Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 18

New Duma Likely to Contain Record Number of Military Officers

by Vladimir Socor

When it convenes after the elections scheduled for this comingDecember, Russia’s new Duma will be likely to contain a recordnumber of senior military officers among its members. Generalsand colonels, most of them in the reserves but some on activeduty, dot the lists of candidates and even the top leadershipsof some parties and electoral blocs. This situation is a logicalresult of the intense politicization of Russia’s officer corpsin the last few years under the impact of at least six main factors.

First, the end of Communist Party rule and of that party’s controlover the military has offered the officer corps considerable scopefor participation in politics, and for ideological choice in thenew pluralist political arena. Second, the Soviet political socializationhas vigorously survived in large sections of the military andmotivates the political activism of many officers in the presentconditions of civic freedom. Paradoxically, some of those officersare using their new freedoms to defend values associated withthe system which had denied them the political participation theynow exercise. Third, the loss of most of the empire and of globalsuperpower status has not only outraged military patriotism–inboth its Soviet and Greater Russian forms–but has led many officersto look for scapegoats in the new political establishment. Bythe same token, the still unsettled but possibly reversible statusof much of the lost imperial space encourages many officers tospearhead revanchist political groups which seek power and influencein the Russian state as prerequisites to a more effective re-expansion.

Fourth, the wars and other operations of the ex-Soviet and Russianarmed forces in recent years (in Afghanistan, the Baltics, Moldova,the Caucasus) and the confrontations in Moscow in August 1991and October 1993 have thrust onto Russia’s political scene anentire generation of officers-turned-political-activists. Someof them capitalize on a reputation for military professionalismand integrity, or simply on a media image, which they acquiredas commanders; others have come to public attention by disobeyingunpopular or incompetent orders, and have practically been forcedonto the political track through dismissal from the ranks; andperhaps the largest category consists of those seeking to reversethe defeats they suffered in 1991 and 1993. Fifth, the shrinkageof the military budget and pauperization of the armed forces haveenabled many of the officers-turned-politicians to cast themselvesas representatives of the military’s professional and social interestsin the political system.That claim draws some substantiation fromthe Defense Ministry’s and service commands’ inability to adequatelyrepresent those interests. And sixth, competitive party politicsin a society imbued with the traditions of Russian and Sovietmilitarism practically requires civilian party leaders to draftmilitary figures to their parties and present them to the electorate.

Most factors listed above have combined to produce a concentrationof military officers among the political groups dedicated to great-powernationalism, to a strong state, and to socialist economics. Tobe sure, there are some individual military officers affiliatedwith pro-reform and democratic parties in the outgoing Duma andin the electoral campaign. But this category of officers seemsunrepresentative of military opinion as a whole and of politicaltrends within the military. Polling data show that a substantialmajority among the military favor nationalist and statist solutionsto Russia’s problems, and to support hardline candidates for politicaloffice. Most military candidates for Duma elections fit that profileand are in opposition to Boris Yeltsin and the government. Thereare some noteworthy exceptions to that general rule, but thoseexceptions are not in the government’s camp.

On the reformist and pro-democracy side of the political spectrum,the electoral bloc Russia’s Democratic Choice-United Democratshas placed Col. General Eduard Vorobev, until recently DeputyCommander in Chief of Russia’s ground forces, on its list of candidates.Vorobev was forced to resign his post last December when he declineddefense minister Pavel Grachev’s order to comand the campaignin Chechnya. The same list features Colonel Sergei Yushenkov (apolitical officer), chairman of the Duma’s defense affairs committeeand also a critic of Russian militarism. Vorobev and Yushenkovare joining the most eloquent critic of the Chechnya war, humanrights activist Sergei Kovalev, near the top of the list headedby Yegor Gaidar.

"Russia is Our Home," the "right of center"bloc and mainstay of the "party of power" headed byPrime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, has drafted Lt. General LevRokhlin (ground troops) for one of the top places on its candidates’slate. Rokhlin has played a major role in the brutal war wagedby Russian forces in Chechnya.

Duma chairman Ivan Rybkin’s "left of center" bloc–pairedwith "Russia is Our Home" as the other face of the "partyof power"–features Col. General Boris Gromov (ground troops)in second place on the ticket after Rybkin. Gromov is a deputydefense minister currently detailed (as a form of ostracism byGrachev) to the Foreign Ministry as military adviser. The lastcommander of USSR troops in Afghanistan and a respected militaryprofessional, Gromov has been long identified with the militaryhardliners while also enjoying popularity with veterans. He has,from a professional military standpoint, criticized the war inChechnya, and has gained additional standing with the officercorps through his attacks on the highly unpopular Grachev’s overallperformance as minister.

A host of veterans’ associations have joined the electoral blocof the powerful Agrarian Party of Russia, whose program supportsthe restoration of a renewed USSR. One of the party’s leadingcandidates is Army General Makhmut Gareev, a well-known Soviet-eramilitary theorist who currently defends the interests of the DefenseMinistry and of conventional forces in their competition withthe other "power ministries" for scarce budgetary resources.

