Mikhail Metzel  /  AP
The protest was prompted by Under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's reforms; under them, as many as 200,000 officers have lost their jobs and nine of every 10 army units have been disbanded. 
By
updated 11/7/2010 10:17:40 AM ET 2010-11-07T15:17:40

More than 1,000 Russian military veterans and active servicemen rallied Sunday to demand the ouster of the defense minister, a civilian who is carrying out a radical reform of Russia's armed forces.

The rally was organized by veterans from the Airborne Forces, considered the most professional and proud branch of the military. But members of other branches also took part, as well as monarchists, nationalists and hardline Orthodox Christians.

Under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's reforms, as many as 200,000 officers have lost their jobs and nine of every 10 army units have been disbanded. The reforms, which have strong backing from the Kremlin, are aimed at turning Russia's bloated and inefficient military into a modern force.

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Speaker after speaker accused Serdyukov of selling out the army, threatening Russia's security and acting in the interests of Zionists. Anti-Semitic sentiments permeated many of the speeches.

Retired Col. Vladimir Kvachkov, who served in military intelligence, said plans were being made to fight back.

"Paratroopers, we haven't carried out our main special operation, our main battle, yet," he said. "Our special operation, our main (missile) launch, our main campaign at sea are ahead."

Kvachkov, 62, spent three years in prison on charges of attempting to kill Anatoly Chubais, who was instrumental in the privatizations of Russian industry in the 1990s. He was acquitted in 2008.

The rally was triggered by Serdyukov's visit to the Airborne Forces Academy, where he gave a harsh dressing-down to the head of the academy over the unauthorized construction of an Orthodox church on its grounds.

Many of the participants in Sunday's rally said they were angry that Serdyukov did not want to see churches built on military bases.

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They also bristled at being led by a civilian defense minister, the country's first in 90 years.

"We hope that civil servant Serdyukov — I cannot say 'comrade' or use his military rank, if he has one — will listen to us and submit his resignation of his own free will, but there is no tradition of this in Russia," said retired Lt. Col. Vladimir Bondarenko, 50.

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