Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 10

Shakeup of Moscow’s power ministers helps Yeltsin consolidate power

by Victor Yasmann

Under the combined pressure of the media, public opinion andparliament, Boris Yeltsin dismissed three of his security chiefs,but retained his most loyal allies such as defense minister PavelGrachev and Security Council secretary Oleg Lobov. Yet the sameforces which pushed Yeltsin to sack the old power ministers havebeen relatively inattentive to the new line-up, even though thenew appointments are just as significant as the dismissals andeven though the new men have not been featured in recent discussionsof the Budennovsk crisis and its aftermath.

The first shift was the transfer of dismissed interior ministerViktor Yerin to be a deputy chairman of the Russian Foreign IntelligenceService. Ostankino television reported July 5 that Yerin had receivedhis new position "on his own request," a formulationso laughable that Duma security committee chairman Viktor Ilyukhinlabeled it an absurdity. But Yerin is nevertheless a survivor,even though he is obviously incompetent. Russian parliamentarianshad demanded his dismissal at least five times and on good grounds–arising crime rate, corruption in the interior ministry’s own ranks,and the ministry’s failure to solve or even investigate high-profilemurders. Each time, Yeltsin saved Yerin by sending him abroad"to strengthen cooperation against organized crime."

Shocked by the latest Yerin shift, some Moscow commentators havesuggested that Yeltsin may want to have his own man watching ForeignIntelligence Chief Yevgeny Primakov, a man Yeltsin is known todistrust. But such suggestions are certainly wrong: Yerin is nothreat to Primakov and his colleagues, and in his new post willbe only one of many Primakov deputies. The most likely reasonfor Yerin’s reassignment is also the simplest: Yeltsin simplywanted to reward "an old friend" who could pose a problemif he were upset and began to tell what he knows about the Yeltsingovernment. But Yeltsin may have miscalculated this time, at leastwith regard to public reaction down the road. For many Russians,their foreign intelligence services are a continuing source ofpride, and sending Yerin there may be seen as a kind of insult.

To replace Yerin as interior minister, Yeltsin named the commanderof Russian forces in Chechnya, MVD Col. Gen. Anatoliy Kulikov.A career internal troops general, Kulikov stood by Yeltsin duringhis armed suppression of the Russian Supreme Soviet in October1993. He, along with MVD Gen. Aleksandr Kulikov, put the internaltroops at Yeltsin’s disposal at that time. Quite possibly as aresult of Yeltsin’s gratitude, Kulikov has since been able toraise a "parallel army" for Yeltsin. The internal troopshave grown both on their own and as the result of the army givingup to them some its heavy equipment. The internal troops havebeen rewarded with higher pay and better conditions, a fact thathas sparked envy even among the army’s most elite units. Duringthe Chechen fighting, the army has struck back in public, denouncingthe MVD for "sitting in the rear and robbing the civilianpopulation."

For political reasons, Yeltsin preferred to keep the internaltroops out of combat, and only after the Russian army occupiedmost Chechen cities in March 1995 were internal troops committedto the battle. At that time, Anatoliy Kulikov took over generalcommand of Russian forces in Chechnya, including army units, whileremaining commander-in-chief of the MVD internal troops. Althoughthey participated less in actual combat than did the army, theinternal troops showed themselves to be the equal of the armyin cruelty towards the civilian population, and their commandershowed himself to be the equal of defense minister Pavel Grachevas a spokesman for a hard line against the Chechens. Kulikov’snew appointment means that Yeltsin hopes the interior ministerwill maintain Chechnya’s "special regime" until a peacesettlement is concluded. It also serves as a signal to Yeltsin’sopponents in Moscow of just who will be in Yeltsin’s corner ifthe parliament presses its opposition to the President too far.

Yeltsin has not yet filled the vacancy created when he dismissedFederal Security Service director Sergei Stepashin. Stepashin’sdeparture is somewhat surprising in itself: the Duma had not insistedon it, precisely because he was less involved with the Budennovskcrisis than was Yerin or the MVD.

Stepashin began his public career as a "democrat" andprotégé of Saint Petersburg mayor Anatoliy Sobchak,serving in 1991 as chairman of the parliamentary commission chargedwith disbanding the KGB. After he became director of the FSS,Stepashin lost his democratic ties and support, without entirelywinning the support of the hardliners. It was an open secret inMoscow that the FSS has been run by several senior KGB generals,with Stepashin "used" as a scapegoat for the agenciesnumerous failures. The FSS has lost much of its power and cacheto Yeltsin’s personal security services, including the GUO headedby Mikhail Barsukov, the Presidential Security Service led byAleksandr Korzhakov, and the Federal Agency for Government Communicationsand Information (FAPSI). But the FSS still received the blamefor the entire government’s failures in Chechnya: the media tauntedStepashin with the fact that journalists could easily find Chechenpresident Dzhokhar Dudayev for interviews but Stepashin couldnot find him to protect Russia.

Apparently, Yeltsin has decided that the day of the democratsin the security organs is over. Among the likely successors toStepashin are two KGB colonel generals, Anatoliy Safonov, currentlythe acting director of the FSS, and Viktor Zorin, the chief ofthe FSS Counterintelligence Department. Safonov has the insidetrack: he spend the entire Chechen war in the region with Kulikov.Zorin’s "in" is that he backed Yeltsin in October 1993.But it is also possible that Yeltsin might name Mikhail Barsukovand thus further consolidate his personal control of the securityservices.

Victor Yasmann is a Senior Analyst at the Jamestown Foundation.