Officer voices 'soul's pain' over Soviet forces'future

January 18, 1992|By Carey Goldberg | Carey Goldberg,Los Angeles Times Knight-Ridder Newspapers contributed to this article.

MOSCOW -- Standing before khaki-clad multitudes of his fellow officers yesterday, Lt. Col. Melis Bekbasynov abandoned his army-bred stoicism and gave voice to his pain.

"The army is my army," he said emphatically. "For me, it's the measuring stick of my life. It's my pride, my soul's pain, my labor and sweat. It's my entire life. It's my father, who defended Leningrad, and my brothers, officers of the armed forces. What is happening to all of it?

"And who decreed," Colonel Bekbasynov asked, his sadness giving way to the anger that played often over the thousands of clean-shaven faces, "that we should sacrifice our fates and the well-being of our families on the altar of the vanity of a few current leaders?"

The former Soviet military's officer corps gathered 5,000 strong yesterday in the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses. It was a group of very troubled men, each uncertain of the future that was once assured him as a member of the world's largest armed forces and the servant of a superpower.

In a 25-minute speech Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin vowed he would try to keep the armed forces united and offered concessions such as land grants and payments in U.S. dollars of up to $3,000, but he warned the officers to remain calm.

"The appearance of the military on the political scene itself reflects the unhealthy state of the society and the military. I appeal to the officers, to your dignity, to maintain civil peace," Mr. Yeltsin said.

When only lukewarm applause greeted his promises, the president tried prompting his audience. "What is it? Aren't these good measures?" he asked, finally prying a second round of clapping from the crowd.

With the massive Soviet military's breakup among the former Soviet republics now looking more and more inevitable, fathers are worrying about facing their soldier sons across a battlefield, if they end up serving different states. Officers are watching the unity of their troops give way to ethnic enmity. And seasoned veterans are wondering whether anyone will pay them a pension.

Officer after officer expressed indignation and anxiety, both in strident public speeches from the podium at the nationally televised All-Army Officers Assembly and in private remarks during breaks in the freezing air of Red Square.

For some, the breakup of the 3.7 million-member former Soviet armed forces threatened personal abasement, as the 11 members of the Commonwealth of Independent States potentially take over some troops on their territories and send back home those who refuse to swear allegiance.

Adm. Igor Kasatonov, who commands the Black Sea Fleet that both Ukraine and Russia have laid claim to, complained, "In the history of all states, in the history of all civilized humanity, there has never been a precedent that, along with an army's property, arms and supplies, its people were nationalized, as well."

Consider, Admiral Kasatonov said, the case of the Kochezhkov brothers. They are identical twins, sons of a Ukrainian mother and a Russian father, both navy officers, one based in the port of Baltiysk and serving in the Baltic Fleet, the other serving in the Black Sea Fleet.

"Now, they are foreigners to each other," he said. "And if the Black Sea Kochezhkov refuses to swear allegiance to Ukraine, first he'll be an

occupier, and then a refugee. And he and his family will have to move to his brother's two-room apartment in Baltiysk. And I'm sure the six of them will be very happy in that two-room apartment in Baltiysk."

Other officers warned candor that the armed forces were showing signs that their capabilities are being badly hurt by the turmoil.

Senior Lt.Andrei Podgornov,commander of a launch unit in the Strategic Rocket Forces,said his troops'technical supplies were endangered by the growing economic barriers among former Soviet republics.

The unit's "combat control apparatus"is made in Ukraine,he said.But the chassis for its launchers is from Belarus and its diesel generators from Latvia.Further,Lieutent Podgornov said bluntly,the general "state of uncertainty is hurting the troop's combat readiness."

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