The pan-Russian-oriented Congress of Russian Communities, chairedby the prominent representative of military-industrial interestsYuri Skokov and rated as hardline nationalist but not ultranationalistby the criteria of today’s Russia, boasts Lt. General AleksandrLebed (paratroops) as its vice-chairman and second on its listof candidates. Lebed is widely considered a potential candidatein the next presidential elections and is listed with a record30 percent popularity rating in the Public Opinion Fund’s latestsurvey. He is also shown by military opinion surveys as the hands-downfavorite of the officer corps for both the presidency of Russiaand the post of Defense Minister. (For a more detailed analysisof Lebed’s presidential prospects see Vladimir Socor, "GeneralAleksandr Lebed’s Political Potential," Prism, no6, July 9,1995). The same slate includes Sergei Goncharov, chairmanof the Alfa Special Force Veterans’ Association, which forms partof the CRC’s electoral bloc.

On the slate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation,voters will likely find the veteran cosmonauts German Titov,VitaliSevastyanov, and Svetlana Savitskaya. But the most senior militaryfigure on that list is Army General Valentin Varennikov, formercommander in chief of USSR ground forces, who was implicated inthe abortive military-communist putsch of August 1991.

The electoral bloc "For the Motherland," led by theanti-reformist former chairman of Goskomimushchestvo (StateProperty Committee) Vladimir Polevanov, features Col. GeneralYevgenii Podkolzin, the current commander in chief of Russia’sairborne troops, in the second spot on its slate. Polevanov hasbeen quoted as predicting that the charismatic Podkolzin willbring some 2 million extra votes to the bloc.

Aleksandr Rutskoi’s Derzhava (Great Power) movement, programmaticallycommitted to the restoration of the USSR, is likely to place itsleader, the former vice president of Russia, at the top of itscandidates’ list. A Major General of the air force and veteranof Afghanistan, Rutskoi will probably be followed on the listby the "black Colonel" from Latvia Viktor Alksnis, apolitical officer of the air force and USSR-wide celebrity forhis ardent supporter of the Union.

The Power to the People bloc, headed by former USSR Prime MinisterNikolai Ryzhkov and largely based on the ultranationalist SergeiBaburin’s Russian People’s Union, includes the Officers’ Unionwithin its ranks. The OU leader, Lt. Colonel Stanislav Terekhov,is currently seeking reinstatement to active service. He had beendismissed for leading an abortive attack (in which two civilianswere killed) against the CIS joint armed forces’ headquartersin Moscow in September 1993, in order to seize arms for the fighterswho were about to defend the Russian Supreme Soviet against theforces loyal to Yeltsin.

The bloc "Restoring Great Russia" is formed aroundthe Russian National Sobor movement headed by Maj. GeneralAleksandr Sterligov (ex-KGB). Its candidates include Col. GeneralVladislav Achalov (paratroops), a participant in the crackdownagainst the Baltic independence movement in 1991 and who servedas the Supreme Soviet hardliners’ would-be minister of defensein the October 1993 fighting. The same electoral bloc includesan industrialists’ group headed by Aleksandr Tizyakov, a memberof the seven-man State Committee for the State of Emergency whichled the August 1991 putsch.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, heading his Liberal Democratic Party’slist of candidates, is a reserve Colonel of the army (politicalofficer), recently appointed to that rank by defense ministerPavel Grachev. The candidates of Zhirinovsky’s party includeMaj. General Viktor Filatov, formerly the chief editor of Voenno-istoricheskiizhurnal (Military History Journal) and currently a spokesmanfor the party’s parliamentary group.

Many of the senior officers on the hardline parties’ lists ofcandidates are members of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly.Its main activists include Achalov, Alksnis, Sterligov, Terekhov,Titov, Varennikov, and other prominent hardliners. The Assembly’sleadership is reported to coordinates the placement of its memberson various lists of candidates and the activities of its constituentgroups in support of like-minded parties and blocs. The Assembly’sprogram calls for strengthening Russia’s military power and military-industrialcomplex, restoring the unity of the Russian nation by reassemblingthe territories of the USSR, a centrally planned and "socially-oriented"economy, more military officers in government bodies, and socialprotection of military servicemen.

The military was traditionally underrepresented in Soviet politicalinstitutions, including the USSR Supreme Soviet, but the inadequateformal representation did not affect the military’s prominentposition in the Soviet state, nor its control of an inordinatelylarge share of the state’s resources. Military representationin legislative bodies did increase during the USSR’s final yearsand in the first few years of post-Soviet Russia. But the Dumawhich will be elected in December is likely to mark a dramaticincrease in the political representation of the military. Havingbeen for many years a manpower and budgetary giant, but a politicaldwarf in the formal institutional mechanisms, Russia’s militarynow looks set to develop massive political and legal muscle evenas its resources and manpower are shrinking. The combination ofanger and frustration on the one hand and newly-found politicalstrength on the other hand, may presage new challenges to politicalstability and economic reforms, and greater pressures for rebuildingmilitary power and exerting it beyond Russia’s new borders.

Vladimir Socor is a Senior Analyst with the Jamestown Foundation.