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Makarov pledges to complete Russian army reform by 2012

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Russia's hard-charging chief of the general staff pledged Monday to complete the long-delayed and fiercely opposed restructuring of the Russian armed forces over the next four years.

"We are planning to complete a reform of the military within the next three or four years. The established time frame has not been revised," four-star army Gen. Nikolai Makarov announced, RIA Novosti reported.

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Makarov promised that when the reform was completed, the Russian armed forces would emerge from their shake-up streamlined, far faster-reacting and with modern 21st-century weaponry.

RIA Novosti noted that the ambitious reform program -- long pushed by former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and by former Defense Minister and current First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov -- would transform the longstanding four-level command and control structure of the Russian army to a three-stage one. Currently the system's four levels are military district, army, division and regiment. Under the new system there will be only three levels: military district, operational command and brigade.

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The reform plan will also drastically restructure the Russian Defense Ministry and the General Staff of the Armed Forces in Moscow, greatly reduce the number of commissioned officers and, most radical of all, completely get rid of the Russian army's legendary, tough non-commissioned officers corps.

The goal is to streamline the armed forces down to a total of 1 million serving personnel of whom 150,000 will be officers by 2012.

In terms of absolute numbers reduction, that goal is already near completion. RIA Novosti said the armed forces had already been reduced from their high level of 4.5 million in the last years of the Soviet Union to only 1.2 million today. However, the envisaged reforms, as well as eliminating all NCOs, will slash the number of remaining officers by more than half from their current level of 310,000 to only 150,000.

Makarov's ally, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, stated Russia would also sack almost one-fifth of its generals. There are currently 1,100 generals serving in the Russian armed forces, but 200 generals' positions will eliminated, he said, according to the RIA Novosti report.

Makarov and Serdyukov are also determined to cut civilian deadwood from the Russian Defense Ministry. They plan to slash the number of officials, both civilian and military, currently working at central headquarters and high-level command structures by no less than 60 percent from their current levels of 22,000 to only 8,500 by 2012, the report said.

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In line with the "leaner-meaner" fast-reaction structure that Russia's civilian leaders want to see in their armed forces, every one of Russia's six individual military districts is to receive its own airborne brigade that can serve as a rapid-reaction unit.

RIA Novosti said the new brigades would be used to carry out tactical missions "promptly and effectively."

One obvious mission of such brigades would be to react quickly to any major terrorist attack, such as the seizure of more than 1,100 people, including 777 schoolchildren, by Chechen terrorists in the southern Russian town of Beslan on Sept. 1, 2004. In the slow and bungled attack by Russian special forces, the terrorists were all killed, but not before they had massacred 334 people including 186 children.

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