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Russian army not fit for modern war: top general

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s war with Georgia showed that most of its senior officers are not equipped or trained to fight a modern war, Russia’s top soldier said on Tuesday.

Newly appointed armed forces' chief of general staff General Nikolai Makarov meets Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (unseen) in the Kremlin in Moscow June 3, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Pool

Russia easily defeated its Western-leaning neighbor and briefly occupied large parts of the country after a five-day war in August, triggered by Tbilisi’s attempt to retake its rebel pro-Moscow South Ossetia region by force.

But the conflict exposed a lack of modern equipment, poor communications and other shortcomings in Moscow’s Soviet-era war machine, Nikolai Makarov, chief of the general staff, said.

“To find a lieutenant-colonel, colonel or general able to lead troops with a sure hand, you had to chase down officers one by one throughout the armed forces, because those career commanders in charge of ‘paper regiments and divisions’ just could not resolve the tasks set,” Makarov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

“When they were given personnel and equipment, they simply lost their heads, while some even refused to fulfill the given tasks,” Makarov told Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences.

“So I have a question: ‘Do we need such officers’?”

Foreign analysts and critics at home have expressed doubts Russia will be able to defeat a stronger force than Georgia, while the Defense Ministry unveiled a military reform plan aimed at creating a smaller, but better equipped and mobile army.

Russia’s army inherited a largely Soviet-era military structure, in which many units are run mainly or exclusively by officers, existing mostly on paper and ready to be mobilized with reservists in case of a large-scale war.


Makarov said 83 percent of today’s Russian army were numerically incomplete and only 17 percent were combat-ready.

“Of those 150 regiments in our air forces, there are only five ones permanently combat-ready and capable of fulfilling all tasks set, albeit with limited numbers -- operating just 24 aircraft instead of 36,” he said.

Makarov said a similar gloomy picture was seen in the navy, where “one half of warships stands idle at anchor.”

The defense ministry aims to trim the army to 1 million people in 2012 from today’s 1.13 million. Makarov said some 100,000 officers would be demobilized “in the nearest time.”

He said Russia would struggle to modernize 30 percent of its weapons by 2012 and up to 70 percent by 2020.

But as long as Russia’s conventional forces were in a poor state, Moscow would continue to rely heavily on its formidable arsenal of strategic nuclear forces.

“We attach and will continue to attach priority significance to our strategic nuclear forces,” Makarov said. “Under the cover of this shield, we must be guaranteed we will be able to implement the reform of our armed forces.”

Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth