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Russian Defense Officials Warn Of Disaster from Budget Cuts

By Lee Hockstader
The Washington Post

Taking out a tough bargaining stance, Russian defense officials are warning of an economic and security disaster if the government goes ahead with planned deep reductions in the armed forces' budget.

The Defense Ministry's highest-ranking civilian predicted that spending levels proposed by the government would trigger the closing of 3,000 defense-related factories, put 4 million people out work, leave a tenth of Russia's population with no means of support and cripple Russia's defense capability, the influential newspaper Sevodnya reported Thursday.

"It's clear that we will lose control of the country's armed forces" if the budget reductions are carried out, Sevodnya quoted First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin as telling government officials.

While Kokoshin's predictions were no doubt alarmist, his reported remarks were a clear signal that the armed forces, already reeling from a loss of prestige and funding, feel deeply threatened by the new round of cuts - and intend to fight them. The military's concerns will be heard, perhaps with some sympathy, in the reform-resistant Russian parliament, which has yet to take up the government's proposed budget.

"With this level of financing, neither the country's defense capability nor its defense industry could be preserved," Kokoshin said, according to Sevodnya.

He predicted that untold numbers of cities and towns in Russia would become social disaster areas if there are widespread closings of defense plants, which are often the main or only employers and providers of social welfare.

The budget proposed by the government for 1994 includes about $22 billion for the armed forces - less than half the $47 billion that the Defense Ministry insists is necessary to stay even with last year's spending.

The deepest cuts would come in the purchase of arms and equipment. While the armed forces wants $16.6 billion to buy weapons, the government is offering just a fifth of that amount - $3.2 billion.

As published, the proposed Russian military expenditures are less than a tenth of the 1994 Pentagon budget of $252 billion. Nonetheless, they would still make up about a fifth of all Russian state spending if the budget were approved by the parliament as is.

Kokoshin warned that the proposed budget would force the military to dismiss some 400,000 people, half of them with no severance pay or place to live, according to Sevodnya.

The armed forces' protestations are part of the most public budget-making procedure ever in Russia-a competition for scarce rubles that in the past took place behind closed doors. This year, the democratically elected parliament will be the venue for competing lobbies and regional interests that will make their case to lawmakers.