A Russian newspaper suggested yesterday that a meeting of government and military leaders held November 12 in the Russian White House had been marked by a civility and pragmatism little in evidence during several other encounters between these two groups in recent days, or, for that matter, over the past half decade. (See Monitor, November 13) The White House meeting was attended by, on the one side, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Presidential Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais, Security Council Secretary Yuri Baturin, and high-ranking representatives of several other government bodies. The military delegation included Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, General Staff chief Viktor Samsonov, Russia’s other deputy defense ministers, and the commanders of the nation’s military districts and fleets. Chernomyrdin attempted to make the prospect of future defense reductions more palatable to his audience by assuring them that this downsizing would be extended to Russia’s other "power structures." He also said that he favored giving the General Staff the authority to coordinate the operational activities of these non-army ministries and agencies.
Like Chernomyrdin, Rodionov emphasized in his remarks to the meeting that defense reductions were necessary in order to carry out military reform and to ensure the creation of a smaller but more capable military machine. He added that each service branch would be downsized "at its own pace." An unidentified Defense Ministry representative reportedly said that the military leadership is willing to consider cutting the armed forces to 1.2 million troops, despite its preference for a force of 1.5 million, so long as the reductions are conducted on the "requisite financial base." (Kommersant-daily, November 13)
Indeed, that formulation seems to be the implicit bargain that Rodionov is offering the political leadership. He has put his own authority and prestige on the line by publicly supporting the reduction in forces to 1.2 million, and has been criticized for it by such political figures as former Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed. But in return Rodionov appears to be demanding that the authority of the regular armed forces be raised within the broader security establishment as a whole, and, perhaps of greater importance, that the government deliver sufficient funding to carry the army through its difficult and unpopular transformation. Chernomyrdin’s recent actions suggest a tentative assent by the government to this bargain, but its consummation will undoubtedly be opposed by, among others, the leaders of Russia’s other "power ministries." That fact, together with the government’s likely difficulty in coming up with sufficient funding to satisfy the military leadership, could make this fledgling political arrangement a difficult one to sustain.
Draft Russian-Chechen Agreement: Back to Square One?