Russian Parliament Resists Calls to Boost Military Budget
RUSSIA'S financially strapped military has lost a bitter political battle after lawmakers in parliament's lower house voted to adopt a tight 1994 budget that provides for only an insignificant increase in defense spending.
Deputies in the State Duma voted 227-40 with 32 abstentions on Wednesday to approve the draft budget, ignoring a Tuesday call by President Boris Yeltsin to raise defense spending to offset inflation. The Russian Army has enjoyed President Yeltsin's patronage since it defended him against his opponents in the former Soviet-style parliament when they staged a bloody uprising last October. Yeltsin's press office could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The stringent budget, originally sent forward by the Finance Ministry, has received strong backing from reform-minded spenders in Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's government, the International Monetary Fund, and other lending organizations. It calls for a deficit of 70 trillion rubles ($36 billion), less than 10 percent of the gross domestic product.
Allowing for substantial budget increases could lead the government to print more money, an inflationary step considered anathema to organizations such as the IMF, which tentatively approved a $1.5 billion loan to Russia in March that hinged on Mr. Chernomyrdin's promise to push through the tight budget.
Keeping in that spirit, lawmakers resisted calls to consider nearly 300 amendments to the budget that would primarily raise spending, approving instead several government changes that set spending at 193.3 trillion rubles ($101 billion), and revenues at 124.4 trillion rubles ($65 billion). Another approved 4 trillion ruble increase ($2.1 billion) will support the police and social and cultural programs.
Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Grachev, the most outspoken proponent of increased defense spending, has lobbied furiously for military expenditures to be raised from 37.1 trillion rubles ($19 billion) to 55 trillion rubles ($28 billion).
The revised budget draft envisages only a 3.5 trillion ($1.8 billion) increase in defense spending, considerably less than the 18 trillion ruble ($9.4 billion) increase that defense officials desperately wanted. In a Tuesday interview with the Trud newspaper, General Grachev angrily warned that Russia's once-powerful military lacked funds to survive, saying it had existed on ``starvation rations'' for the past two years. The Defense Ministry had also asked for increased funds from the budget for equipment and scientific research, but the final draft allocates considerably less money for those purposes than officials had wanted.
Observers in the military-industrial enterprise have warned that the discrepancy will cause enterprise closures, mass layoffs, and social tensions. Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin has predicted that 3,000 military enterprises, 4 million defense employees, and 15 million of their dependents will be affected.
``This money is needed so that the Army can survive, not for [officers to live] a luxurious life,'' Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Vladimir Kosyrev said in an interview yesterday. ``We are sticking firmly to our position and will keep on protecting our interests.... Let's hope common sense will ultimately triumph.''
More than 74 percent of officers' families live below the poverty level, the Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) military newspaper reported yesterday, quoting Defense Ministry figures.
The budget draft is still required to undergo a third and final hearing in the Duma, which is considered a formality, before it is sent to the less powerful Federation Council, or parliament's upper house. If it is voted down there, it will have to muster at least a two-thirds majority in the State Duma to be passed.