As expected, Boris Yeltsin’s May 16 decree ordering the elimination of unpopular conscript military service by the year 2000 has provoked criticism from the Communist opposition. (See Monitor, May 17) The head of the Duma Defense Committee, Viktor Ilyukhin, said May 17 that the Duma would first have to introduce amendments to the federal law on defense and to other relevant legislative acts. Lt. General Mikhail Surkov, deputy chairman of the Defense Committee, warned that the decree would be thoroughly debated by Duma committees and that its validity would be challenged in the Russian Constitutional Court if necessary. Like many others, Surkov criticized the short time frame laid out in the Yeltsin decree. He observed that contract servicemen currently comprise only 25-27 percent of the army’s soldiers and sergeants and that more than 50,000 such recruits have already broken their contracts because of poor living conditions. (Itar-Tass, May 17)
In Krasnoyarsk, Yeltsin feigned bewilderment over the Duma’s lack of enthusiasm, arguing that military reform must get started now. (Itar-Tass, May 17) Over the weekend Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin ordered Russia’s defense minister and other security chiefs to prepare the documents necessary for the transition, while the head of the president’s administration, Nikolai Yegorov, revealed that the decree was only one element in a larger package of military reform measures. He suggested that the armed forces would be cut to no more than 1.5 million soldiers. (ORT, "Vremya," May 18; Interfax, May 19)
Chechnya: Ambiguous Signals on Possible Presidential Visit.