Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 114

The surprise entry of 200 Russian airborne troops into Kosovo early on June 12 has generated much speculation inside Russia about precisely who gave the orders and who is ultimately in charge in Moscow. Various Russian media have reported that Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, presidential special Balkans representative Viktor Chernomyrdin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Russian Security Council Secretary and Federal Security Service chief Vladimir Putin were not in the loop on the decision to deploy the troops in Pristina. The real decisionmakers, according to these reports, were President Boris Yeltsin and General Anatoly Kvashnin, head of the armed forces general staff. Some media reported it was not certain whether Defense Minister Igor Sergeev knew of the troop movement in advance (NTV, June 13; Novaya gazeta, June 14).

Various Russian observers have posited that the decision, if it indeed was Yeltsin’s idea, was aimed not only at raining on NATO’s parade, but also–and primarily–at the domestic audience. According to this view, Yeltsin was trying to “show who’s boss,” and was specifically aiming at Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov (Novaya gazeta, June 14). Luzhkov is a key contender for the presidency and has in recent weeks accused the Kremlin administration of attempting to undermine him, reiterating the charge at the start of the weekend, saying that the Kremlin’s campaign against him began after he suggested that Yeltsin should step down for health reasons (Russian agencies, June 11). Yeltsin, if the decision to deploy troops in Kosovo was in fact his, may also have been trying to neutralize criticism from the communist-led opposition in the State Duma, which has accused the president and Chernomyrdin of selling out the Serbs.

It is theoretically possible that the military high command–perhaps General Kvashnin–was acting solo in the troop deployment, and that Yeltsin merely gave his blessing to a fait accompli. This, of course, would be a very worrying development. It is more likely, however, that the order originated with Yeltsin. Still, this suggests that Yeltsin is increasingly dependent on–or attempting to curry favor with–an anti-Western and disaffected Russian military establishment. As one newspaper put it today: “The discussion surrounding the theme ‘Who is the Kremlin relying on?’ can be considered over. The Kremlin is relying on the generals” (Segodnya, June 14).

On the other hand, for his entire political career Yeltsin has been a master improviser, and thus his apparent “reliance” on the generals will probably last only as long as he sees it as serving his political interests of the moment.