ON the eve of United States Defense Secretary William Perry's visit to Moscow, Russia's Defense Minister warned that proposed budget cuts could harm reforms in Russia's struggling military and threaten its ability to defend itself.
Gen. Pavel Grachev said yesterday that the proposed budget satisfies only about 47 percent of defense needs for 1994. The draft budget sets defense spending levels at 37.1 trillion rubles (about $24 billion), around 20 percent of Russia's 1994 total budget.
``We cannot carry out any reforms if the Defense Ministry has no money,'' General Grachev said at a news conference. ``If problems continue in the near future and the financial situation doesn't change, we cannot begin to talk about Russia's safety.''
The proposed budget set forth by the Finance Ministry was approved in principle during a government meeting on March 3, during which Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin stressed that new inflationary spending would not be allowed.
But officials in the defense sector have vowed to battle against the proposed cuts, saying they will wrestle with the government and parliament for a reassessment of the budget rather than be led down the path to ruin. Grachev's comments, coming on the eve of Secretary Perry's visit to Moscow, could embarrass Russian officials who are seeking to portray Russia as a mighty world power not content to play second fiddle to Washington.
The two defense chiefs will meet today at the beginning of Perry's six-day visit to Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. They intend to discuss joint-peacekeeping operations, nuclear weapons cuts, the situation in Bosnia, and Russian-US relations, Grachev said.
Pavel Felgengauer, a military observer for the Segodnya newspaper, said that while the draft budget allocates 5.5 trillion rubles for equipment and scientific research, the Defense Ministry has asked for 28.3 trillion rubles for these purposes.
The government has asked for further cuts, including slashing the number of Army personnel by 400,000 in 1994, about 20 percent of current forces, Mr. Felgengauer says. Military officials have agreed to cut only half that number this year. Grachev, however, scoffed at the idea of renewed tensions in society and stressed that the military remains nonpoliticized.
Commenting on statements that Russia faces another coup uttered Tuesday by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky while meeting with former US President Nixon, Grachev laughed that nobody was left in power to act against President Boris Yeltsin.