Two months after the previous commander of the Airborne Troops had been sacked, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday named Lt. Gen. Georgi Shpak to the post, thus ending speculation that a non-paratrooper might be brought in to lead the airborne forces during their controversial downsizing. Shpak once commanded the 76th Airborne Division and most recently was chief of staff of the Volga Military district. His name had been mentioned for the airborne position in mid-November. Shpak fought in Afghanistan and his son, an airborne lieutenant, was killed in Chechnya last year.
Yeltsin’s decree was said to have been signed on December 4, but the appointment was only made public yesterday when Shpak was introduced to his new staff. The same decree formally dismissed his predecessor, Col. Gen. Yevgeny Podkolzin, on the grounds that he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. That was also the reason given when he was sacked on October 3. (Interfax, December 10) Podkolzin, who turned 60 last April, is believed to have been an opponent of the Defense Ministry’s plans to downsize the Airborne Troops. Those plans have created considerable dissension in the ranks of the elite forces.
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