Soviet Defense Minister Pushes for Rapid Reform
THE newly appointed Soviet defense minister, Air Force Comdr. Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, has moved quickly to align himself with those advocating serious military reform."We are ready to make a transition to a professional army," he said Aug. 26, hours before he was promoted to the rank of Marshal. The call to transform the largely conscript Soviet Army into a professional force has been a key demand of military reformers. "But it will take some time," the new senior defense official quickly added. "Such decisions cannot be implemented overnight. Sociological research should be conducted among young men from 18 to 30 years old in order to determine how many of them are willing to serve in a professional army. We should determine our financial means, but it is not for me but for the parliament to decide." Marshal Shaposhnikov's remarks followed an interview Aug. 25, in which he pledged to carry out a wholesale replacement of senior military commanders, many of whom were implicated in last week's attempted coup. "Eighty percent of the command will be renewed," he told Soviet television. Their replacements will be younger, he added. The new minister, who replaced Marshal Dmitri Yazov after Marshal Yazov's arrest for his part in the coup, backed moves to remove all political structures from the military. Loyalty to the constitution will be the new principle for personnel selection, he said. "Personal loyalties will not be taken into consideration. They should be people of the highest moral qualities and professionalism." Shaposhnikov drew praise from Maj. Vladimir Lopatin, a young air force officer who led the movement for reform and serves as a deputy head of the Russian republican government's defense organization. Maj. Lopatin told the Monitor the organization had received calls from military officers across the country. "They said the Air Forces were up to the mark, and we can count on the new minister to bring the whole armed forces up to the same mark. My attitude is the same. Military reform has already started with the resignation of the old military leadership and departy-ization of the armed forces." Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in his speech to the parliament on Aug. 26, called for establishing stricter controls over the armed forces' activities. Such controls "will become a major part of the new law on military reform," which he urged the parliament to pass quickly. Mr. Gorbachev backed the need to "increase the professional makeup of the Army." Military reform expert Sergei Blagovolin, of the prestigious Institute for World Economy and International Relations, praised the new minister as a "good professional soldier and an honest person." He also backed the appointment of former Warsaw Pact commander Vladimir Lobov to replace coup-tainted General Mikhail Moiseyev as Chief of the General Staff. Mr. Lobov, "is quite conservative, but he is an honest soldier," he said. But Mr. Blagovolin warned that Shaposhnikov is "not very popular throughout the military." He is the first Air Force general to be named defense minister, a post reserved virtually exclusively for the powerful ground forces. Sergei Tsyplyaev, a liberal member of the parliament's defense and security committee, cautioned the appointment should be viewed as an interim one. The need to put the military under the control of the constitutional authorities means that "it is necessary to have a civilian minister," he told the Monitor.