Sources suggested yesterday that Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev is also a good candidate to survive the government reshuffle. The former strategic rocket forces commander has been in his post for less than a year, and has faithfully put in motion an ambitious — and highly unpopular — military reform plan backed by the Kremlin.
Sergeev is approaching the official retirement age, however. Rumors previous to yesterday’s developments had circulated that he might soon be dismissed, possibly as part of a broader military restructuring effort. The rumors suggest that recently named Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin could wind up atop a civilianized Defense Ministry–one that would share responsibility for running the armed forces with a strengthened Russian General Staff. (Russky telegraf, March 4; Komsomolskaya pravda, March 11) Kokoshin is himself a leading reformer, however, so such a move would probably not signify a major change in Russia’s defense policies.
The unexpected dismissal yesterday of Russian Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov may be another sign that the Kremlin is determined to follow through with its current defense policies, particularly with regard to military reform. In remarks that received little coverage in the West, Kulikov harshly criticized the Kremlin’s military reform plan on February 7. The Russian Interior Minister complained that the current military budget is not enough to fund defense reform. He also took issue with plans — first voiced by Yeltsin during his last presidential campaign — to end conscription and move Russia toward a fully volunteer military force. Finally, Kulikov attacked that part of current Russian defense policy identifying smaller regional conflicts as the most likely military threat to Russian security. He said that Russia needed to prepare as well for large-scale warfare.
As Russian commentaries at the time noted, Kulikov’s expressed views paralleled those of several of the Kremlin’s harshest military critics — including Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Lev Rokhlin and former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. (Russian TV, February 7; Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 10; Kommersant-daily, February 19) Aside from this broader political context, Kulikov’s remarks may have been delivered in the hope that they would help the Interior Ministry’s forces avert the kinds of painful cuts and restructuring that the regular armed forces are currently undergoing. But whatever the motivation for Kulikov’s speech, it could hardly have endeared him to the Kremlin, and may be one reason he was dismissed from the government yesterday.
Chechen Leaders Give Conflicting Assessments.