Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 148

With only a few exceptions, Russian observers have interpreted Boris Yeltsin’s creation last week of a new defense agency, the Defense Council, as primarily a political move that will effectively counter-balance the authority of Aleksandr Lebed and his Russian Security Council. (Interfax, July 26, 29) Not surprisingly, such was not necessarily the expected outcome even a short time ago. According to Segodnya military analyst Pavel Felgengauer, it was already recognized in the government some months ago that a new agency was sorely needed in order to coordinate force development — and eliminate wasteful duplication of effort — among Russia’s numerous military organizations. With that goal in mind, several proposals were drafted aimed at empowering a new Defense Council to make decisions binding on all ministries, even in the absence of the president. More recently, it was assumed that Lebed would be named secretary of this new council, thus providing him with a vehicle to act in the president’s absence and granting him the "additional powers" in the defense arena that he had earlier demanded. (Segodnya, July 27)

But, as media commentaries have noted, virtually all of the key members of Lebed’s Security Council now sit on the Defense Council, while Lebed’s own status in the new body has been limited to that of a regular member. As now constituted, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin would stand in for Yeltsin in the latter’s absence, and Yuri Baturin, whom Lebed had replaced as Yeltsin’s national security advisor, has been reborn as Defense Council secretary. The new council, which is expected to meet at least once a month starting in September, is also projected to possess a staff in excess of 50 people, considerably more than the Security Council.

In policy terms, those involved have said that the Security Council will continue to deal with "strategic" questions, while the Defense Council will be limited to the more pragmatic tasks of implementing military reform and Security Council decisions on military issues.(Itar-Tass, July 25) But, as one commentary noted, the new division of labor appears to distance Lebed from the straight defense issues upon which he built much of his presidential campaign. (NTV, July 28) That development could weaken the retired general’s ties to the armed forces, his principle political base, and leave him fighting a high-profile battle against crime in which the risk of failure is high. Of equal import for Russia is the possibility that Yeltsin sees one or both defense agencies primarily in political terms, and that military reform will fall victim to continued Kremlin intrigue.

Moscow Moves to Settle Far East Strikes.