Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russian Defense Ministry Mulls Setting Up National Guard-Type Units in Regions and Republics

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 26 – “Rumors are circulation in Russia’s Defense Ministry” that Moscow intends to support the appearance of “regional military units,” entities that could provide employment for demobilized officers and a cash savings for the central government but that might, should the center weaken again, create new problems, a Moscow analyst says.
In an article on the “Nasha Versiya” portal, Ruslan Gorevoy says that up to now, this possibility of an “alternative” form of military formation “is being considered as an experiment” in the ministry; “but,” he adds, “certain republics and oblasts will be in a position to make the first steps toward the creation of their own military units.”
The notion of creating such forces, the analyst says, “at first glance appears absurd, but people in the know explain” that it is a very real proposal because Moscow wants to save money by reducing the size of the officer corps but to retain the services of these professionals if needed (
It is “no secret,” Gorevoy continues, that the first places these units are being formed are in the North Caucasus. A defense ministry expert says that there are already all the preconditions necessary for such a step: The Caucasians “prefer to serve at home,” and the high command isn’t as opposed to that as its Soviet predecessors were.
Many officers being demobilized, given the relatively small size of their pensions, are threatened with poverty, and the formation of such units would not only give them additional income and income from the regional rather than the federal service but ensure that their services would be available, the expert continued.
Moreover, he continued, “analogous formations could appear also in Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk, and Orenburg oblasts, where Duma deputy and Don Cossack Ataman Viktor Vodolatsky suggests they could perform a role much like the Cossacks aspire to, providing backup for the militia and also patriotic training for the young.
According to Gorevoy, ministry experts “consider that the risk of insubordination” to Moscow commands by such units is “extremely small.” That might have been possible in the 1990s, they say, but “not now” – although they do not address the question of what might happen if the currently “strong central power” were to weaken again.
The ministry experts, the “Novaya Versiya” commentator says, are currently examining the national guard system in the United States as well as regionally-based forces in Norway and Switzerland as possible models for what the Russian Federation might do. And they are also looking at national precedents for such formations.
Some regional forces existed under Peter I, and others were created during the Napoleonic wars. More recently, “there were attempts” to create such units after World War II, when Moscow took steps to create “regional military units” not directly subordinate to Moscow but to “local centers” in “unstable” places like the Baltics and Western Ukraine.
And still more recently, “at the beginning of the 1990s,” Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiyev and Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel sought to create such units, but they did not receive “support from the Ministry of Defense.” And as far as most people were concerned, the idea was “forgotten.”
But it is being recalled now because of the major reforms of the Russian military that Moscow is seeking to carry out. And it is gaining support because officers see this as a way of avoiding a tragic situation like the one that faced many former officers when the Soviet military was downsized by Nikita Khrushchev.
Gorevoy notes that any such units formed “will not have nuclear weapons” or other advanced systems. Consequently, “they will not be capable of developing into a complete military force.” Moreover, the chances that they could be used for illegal purposes like raider attacks are “not high” since they will be subordinate to both the defense ministry and the regions.

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