On April 19, in a move which passed with little comment, Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree which prolonged for a second time the term of military service for Defense Minister Igor Sergeev by one year. Russian military regulations stipulate the age of sixty as the mandatory retirement age for marshals and generals; Sergeev turned sixty-one this week. The president has the right, however, to extend that term of service for up to five years. Yeltsin had resorted to that procedure last year (Russian agencies, April 19-20).
Yeltsin’s April 19 decree suggests that Sergeev continues to enjoy the president’s confidence and support. The former rocket forces commander in chief is currently overseeing an unpopular–and some would say ineffectual–effort to reform Russia’s bedraggled armed forces. The approach of Sergeev’s sixty-first birthday would have afforded Yeltsin an ideal opportunity to dismiss the defense minister if he had had any desire to do so. That he did not do so suggests that Yeltsin is displeased neither by Sergeev’s conduct of the military reform effort nor by the Russian defense minister’s recent Cold War-style denunciations of NATO military actions in Yugoslavia. Reports had circulated that Yeltsin had dressed down both Sergeev and General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin for “warlike” comments concerning a possible Russian military responses to NATO’s air campaign (see the Monitor, April 15).
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