A Russian daily reports that the country’s armed forces are currently undergoing a personnel crisis that is longer and every bit as debilitating as that which until recently paralyzed the Russian government as a whole. According to Russky telegraf (April 22), the appointment of General (now Marshal) Igor Sergeev to the post of defense minister in May of last year introduced some stability only to the very top of the military hierarchy. The “second echelon” of military commanders–by which the newspaper appears to mean the commands of Russia’s various service branches–is said to be in far worse condition. In the recently restructured Air Force, for example, all the generals serving until recently under commander in chief Anatoly Kornukov were in their posts on a temporary basis only. The situation is reportedly much the same in the Navy, where the Naval chief of staff has been serving on a temporary basis since late last year. The situation is perhaps most confused in the Ground Forces, which have recently lost their status as a service. The Ground Forces commanding officer and his staff are also serving on a temporary basis.
The newspaper suggests that a large part of the problem lies with the Commission on Senior Military Appointments, an agency subordinated to the president’s office, which is responsible for vetting and approving senior military appointments. The head of this agency exercises considerable influence over the armed forces. For this reason the post has been filled only with trusted Kremlin loyalists. In March of last year, control over the military appointments commission was taken from Yuri Baturin–a long-time aide of Boris Yeltsin–and handed to Yevgeny Savostyanov, the president’s deputy chief of staff. (Kommersant-Daily, March 11, 1997) Russky telegraf suggests, however, both that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin actually ran the commission over the several months that preceded his dismissal last month, and that the commission may be more or less leaderless at the present time.
Russky telegraf also suggests that the holdup in military appointments may be related more generally to indecision in the Kremlin over exactly who is to oversee the armed forces during their current period of reform. The military appointments backlog may therefore also reflect a lack of certainty over the amount of power actually to be wielded by Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin, who earlier this year was given seemingly broad authority over all of Russia’s “power ministries.” Indeed, some in Russia have speculated that the balance of power in Russia’s defense establishment may be passing over from Sergeev’s Defense Ministry to Kokoshin’s Security Council. (Komsomolskaya pravda, March 11)
However accurate that assessment may be, the Kremlin did move last week to begin clearing up the personnel backlog atop the country’s Air Force. Reports appeared in the Russian press saying that the Russian president on April 24 had appointed some thirty-five generals to top posts in the Air Force. (Krasnaya zvezda, April 30) It remains to be seen whether similar spates of appointments will follow in Russia’s other services.
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