Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 186

Kremlin intrigue deepened in recent days even as the Russian government seemed set at last to initiate a military reform effort that had been anticipated since Boris Yeltsin’s election victory and the mid-July appointment of Igor Rodionov as defense minister. At a closed door session of Russia’s recently formed Defense Council on October 4, government leaders and chiefs of Russia’s armed forces and various security structures were said to have examined proposals for the restructuring of the country’s defense establishment in light of existing economic problems. Reports of the meeting were vague, and some intimated that the three-hour session had been contentious. They suggested that the meeting had approved a Defense Ministry proposal that will cut the size of the regular armed forces from 1.5 to 1.2 million soldiers while eliminating scores of low-readiness or poorly-manned units. The goal, according to some commentators, is a more compact and capable military force of about 12 fully-staffed divisions. Reports indicated that the top-heavy command bureaucracies in all of the power ministries might also face reductions, while funding shortages will delay until 2005 the transition to an all-volunteer military force. (Boris Yeltsin had earlier called for an end to conscription by 2000). Military spending will reportedly rise next year to cover funding arrears to the armed forces and to pay for the proposed reductions, but the hope is that a much reduced military establishment will be cheaper to maintain over the longer haul. (Russian and Western agencies, Segodnya, October 4; NTV, October 5)

Rodionov has long complained of the costly proliferation of non-Defense Ministry forces, but it was unclear whether he had won a commitment either to reduce those forces substantially or to strengthen the regular military command’s status relative to the other power structures. However, the parallel announcement on October 4 that Rodionov had been promoted to Army General and that six top commanders had been dismissed seemed to signal a consolidation of his position within the military bureaucracy. Among those sacked were Airborne Forces commander Col. Gen. Yevgeny Podkolzin, Military Space Forces commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Ivanov, First Deputy General Staff chief Lt. Gen. Vladimir Zhurbenko, and the chief of the Defense Ministry’s main personnel directorate, Col. Gen. Yevgeny Vysotsky. All six were said to have opposed the proposed military reductions. The departure of the outspoken Podkolzin was especially significant. It came amid reports that his elite Airborne Forces would be among the biggest losers in the army’s impending reorganization. (Russian TV, Segodnya, October 4)

The October 4 Defense Council meeting and the events that surrounded it were equally significant from a political point of view. Lebed’s chief political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, presided over the proceedings, while Lebed himself chose pointedly not to attend. That decision was at least in part a protest of Boris Yeltsin’s decision last week to name Defense Council secretary Yury Baturin — and not Lebed — as head of a presidential commission overseeing appointments to top military posts. There is no doubt, moreover, that the Defense Council’s high-profile October 4 meeting, its first, strengthened that body as a political counter-weight to Lebed’s own Security Council.