Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 238

It appears that the director of the Federal Border Service (FBS), Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, has submitted his resignation once too often. On December 18, President Boris Yeltsin accepted Nikolaev’s latest letter and dismissed him from the service. He appointed Col. Gen. Aleksandr Tymko — who had been the service’s first deputy commander — as acting director of the FBS.

The incident that seems to have prompted both Nikolaev’s resignation and Yeltsin’s response was the president’s recent decision to remove a Russian border checkpoint from Georgian territory and relocate it some 1,400 meters into Russian territory. (See Monitor, December 10, 12) But this incident was merely the proverbial last straw, and Yeltsin’s spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, declined to confirm reports linking Nikolaev’s departure with the Georgian-Russian border dispute. Yastrzhembsky added that Yeltsin had been dissatisfied for some time with several aspects of the work of FBS. (NTV, December 20; Radio Russia, December 21)

Nikolaev was clearly a man of great ability and ambition. His career had been in the regular army — not the Border Troops — where he had been singled out as a future star by receiving a number of promotions ahead of schedule. In July 1992, he was named First Deputy Chief of the General Staff when only 43 years old. In August of the following year Nikolaev was unexpectedly named to lead the Border Troops. In that position he seemed to be more eager to compete with the regular armed forces than to cooperate with them. Nikolaev won most of the jurisdictional battles and joined with Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov in fending off the efforts of the General Staff and Defense Ministry to gain more control over the military forces commanded by the FBS and the MVD.

More recent developments in the area of military reform had suggested, however, that the tide might be turning in favor of the regular armed forces. Nikolaev recently issued a sort of preemptive reform plan of his own, but few could believe that he had suddenly decided to become a team player. Anonymous Kremlin sources accused Nikolaev of "Bonapartism" and ticked off his chronic conflicts with virtually every other federal ministry.

Yeltsin opponents immediately came to the general’s defense. Former Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed criticized the dismissal while describing Nikolaev as "a strong-willed and smart man." The maverick leader of the LDPR, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, also deplored Nikolaev’s sacking, saying the members of the faction he leads in the Russian Duma would retaliate by refusing to vote for the federal budget, which is due to receive its second reading in the Russian parliament on December 24. Without the votes of the 50 members of Zhirinovsky’s faction, the budget is quite likely not to pass in its second reading. Yeltsin has indicated, meanwhile, that he will explain his action more fully in a few days and even hinted that he would find another suitable post for Nikolaev within the government. The last thing Yeltsin needs is to put another disgruntled, ambitious, and charismatic ex-general on the streets. (Russian media, December 18-21)

International Conference on Chechnya in Kazan.