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Dark rumors from Russia

An American businessman in Moscow, the managing director of Matrix
Technologies, recently described conditions in the Russian capital. He
said the city is heavily patrolled by police and army units. Vehicles
are routinely searched, papers are inspected, civil rights are
violated. But
Moscow’s police are not simply looking for terrorists. They are also
looking for “military-aged individuals” and persons with medical
experience. These are being taken for military training as part of a
“general preparation for war.”

We know that the Russian military began to expand its manpower base
in April, during the crisis in Kosovo. At that time nearly 170,000 new
recruits were called up in a special Russian military draft. There were
also reports that between 80,000 and 100,000 volunteers were recruited
to fight NATO in the Balkans. Throughout Russia, as well as other
former Soviet republics, there have been rumors that hundreds of
thousands of convicts have been offered amnesty in exchange for military
service. If you examine the naval and marine exercises of the past six
months (especially in the context of the mobilization of Russia’s Black
Sea Fleet), one cannot escape the suspicion that naval and marine
reserves have also been mobilized.

We know from Russian press reports that troops of the Interior
Ministry and Federal Security Service were secretly mobilized last
month. Exact numbers have not been published, though the strength of
MVD and FSS reserve forces is probably well over 200,000. What we have
inklings of, and what we read about in the Russian press, suggests a
large-scale military preparation. This preparation cannot be explained
by the situation in Chechnya. After all, Chechnya is a small place,
without a real army or air force. It should be pointed out that these
Russian mobilizations are too large for the Chechen theater of

It is remarkable, in this context, that we are constantly reading of
the weakness of Russia’s conventional armed forces. To give one
example, we read in a Oct. 7 Reuters article by Martin Nesirky that
“Russia now finds itself short of conventional weapons to fight Chechen
guerrillas in its own backyard.” Nesirky writes of a contrast between
Russia’s “creaking kit in the field and shining missiles in silos. …”
But this is an incorrect characterization. While it is true that Russia
has announced plans to deploy a second regiment of Topol-M ICBMs this
year, and Russia’s nuclear forces are wonderfully modernized, it is
untrue that Russia’s conventional forces lack equipment.

As it happens, we can deduce the minimum amount of military hardware
the Russians are deploying by doing a little homework.

In November of 1990 the Kremlin signed the Conventional Forces in
Europe treaty (CFE). This treaty limited the Russians to deploying
20,000 battle tanks, 20,000 artillery tubes, 6,800 combat aircraft,
30,000 other armored vehicles, and 2,000 attack helicopters west of the
Urals. In this context, it has been widely acknowledged that Russia
never conformed to the CFE Treaty. (Even the Encyclopedia Britannica
has numerous articles acknowledging Russian noncompliance with CFE.) In
fact, the Russian General Staff was blamed — early on — for sabotaging
the treaty. In the last few days the Kremlin has announced that it is
presently exceeding CFE force limits due to the crisis in the north

The number of 20,000 tanks is a gigantic figure. It is several times
the number of tanks used by Hitler to invade Russia in 1941. The number
of 6,800 combat aircraft is also huge. If Russia is exceeding CFE
limits in any of these areas then we cannot — we must not! — say that
Russia has an under-equipped army.

The military mobilization in Russia is something real. The official
reason for this mobilization is not to be trusted. As I have said
before, far more power is being mobilized than would be needed to crush
tiny Chechnya. So what is up? What are the Russian generals getting
ready for?

Members of an American church, who recently returned from mission
work in one of Russia’s largest cities, reported contacts with Russian
soldiers. These soldiers were “very disturbed” because they believed the
present Russian mobilization is aimed at the United States — not
Chechnya. In a related report, a recent American visitor to Russia was
privately informed by a Russian military officer that Russia had been
preparing for war against America for the last 17 months.

Are these reports credible?

We have to be careful about embracing stories that confirm our worst
fears. But if we look at such reports in the context of other
information — which is absolutely undeniable — then we have to say
that there is nothing inconsistent or surprising in the idea that Russia
is preparing for war with the United States.

Russia’s new ally — China — is also mobilizing. This is supposedly
a coincidence. The Taiwan Straits crisis just happens to coincide with
the Chechnya crisis. Therefore, the military mobilizations in both
countries are supposedly justified. But, if we have any strategic sense
at all, shouldn’t we be questioning this coincidence? Shouldn’t
somebody in the Pentagon be whispering in the president’s ear?

According to Eric Margolis of the Toronto Sun, President Clinton has
ordered the Pentagon to send state-of-the-art night vision equipment to
Russia for use in helicopter gunships. He is also having them send over
military communications gear. It is odd, to say the least, for the
United States to be sending military assistance to a country that has
more tanks and combat aircraft than just about any country on earth.

Moscow’s current disinformation campaign has worked wonders. Every
American who bothers to watch the six o’clock news imagines that Russia
has a military disaster on its hands. One hears, incredibly, that
Russia might even lose the war! After all, Chechnya defeated Russia
before. (One fairy tale sits atop another, each supporting the grand
fiction of Russian weakness.)

Russia’s filling up of tank and motorized rifle divisions is not
something spontaneous and of the moment. Last summer Russia curtailed
gasoline and diesel fuel exports, as well as exports of fuel oil.
Almost a year ago Russia cut her oil exports by more than 25 percent,
while increasing oil imports from Iraq. But Russia is supposedly
broke! She desperately needs cash, and 45 percent of Russia’s $80
billion in exports in 1997 came from fuel exports.

Why is this being done?

The truth is, a force exceeding 20,000 tanks and 30,000 armored
personnel carriers can suck a lot of fuel. Let me suggest that Russia
has planned the current mobilization for many months. Let me also
suggest that the Kremlin wants to be assured of its military supplies.
What we are seeing is not a panicked reaction to a few Chechen rebels
and terrorists. It is a carefully prepared and well-organized war
mobilization, involving countrywide civil defense drills and a massive
roundup of military-aged men and medical personnel.

A few columns ago I mentioned that there was a large number of
generals retained by the Russian military during its build-down. I
noted that the huge number of generals facilitated a sudden and
effective Russian mobilization. Shortly after my column appeared, the
Russian Defense Ministry announced plans to retire 300 generals and
admirals by December. The Russians also announced that 17,000 colonels
would also disappear by December.

It is a neat trick to claim you are exceeding the CFE force limits
while getting rid of nearly half the colonels in the Russian military.
I tip my hat to those humorous boys in the Russian Defense Ministry.
That’s a great gag. Keep the jokes coming!