HELSINGIN SANOMAT international

Foreign - Tuesday 21.5.2002

Georgij Alafuzoff sees no reason to fear the Russian military

 A Finnish officer of Russian ancestry with an inside view of Russia's army

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By Unto Hämäläinen

The marble plaque at the Academy bears the names of nine students of the class of 1999: seven Russians, one student from Belarus, and one Finn. The names are of those students who have received nothing but excellent marks. The Academy is Russia's top-rated military school. Students there are set to be future generals and admirals.
   
In his calm voice, Commodore Georgij Alafuzoff describes his successes in the Moscow Academy of the General Staff of Russia's armed forces.
   
He is the Finn on the marble plaque.
   
Alafuzoff studied at the academy in the years 1997 - 1999, and he probably has more direct knowledge of the Russian armed forces than any other Finn. The opportunity to study there was arranged through efforts of the Finnish Defence Forces, and took place after a lengthy pause: the previous occasion when a Finnish military officer had studied in Moscow was in the mid-1980s.

The name Alafuzoff is not typically
Finnish, and a look at his roots is in order. His father's family is from the old Russia - St. Petersburg - and his mother is a pure-bred Finn.
   
In the 1950s the family maintained old Russian traditions, and this is how the three-year-old Georgij started in preschool at Helsinki's Finnish-Russian school. At the age of 17 he matriculated from that same school and went to the University of Helsinki to study the Russian language and theoretical philosophy.
   
Although the year was 1971, he was not caught up in the student radicalism of the day. Instead, the young man found a home in the Finnish Defence Forces
   
"On May 2, 1973 I began my military service at Utti, and I have stayed in this field ever since."
   
Alafuzoff rose to the naval rank of commodore - the equivalent of a colonel. Most recently Alafuzoff served with the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and since February he has held an important position at the National Defence College at Santahamina in the eastern part of Helsinki, where the future commanders of the Finnish Defence Forces are trained.

Alafuzoff's strong linguistic background
, his interests, and his international work have made him an expert in affairs related to the Russian military, and it only takes one look at the map to understand how important his know-how is for the Finnish Defence Forces.
   
From the layman's point of view the most important question is whether or not the Russian armed forces pose a threat to Finland.
   
"Russia's armed forces are not a threat to Finland. Having said that I must point out that the armed forces of a democratic country are not a threat to any neighbour. It depends on political decisions if they become a threat or not."
   
First of all, Alafuzoff is convinced that Russia's armed forces are fully under the control of President Vladimir Putin and the country's government. He came to this view after speaking with his fellow students. During the presidency of Boris Yeltsin the armed forces were at times used as a pawn in Russia's internal disputes. This phase is now over.
   
The military brass accepts Putin's programme, under which he is trying to build a new Russia on the basis of "national interest, pragmatism, and economic efficiency".
   
"The military leaders recognise economic reality. I do not believe that they are building castles in the air about the bygone days of greatness."

In the Soviet years
there was no end to the money available to the armed forces. This lasted until the arms race with the United States helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
   
In retrospect, estimates have been made according to which at the end of the era, as much as 40 - 50% of the GDP of the Soviet Union was connected with the military-industrial complex, and with maintaining the armed forces in some way.
   
In the past ten years the armed forces have shrunk. Nowadays, only 2.5% of Russian GDP goes into defence spending. In the 1980s the Soviet Union had 5.8 million men in uniform. Nowadays there are just 1.2 million soldiers in the Russian armed forces.
   
The country's land forces have declined from 900,000 men to about 300,000. The effects of the decline are visible in the Leningrad military district near Finland.
   
Professional perks have been cut. During the Soviet years a military career was a guarantee of a good earnings and a large pension. This is no longer the case.
   
"The uncertainty of a military pension has awoken feelings of rebellion among the highest-ranking officers."

By European standards
Russia is still a military power. There are no other countries in Europe with a million men under arms. By way of comparison: The United States has 1.4 million soldiers, even though its resources are at a completely different level from those of Russia.
   
So why does Russia want to maintain such a large military?
   
Alafuzoff points out that Russia still needs to protect its borders. Conflicts are taking place constantly in the southern, southeastern, and southwestern parts of Russia. Chechnya alone requires a force of 10,000. Nor can Russia downplay the importance of its neighbour China, which is constantly upgrading its armed forces.
   
"Credibility is the greatest challenge facing the Russian armed forces: how to maintain that ability at a level that would make it possible to strike back if threatened."
   
Alafuzoff feels that it is self-evident that the armed forces will be cut back considerably in the coming years - possibly down to 800,000.
   
Russia will also have to decide if it will maintain conscription, or if it will establish a professional volunteer military.
   
Most Russian young men try to avoid conscription, and public opinion is heavily in favour of ending the draft. Alafuzoff does not believe that Russia can afford a professional army, as a contract soldier would cost about five times as much as a conscript.

Modernising Russia's weaponry
is another huge headache for the country's armed forces. The Soviet-era weapons and other equipment will become obsolete by the end of this decade.
   
According to some estimates, modernising the military would require USD 100 billion by the year 2010. Russia simply does not have that kind of money.
   
Output of Russia's defence industry has shrunk by 80% in the past ten years, arms production has gone down by 90%, and production of equipment for civilian use has declined by 75%. The cutbacks have led to an end of mass production of weapons and other military equipment.

And what about the enlargement of NATO
to the Baltic States? Do Russia's armed forces have the strength to prevent NATO expansion to Russia's borders?
   
During his studies in Moscow Alafuzoff focused on questions such as these. The topic of the final thesis of his first year was the development of the military situation in the Baltic Sea, and at the end of the second year he had to plan a military exercise with the purpose of repelling an attack from the west.
   
The assignments were demanding, and involved the understanding of extensive wholes - entire armies, and the composition of fronts. Alafuzoff had to come up with the organisation for an attack from the west, a defence plan aimed at thwarting the attack, and a war game in which the organisations that had been set up would pit themselves against each other. This final work was classified, and Alafuzoff was not allowed to bring it back to Finland with him.
   
As Alafuzoff sees it, Russia has the capability of making a show of force, but not really to use it. One possible show of force would be for Russia to move its forces closer to its borders, and deploy tactical nuclear weapons in new locations. These would naturally be serious signals, but Alafuzoff does not believe that Russia would even go so far as to make a show of force.
   
"It is likely that Russia would limit itself to political protests when NATO makes its enlargement decisions in the autumn."
   
Alafuzoff points out that the tone of the debate in Russia has changed. Before NATO was seen as a threat. Now the tendency is to almost downplay the very significance of the alliance.
   
"In Russia NATO is spoken of as an organisation with many problems, and whose future is uncertain. Often there is also an emphasis on differences between Western Europe and the United States, and how far behind the United States Western Europe is."
   
"It is all political rhetoric, and it is a way to manipulate the political atmosphere in Russia to accept the forthcoming enlargement. Russia cannot prevent it, so it must find some way to make it look more palatable."

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.5.2002


UNTO HÄMÄLÄINEN / Helsingin Sanomat
unto.hamalainen@sanoma.fi

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