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08/04/1998 15:44:34 FOCUS-Russia may split atomic forces three ways

By Robert Eksuzyan

MOSCOW, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Russia, eager to make the most of its meagre

military funds, is planning a major shake-up in its nuclear forces that could

split its atomic weapons between the army, navy and air force.

Alexei Liss, spokesman for the advisory but influential Security Council,

told Reuters on Tuesday a newspaper report that the Strategic Rocket Forces

would be disbanded altogether as a separate unit by 2001 was too strident.

"The Strategic Rocket Forces will be transformed in their work, command and

structure into three major spheres," he said. "That is the command for the use

of nuclear forces in the air, on the ground and in the sea."

"All branches will have their own command subordinated to a general united

command. This transition is planned to be finished by 2001, although it is only

a concept and subject to changes," Liss said.

Long on the drawing board but still not fully in the public domain, the

grand concept also gives increased clout to the Defence Ministry at the expense

of the other "power" agencies dealing with security, such as the Interior

Ministry.

"The Russian state, in its seventh year of existence, has finally decided

what it wants from its military forces," wrote commentator Ilya Bylavinov in the

daily newspaper Kommersant.

Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin gave some details on Monday. But

televised excerpts did not mention nuclear arms.

"The military will do away with one of its four existing branches of the

armed forces," Kommersant reported. "By 2001, the Defence Ministry has to

liquidate the Strategic Rocket Forces as an independent structure and divide its

forces between ground troops, the air force and the navy."

Liss said this report was too strongly put. A Defence Ministry spokesman

said all would become clear at a news conference soon. Air force spokesman

Colonel Alexander Drobushevsky told Reuters: "If we get, as reported today,

nuclear missiles for the air force, they will be used and handled strictly

according to international regulations and laws."

The Russian nuclear forces, inherited from the Soviet Union, include

hundreds of strategic atomic weapons on submarines, in silos or on special

trains and vehicles. There are also bombs carried by aircraft. However, until

now the command structure has been heavily centralised.

Kokoshin said on Monday Russia would be focusing its military efforts on

training a small, crack force ready to intervene in regional or local conflicts

along the border of theformer Soviet Union or inside Russia.

Since the collapse of communism in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, Russia

has acknowledged the likelihood of an all-out attack from abroad is unlikely.

"We have carried out sober analysis of the situation and strict analysis of

conditions, without closing our eyes to the critical financial situation and the

very tough restrictions which this situation entails," Kokoshin said.

The plan seeks to trim the number of military departments and non-defence

units to create greater efficiency and save money. The nuclear shake-up should

be seen in the same light.

Yeltsin has pressed for military reforms leading to a fully professional --

as opposed to conscript -- force. But Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev and his

predecessors have been hampered by Russia's financial hard times, poor morale,

low call-up rates, bullying in the ranks and creaking equipment.

The new document, to be supplemented by an updated military doctrine later

this year, makes clear conscription will have to be used for some time to come,

Kommersant said.

In a move welcomed by Moscow but which Soviet-era officers would doubtless

perceive as the ultimate humiliation, Western defence attaches handed over aid

on Tuesday for children whose fathers died in service.

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