From .......... Associated Press

October 25, 1994 MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian Orthodox Church and military leaders pledged to work together to fill the ideological vacuum left by the collapse of communism.

Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, told a conference of clergymen and military officers Tuesday.

Russia's military has been squeezed by funding cuts since the 1991 Soviet collapse, and has been struggling to redefine its mission.

Earlier this year, Alexy and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev signed an accord to broaden contacts between the church and military. The church has ordered that prayer books be distributed among the troops and told its priests to expand military contacts. It has even offered to help coax reluctant draftees to join army ranks.

The Defense Ministry, searching for a substitute for the communist indoctrination of troops during the Soviet era, has welcomed the church's overture.

Before the Soviet collapse, every army unit had a propaganda officer to spread communist ideology. Such officers still bear responsibility for morale -- but they have been left without a doctrine.

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on Tuesday said troop numbers will be reduced to 1.9 million by January, midway between the 2.3 million in service at the beginning of the year and the 1.5 million envisioned in the leaner army Yeltsin has pledged.

Grachev has pledged to carry out Yeltsin's orders, but he opposes budget-cutting measures. Earlier this week, he branded proposed military spending "clearly insufficient."

The defense minister has been on the defensive since a bomb blast Oct. 17 killed a Moscow newspaper reporter investigating military corruption. The newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, has accused Grachev of involvement in the case.

Yeltsin has defended Grachev, who has sued for libel.

On Tuesday, Grachev blamed the murder on gangsters. "There are forces ... which want to weaken the president's influence on the army," he told the daily Izvestia.