If it weren’t broke, he wouldn’t try to fix it. President Yeltsin took a motorcade of cabinet officials over to the Ministry of Defense ten days ago to give a pep talk and a few instructions to the military high command. A few days later he met in the Kremlin with senior officers of the regular army and the various security services. Events in Kosovo have highlighted the fractiousness and tension at the top of the armed forces. The president clearly felt it prudent to assert his concern for the army’s welfare and reinforce the Russian tradition of military obedience to civilian leadership.
The president doled out equal measures of praise, apology and guidance. Russia’s independent foreign policy in the Balkans, he said, is “the most important element for stability in Europe and the entire world.” He lauded Viktor Zavarzin, the commander who led the June 16 dash by 200 paratroops across Serbia to the airport at Pristina in Kosovo; Yeltsin had already marked that strange episode by promoting Zavarzin to the rank of colonel general. He apologized for the deplorable condition of the troops: “Delays in payments of financial support, the problem of housing and the decline of the social status of military personnel–these are in many ways due to the shortcomings of the government and the president.” And he issued some guidance: “Each one of you must pursue one policy, the policy of the president. We won’t have any outright quarrels with NATO, but we won’t flirt with it either. We will follow what NATO is doing and work out our tactics together.”
The president clearly wants to rein in the hardest of the hardliners and secure the loyalty of the top brass. But despite some talk of a pay hike, he announced no increase in military spending nor even any allocation of funds to reduce arrearages in pay already earned. That had to be a major disappointment to proud officers shamed by the army’s collapse and powerless to prevent it.