Russian Ground Forces commander-in-chief Army General Vladimir Semenov remained in limbo over the weekend, as new allegations were voiced to justify his dismissal but a commission on top defense appointments apparently failed to resolve the case. Russia’s Defense Ministry had announced Semenov’s sacking on December 2, but the Russian president’s office (which must approve such actions) countermanded the ministry and said Semenov had only been suspended pending a review of his case. (See Monitor, December 3-6) That review was presumably to have taken place during a December 4 meeting of the president’s commission for senior military appointments — chaired by Defense Council secretary Yuri Baturin — but reports out of Moscow differed as to whether the commission had even taken up Semenov’s case. (Segodnya, ORT, Izvestiya, December 4)
The consensus, however, was that Semenov would be removed, a view that was supported by a statement from the Russian president’s office on December 6 saying that a decree to that effect had been prepared. But the announcement also reportedly made no mention of Semenov having dishonored his uniform, which was the charge originally made public by Defense Minister Igor Rodionov as justification for the sacking. (Ekho Moskvy, December 6) Meanwhile, in the absence of any official information, the media continued to speculate luridly on the reasons for Semenov’s problems. Some reports spoke of Semenov being blamed for Russia’s dismal military performance in Chechnya or of his opposition to impending reductions in the size of the Ground Forces. Others, however, postulated Kremlin intrigues involving presidential chief-of-staff Anatoly Chubais and Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov; illegal helicopter sales involving Semenov’s wife, Madlena; or Rodionov’s own desire to eliminate a potential rival. (Moskovsky komsomolets, Komsomolskaya pravda, December 4; NTV, December 5)
The whole affair took an unexpected turn on December 7 when delegates at a congress of the Union of Muslims of Russia expressed their displeasure over Semenov’s impending dismissal. (Ekho Moskvy, December 7) The Russian commander is an ethnic Ossetian who was born in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. (Izvestiya, December 3. See above.)
While political intrigues of this sort have become nearly a daily occurrence in Russia, the corrosive affects of this one on the nation’s already beleaguered and politicized officer corps should probably not be underestimated. According to Russian reports, the Ground Forces command is now in full disarray, and the deputy commander appointed to take over for Semenov has been reduced to calling the Defense Ministry daily for an answer as to who is actually in charge of Russia’s Ground Forces. Such confusion is the last thing that the army needs as soldiers contemplate protests over wage arrears and dismal living conditions while the Defense Ministry embarks on painful and unpopular personnel reductions. (Kommersant-daily, December 3; Obshchaya gazeta, No. 48)
Iranian-Russian Trade Agreement.