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By Graham Earnshaw

MANILA, Feb 19, Reuter – Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said on Monday that the Soviet Union was making big cutbacks in its military strength in Asia, but U.S. Defence Secretary Dick Cheney disagreed.

Gerasimov, addressing a seminar in the Philippine capital, confirmed that a number of Soviet military units had been withdrawn from the Cam Ranh Bay base in Vietnam, and added that military manoeuvres in the Pacific had been scaled back.

“There is no logic in suggesting that while the so-called Soviet threat is disappearing, if not disappeared, in Europe, it is unchanged or even increasing in Asia,” he said.

Cheney, also visiting Manila, to discuss the future of U.S. bases in the Philippines, told a news conference that while some cuts in U.S. military forces in Asia were being considered, the numbers would be modest.

“We do not see the equivalent kind of change in Asia and the Pacific that we’ve seen in Europe,” Cheney said.

“While there are some modest changes or modifications in the Soviet military posture in this part of the world, we have not had the kind of sweeping change here that we’ve seen in Europe,” he added.

Gerasimov, speaking to the One Asia Assembly, said the Soviet military withdrawals from Asia were significant.

“We are reducing our forces by half a million men and for our Asian part that means 200,000 less,” he said.

“We are putting out of commission more than 50 ships of our Pacific Navy, we are taking our MiGs and (long-range bombers) from Cam Ranh in Vietnam, we have reduced the scale of our naval manoeuvres in the Pacific,” Gerasimov said.

“If you look at a map or a globe, you can see that the Soviet Union is surrounded by bases… It is just a left-over from the old days. If the Americans want to keep them, I guess they must invent new reasons for that,” the Soviet spokesman added.

Cheney said he would submit a report to Congress by April on the U.S. military presence in Asia and the possibilities of reducing U.S. forces stationed in the region.

“I am not prepared today to announce a precise number. We are talking about a relatively modest change. We are not talking about sweeping change in U.S. deployment in Asia,” Cheney said.

Gerasimov said the Soviet military reductions he listed were aimed at making Asia more peaceful and prosperous, and said the Soviet Union had no enemies in Asia.

“Indeed, we have no enemies in the world,” he added. “We have only one country in the world which is not on speaking terms with us, and that is not our fault. We hope that Albania will turn to us soon.”

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