Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 30

Rumors that Igor Rodionov’s days as Russia’s defense minister may be numbered have begun swirling in Moscow again following Rodionov’s February 6 warning that the armed forces are in a crisis state and that command and control over the country’s nuclear forces is growing ever more questionable. (See Monitor, February 12) A Russian daily intimated yesterday that Rodionov’s alarmist remarks were only the latest in a series of actions that have left Kremlin leaders disenchanted with him. The newspaper also quoted General Staff sources who speculated that both Rodionov and General Staff chief Viktor Samsonov might soon depart. Defense Council Secretary Yuri Baturin, a civilian, and Russian border forces chief Army General Andrei Nikolaev were tipped as the likely choices to step into the vacated posts. (Kommersant-daily, February 11) Nikolaev is a former first deputy General Staff chief who has enjoyed generally respectful treatment in the press since his appointment as border forces director in 1993.

Whether or not the dismissal rumors are true, they conjure up memories of former defense minister Pavel Grachev’s tenure as defense chief, when accusations of incompetence, allegations of corruption, and Grachev’s own penchant for cronyism transformed the Defense Ministry into a battlefield of intrigue and politicking. Rodionov has not been accused of corruption or cronyism, yet his brief stewardship of the Defense Ministry has been marked by equally destructive mis-steps and ill fortune.

It is sobering to consider that, by his own admission, Rodionov has been able neither to halt the army’s disintegration nor nudge it onto the path of reform since his appointment was greeted with considerable optimism some seven months ago. In the interim, the ill-effects of Rodionov’s poor political instincts have been greatly magnified by two major political developments: the departure from the Kremlin of Security supremo Aleksandr Lebed and Boris Yeltsin’s health-related incapacities. The first event embroiled Rodionov in political intrigues that have yet to be fully resolved and ultimately left him — and the cause of military reform — without a powerful political sponsor in the halls of power. Yeltsin’s absence has subjected defense policy to the same paralysis that has been evident in other key areas of Russian decision-making.

Nor has Rodionov helped himself by backing away recently from his earlier support for several of the Kremlin’s more radical defense reform proposals, including one that would cut the regular armed forces to 1.2 million men. Rodionov’s shift, together with the perception in the Kremlin that he is not a "team player," seem to be factors in the prominence increasingly being given by Russia’s political leadership to Baturin and his Defense Council. This rivalry between the Council and the Defense Ministry does the military establishment no good, and seems likely to politicize the defense reform process further.

Developments in Russian Policy Signal Intensified Pressure.