Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov’s press spokesman yesterday denied reports that his boss had postponed a planned visit to the U.S. because of upheaval atop the military command over the recent, unexpected sacking of Ground Forces Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Semenov. Instead, the spokesman attributed Rodionov’s last minute change of plans to what he described as a "sharp deterioration of the situation pertaining to the funding of the armed forces," and to concern over "food supplies to far-flung garrisons." On December 3 Rodionov had postponed a four-day visit to the U.S. that was to start the next day. Sources in the Russian Defense Ministry indicated yesterday that the trip is now expected to take place some time next year. (Interfax, December 4; see Monitor, December 3-4)
On December 3 Rodionov also cited the army’s internal problems as one reason for his rejection of an invitation to address the Russian Duma on the subject of military reform. In a letter to Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev, Rodionov reportedly suggested that it was pointless at this time to discuss the issue because "the armed forces today are struggling for their survival," and "there are no funds for [military] reform" in any event. Rodionov also said that it would be improper for him to outline the Defense Ministry’s military reform proposals to Russian legislators prior to discussion of them with armed forces commander-in-chief Boris Yeltsin. The Duma yesterday agreed to postpone hearings on military reform as Rodionov had recommended. (Itar-Tass, December 3-4)
Rodionov’s purported concerns over the army’s financial situation, particularly as a justification for his last-minute cancellation of what were planned to be high-level talks in the U.S., are difficult to take at face value. The army’s financial crisis has been on-going since well before Rodionov’s appointment in July, and on November 19 the Russian defense chief had said publicly that the funding situation was improving and that the army had put the worst of the financial crisis behind it. (Reuter, November 19) Rodionov’s behavior in recent days, which can only be described as erratic, appears in fact to be a result of the embarrassing brouhaha developing over Semenov’s firing, compounded perhaps by what seems to be growing impatience among Russia’s military and political elites over the slow pace of military reform and the army’s continuing financial and morale problems.
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