Russian president Boris Yeltsin ended a month of Kremlin intrigue yesterday by appointing an ally of Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed to the post of defense minister. (Russian and Western agencies, July 17) Col. General Igor Rodionov, best known in the West for his role in the bloody suppression of civilians in Tbilisi, Georgia in April of 1989, had served as chief of Russia’s influential General Staff Academy since that time. Rodionov succeeds the unpopular Pavel Grachev, fired on June 18 following Lebed’s entry into the Kremlin, and becomes post-Soviet Russia’s second defense minister. His selection ends weeks of speculation during which Rodionov was only one of a half dozen "serious" contenders for the post mentioned in the mass media, and caps a spectacular series of corruption allegations that may have eliminated one of his chief rivals.
The appointment represents a victory for Lebed in his Kremlin power struggle with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and an unexpected personal triumph for the fifty-nine year-old Rodionov. In the mid-1980’s Rodionov had commanded the Soviet Union’s 40th army in Afghanistan and was subsequently appointed commander of the Transcaucasus Military District. Until April 1989, he was viewed as a rising star in the Soviet military establishment, with reasonable prospects of rising to the post of defense minister or general staff chief. The Tbilisi events changed all that, and Rodionov was hustled off to the General Staff Academy, where he remained an influential but generally low-key figure. In the Soviet Union’s dying days, however, he served as a deputy in the Congress of People’s Deputies and was a critic of the pro-Western policies pursued by the then Soviet leadership. Yesterday’s appointment comes in the twilight of his career, and confronts him with the daunting task of reforming a disorganized, politically divided, and demoralized army.
Igor Rodionov: Hard-Liner or Pragmatist?