Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 38

Russia’s political and military elite yesterday marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, the country’s main military holiday and one which was celebrated with much fanfare during the Soviet period as Army and Navy Day. Official ceremonies actually began on February 22 in the evening, when a ceremony was held at the Kremlin during which Russian President Boris Yeltsin presented awards to various members of both Russia’s regular and its security forces. Indeed, the latter group appeared to be especially well represented. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin was among those honored–for his courageous work in fighting crime–and the heads of Russia’s intelligence and special services also attended.

In remarks to the Kremlin gathering, Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov vowed that his government would do its utmost to support the armed forces and to ensure that they are “as undefeatable as they always have been.” Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who has increasingly portrayed Primakov as the army’s benefactor, also spoke to the gathering. He said that Russia should–and would–have an army which matches the country’s grandeur (Russian agencies, February 22).

Yesterday’s ceremonies provided more of the same. Yeltsin and Primakov, together with Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Russia’s defense and security chiefs and other government and parliamentary leaders, laid wreathes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall. In an action which appeared to be both a vote of confidence in his defense minister and an effort to establish a new Russian military tradition, Yeltsin also presented Sergeev with a new Defense Ministry standard. The Russian defense chief described the standard as a “direct descendant of the battle colors of our army” and a “symbol of martial honor, courage and glory” (Russian agencies, February 23).