Despite assurances from Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov that no government personnel reshuffle is impending, a report yesterday said that Defense Minister Igor Sergeev may not make it to the end of this year in his post. The report suggested that the Kremlin has become increasingly upset over a recent series of public statements Sergeev has made (Ekho Moskvy, December 8).
The report referred, presumably, to Sergeev’s sharp criticism of the draft 1999 military budget. Last week Sergeev was said to have described projected military spending for 1999 as “fatal” for the armed forces. He also criticized the government’s failure to meet the requirements of legislation calling for defense spending to equal 3.5 percent of Russian GDP. Defense Ministry sources were quoted as saying that the Ministry of Finance currently intends to spend only 2.4 percent of GDP, or some 92 billion rubles (US$4.4 billion), on defense. In addition, the government’s debts to the Armed Forces alone are said now to amount to some 70 billion rubles (US$3.3 billion)–or nearly the amount of total projected defense spending for next year. Salary arrears to military personnel reportedly amount to 14.4. billion rubles (US$700 million) (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 2, 4).
Sergeev’s eighteen-month tenure as defense minister has been noteworthy at least in part for the relative dearth of criticism directed at the Kremlin by the Defense Ministry during that time. Sergeev’s public loyalty to the political leadership, while hardly total, has contrasted sharply with the approach taken by his two predecessors–Generals Pavel Grachev and Igor Rodionov. Each of them–and Rodionov in particular–harped incessantly on the government’s failure to support the armed forces financially. Rodionov’s public criticism of the Kremlin cost him his job. Yesterday’s speculation suggested that the same fate could befall Sergeev.
Yesterday’s report, moreover, comes amid rumors of growing resentment among senior military commanders over Sergeev’s military reform plans. Disenchantment is said to be especially strong over a Defense Ministry decision to speed the consolidation of the Russian armed forces’ current four services into a three-branch structure made up of land, air and naval forces. Resentment has also reportedly focused on a parallel decision to form a combined supreme command of strategic deterrent forces which would include the country’s Strategic Missile Troops and the Defense Ministry’s 12th main directorate (responsible for nuclear security). Sergeev, a former commander in chief of Russian strategic rocket forces, reportedly wants to place his protege, current Strategic Missile Troops commander Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, at the head of the new joint command (Russian news agencies, November 6; Moskovsky komsomolets, November 10; Komsomolskaya pravda, November 12).
According to one Russian daily, General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin is positioning himself to pick up the pieces should Sergeev be dismissed. Kvashnin has reportedly been active behind the scenes in exploiting the disenchantment with Sergeev’s policies. He is also said to be maneuvering adroitly to garner support among Russian political leaders in both parliament and the presidential administration. Sergeev is already past the legal retirement age for military personnel, but was granted an exemption earlier this year by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. There is now some speculation that the Defense Minister’s age could be used as a pretext for relieving him of his duties (Nezavisimaya gazeta, December 5).
FOUR WESTERNERS BRUTALLY MURDERED IN CHECHNYA.