MOSCOW - The chief of General Staff of the Russian armed forces warned Thursday that the military was in a "worse than critical" condition, plagued by poverty and rampant theft.
The statement from Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin was one of the most dramatic official acknowledgments of the desperate condition of the once-mighty military, which has fallen into decay since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Kvashnin warned that miserly military salaries were prompting an increasing number of officers to quit the ranks.
"If we fail to more than double wages, we will have no officers left," Kvashnin said at a military conference, according to the Interfax-Military News Agency. "Those in service since the Soviet times will leave, and there will be no one to replace them."
President Vladimir Putin has ordered the Cabinet to more than double military wages this year, but net incomes of officers have barely increased because the government simultaneously stripped the military of tax exemptions and other privileges. Officers' wages now hover around the equivalent of dlrs 100 a month.
Bad conditions in the military have encouraged widespread embezzlement and theft of military equipment. In one example, thieves stole 21 metric tons (23 tons) from a store of 170 metric tons (187 tons) of silver the military received for making and maintaining weapons and other equipment last year, Kvashnin said.
Scavenging of weapons for precious metals has become so prolific in the military that it has prompted enterprising anonymous publishers to print special scavenging instruction manuals complete with colorful pictures of missile components and other weapons parts that can be sold for scrap, Kvashnin said.
Senior military officers are often involved in thefts, said Alexander Savenkov, the first deputy chief Russian military prosecutor. He said that a general in charge of food procurement for interior troops in the Siberian Military District was currently under criminal investigation on charges of embezzling government funds.
A similar investigation has been launched against a top officer holding a similar position in the Moscow Military District, Savenkov said, according to the Interfax-Military News Agency.
The number of military crimes in the first quarter of this year reached 5,600, Savenkov said. Every fifth crime was committed by servicemen who were drunk, he said.
Putin's plan to abandon the unpopular draft and launch a swift transfer to a smaller professional army has met stiff resistance of the top brass, who say it would require a significant increase in the defense budget.