm and morale is at rock bottom.

Chechnya failure

That lowest point came when the army failed to crush the Chechen rebels after two years of fighting - and there are fears that the fighting in Dagestan will see a repeat of that humiliation.

[ image: Committed: Russians failed to break Chechen rebel's spirit]
Committed: Russians failed to break Chechen rebel's spirit
During the two years of bitter and vicious fighting over the breakaway republic between 1994 and 1996, Russian forces left the capital Grozny in ruins.

But they failed to break the spirit of the well organised rebels who proved adept at conducting a war of attrition by moving out of mountain bases and selectively striking at Russian forces.

Rebels went on to strike at Russian targets in neighbouring republics and took civilian hostages, piling political pressure on Moscow.

By the time the war ended, many ordinary Russians held President Boris Yeltsin responsible for the carnage and the political fall-out continues to this day.

Chechnya parallels

The Kremlin has insisted that the military campaign in Dagestan will not turn into another war in the Caucasus - a statement reminiscent of those made at the outset of the fighting over Chechnya.

[ image: Demoralised: Russian soldiers are ill-equipped]
Demoralised: Russian soldiers are ill-equipped
Anatole Lieven, of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, warns that Russia's accounts of the fighting should be viewed sceptically.

"I think we have to very cautious about Russia's officials statements, remembering how inaccurate and mendacious the propaganda was during the Chechen war," he said.

"If the Russians keep up the pressure, the rebels will fall back into Chechnya - but they could come back at another time."

"But this is different from the Chechen war because here most of the local people don't support the rebels. If they try and break out of this area, fewer and fewer people will come to their side."

Proud history

The present Russian Army has its roots in a decree issued by Lenin's Bolsheviks 80 years ago. Three and a half months after the so-called Bolshevik Revolution, the Bolsheviks seriously feared that they were about to lose their grip on the cradle of the Revolution, Petrograd.

[ image: Another war? Moscow says not]
Another war? Moscow says not
They called for volunteers to join them to save the city; and this ragtag bunch of untrained soldiers was credited with being the founding unit of the Red Army.

The new Red Army commanders realised that there was a wealth of untapped military talent from which they could benefit, and soon ex-Tsarist officers were recruited to knock the new army into shape.

It was largely thanks to the expertise of these "military specialists," and the disorganised nature of the "White" opposition, that the Red Army was to emerge victorious when the Civil War finished in 1922.

The Red Army's greatest moment of glory came with the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. It also set the tone for the army's high standing in society for the next 40 years.

In the nuclear age, the Soviet Communist Party maintained that the Soviet Union was in imminent danger of attack, and the Soviet Army, as it was renamed after the Second World War, was the country's reliable defender.

But the debacle of the Soviet Army's performance in Afghanistan in the 1980's largely put paid to this myth of invincibility.

The subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union saw the army, along with many other areas of society, fall into a depressed and penniless state.

There has been talk of military reform in Russia ever since. Until concrete measures are taken, all that the modern Russian Army will share with those who answered the call to arms in 1918 is its lack of up-to-date equipment.

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