Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 194

Among the unexpected consequences of the current wrangle over the future of Russia’s Airborne Forces is the fact that it appears to have driven a wedge between security chief Aleksandr Lebed and the man he chose to head the Defense Ministry, Army Gen. Igor Rodionov. Lebed’s newfound animosity toward Rodionov was apparent during an October 15 press conference when the security chief accused Rodionov of trying to "kill off the [Airborne Forces] officer corps as quickly as possible." Lebed characterized the relevant Rodionov directive as "criminal" and declared that it constituted "malfeasance in office." (NTV, October 15) Lebed also participated in a meeting of top Airborne Forces commanders on October 15 at which participants expressed similar bitterness over Rodionov’s directive. The Defense Ministry was not represented at the meeting. (Itar-Tass, October 16. See Monitor, October 16)

The seeds of the split between the two men, however, may go back to the creation of the Russian Defense Council by Boris Yeltsin on July 25. Although it was difficult even then to see the new agency as anything but a political counterweight to Lebed’s own Security Council, Rodionov seemed to embrace it with enthusiasm. (Vek, August 2-8; Interfax, August 19) Developments surrounding the first meeting of the Defense Council, on October 4, may have aggravated any latent tensions between the two men. On October 2 Yeltsin named Defense Council secretary Yury Baturin — and not Lebed — to head a commission overseeing appointments to top defense posts. A series of key military appointments followed, culminating on October 4 with the sacking of six generals and with Rodionov’s own promotion to Army General. The six were said to have opposed Rodionov’s plans for restructuring the army, which was approved at the meeting. Lebed pointedly boycotted the event, which was presided over by his chief political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and which appeared to reflect a consolidation of Rodionov’s position atop the Defense Ministry bureaucracy.

In the days that followed, Lebed’s failure to win power over personnel decisions was seen to have weakened him within the military bureaucracy. At least one observer also suggested that the maneuverings behind the consolidation of Rodionov’s position in the Defense Ministry had brought Rodionov closer to Chernomyrdin. (Kommersant-daily, October 9) Several others, finally, suggested that Lebed had boycotted the October 4 meeting to avoid association with the painful manpower reductions that he knew would ensue from it. They also predicted that he would emerge later as the heroic defender of the abused Russian officer, a prophesy that may be coming to pass and that can hardly be pleasing to Rodionov, who must carry out the unpopular reductions. (Segodnya, October 5; Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 8)

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