Russia imposes blackout on contested army reform: report
AFP - Sunday, November 30
MOSCOW (AFP) - - The Russian military has imposed an information blackout over its controversial army reforms amid increasing discontent within the forces over the changes, the Kommersant daily reported on Saturday.
The sweeping reforms, which envisage cuts in numbers and a radical reorganisation to make the army more mobile for the demands of modern warfare, have already met with criticism from military experts.
Armed forces chief of staff Nikolai Markov has signed a directive on the "inadmissibility of divulging information on the reform of the Russian armed forces", the newspaper said, without citing its source.
Using the terms used by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to describe his programme of reform and openness in the USSR, Kommersant headlined: "The army's perestroika will go ahead without glasnost."
It said the information ban was a direct result of public statements by military personnel criticising the reforms. Officers infringing the directive by talking to the media could face criminal proceedings, it added.
"Such a document is just one part of the chain in an attempt to keep the situation under control," Mikhail Babich, the deputy head of the lower house of parliament's defence committee told the newspaper.
"Irritation is growing in the army and in society. Hence the necessity to clamp down on information."
The full details of the reform plan drawn up by Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov have yet to be fully made public but are seen as a bid to make the military more responsive to the demands of modern conflict.
Under the reforms, the number of military units is to be slashed to 172 from the current 1,890 by 2012 and the main structural emphasis put on brigades rather than regiments, Kommersant said.
The number of officers is to be cut to 150,000 from 315,000 although the number of lieutenants will increase. The overall numbers in the armed forces are to be cut to 1 million from the current 1.13 million.
Military unease over the reforms has been compounded by the fact Serdyukov comes from a civilian background which saw him work in the furniture sector in Saint Petersburg before rising to head the federal tax service.
While the Russian army overwhelmed Georgia's US-trained forces in the August war, the conflict underscored the need for the armed forces to reform their Soviet-era structures.
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