Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 24

The Military’s Enthusiasm for Politics Could Threaten Russia’s Reforms

by Aleksandr Zhilin

At a recent press conference, President Yeltsin said he opposesthe active participation of the military in political parties.It appears, however, that the Army’s participation in the Russianpolitical campaign is well beyond the control of not only thedefense minister, but of the president himself.

The nominating lists of candidates for the State Duma from thearmed forces, compiled by the office of the defense minister, includes nearly 370 names, of whom more than 150 are active dutyofficers. The remainder are enlisted men, army employees, reserveofficers and representatives of the military-industrial complex.Information leaked from the Central Election Commission (TsIK)states that nearly one third of these candidates have failed tocollect the requisite number of signatures for registration. Severalmilitary analysts have predicted that ultimately only 20 to 25from this list, at best, will make it to the finish.

By law, a faction can be established in the Duma byat least 35 like-minded deputies. It seems likely that out ofthe 950 candidates from the force structures (the Federal BorderGuards, the Federal Agency for Communications and InformationSecurity [FAPSI], the Federal Security Service, and the ForeignIntelligence Service) about 70 will make it into the parliament.Therefore, there is a very real chance that there will be a powerful"force lobby" in the new parliament, which will exertinfluence, not only on legislation, but on all of Russian politicallife.

For the first time in Russian history, an entire "regiment"of officers and generals is preparing to take the parliament bystorm. The list of military candidates for deputy shows that manyof them are going into the election in the ranks of politicalblocs and parties. There are whole groups of "people withepaulets" on the slates of "Russia Is Our Home," the Russian Communist Party, the Agrarian Party, the Congressof Russian Communities, the Liberal Democratic Party, Russia’sChoice, Derzhava, the Union of Patriots, Power to the People,For the Motherland, and in other parties.

Even a cursory analysis is enough to show that there are moreofficers and generals in the political blocs which oppose thepresident and the government than in the pro-government parties.Some of the military men running for office are openly advancinganti-presidential and anti-government slogans, such as "Wehave nothing in common with a government which has ruined theArmed Forces."

The president had hoped to have a "military-democratic"faction established in the Duma. However, in view of the factthat quite a large number of generals and officers are presenton the slates of the Russian Communist Party, "Derzhava,"the Liberal-Democratic Party, the Union of Patriots, and othersof their ilk, his hopes are hardly justified. Any military-basedfaction will likely be an anti-presidential faction.

To assist their candidates, the Defense Ministry issued an order(Directive No. 11) that "the head of the Defense Ministry’sMain Directorate of the Military Budget and Finance, at the requestof the Military Policy Directorate, demand money from the CentralElection Commission for the implementation of a program designedto increase the civic awareness of the voters and election organizers[in the Armed Forces] and to increase the participation of votersin the Armed Forces in elections and referenda."

Following this directive, the Main Directorate of the MilitaryBudget and Finance tried to demand funds from the Central ElectionCommission. But the TsIK is determined to resolve all these questionsthrough the local election commissions, which is logical. Itwill be easier for the military candidates, their closest associates,their commanders, and the public to exercise control over theexpenditures of money at the local level.

According to information from the localities, a total of 2.5-3million rubles will be spent on each military candidate. Thisis not a very big sum. For example, printing 1,000 black-and-whiteposters half the size of a newspaper page will cost a candidatesome 500,000- 700,000 rubles. Foreign experts have calculatedthat a seat in the Russian Duma will cost a candidate $250,000-300,000.Russian experts estimate the cost will be 1.5-1.7 billion rubles,(over $330,000)

Many military candidates find themselves disadvantaged comparedto civilian politicians. It is impossible to compare, let us say,a colonel, the head of a military criminology laboratory, withthe likes of Konstantin Borovoi, Artem Tarasov, or others, behindwhom stand solid banking or commercial structures like Gazprom,Logovaz, or Most-Bank.

Some military candidates have gained the financial support ofgovernment structures, large banks, or businessmen. "GeneralsRokhlin, Galkin, and others who are running on the Russia is OurHome list don’t have to count their money," confided a high-placedGeneral Staff official. General Boris Gromov, according to severalconfidential sources, is lavishly subsidized by firms owned byfamous singer Iosif Kobzon, like "Moskovit." It is saidthat Mishin, the former Komsomol leader, and another frequentcompanion of Gromov’s, is also helping to foot the bill for thegeneral’s campaign. In the General Staff, they think that Podkolzinis being supported by the Siberian Trade Bank and Stolichny Bank.

An interesting tendency is taking shape: one bank supports militarycandidates belonging to various political parties and blocs. Accordingto a source in the Defense Ministry, Most-Bank, for example, grantsloans to everybody, regardless of political orientation. The bankersbet their money on many "horses" simultaneously.

The following is a list of the main items of expense by the militarycandidates:

— election campaign paraphernalia, i.e., posters, etc.;

— rent for the rooms to hold meetings with potential voters;

— travel, hotel, per diem expenses;

— expense of organizing drinking parties with the "team"and with representatives from the local administration;

— expenses on hiring campaign assistants;

— "work" with journalists.

The richest and highest-placed military candidates have even hiredtheir own image-makers.

Judging by information from reliable sources in the Defense Ministry,the Ministry’s leadership has more than once expressed dissatisfactionwith how the election campaign is being conducted in the troops.On August 13, 1995, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces,General of the Army Mikhail Kolesnikov sent a coded cable in whichhe said: "In the military districts and in the fleets, noclear system has been set up to provide organizational, technical,and information systems support for the election campaign. Thisis seen clearest of all in the formalistic attitude that is takenin the localities towards choosing [Duma] candidates from themilitary. Many of them turn out to be mediocre, people unfamiliarwith the military’s problems and unable to defend its interests."

There are several military experts who are dissenting from theline of the armed forces’ leadership, however. Some of these militarysupporters have begun to point out the elections’ negative consequencesfor the army. They assert that the elections are destroying theunity of army opinion. In barracks and in crew’s quarters on navalvessels, agitation, discussion, and heated arguments are a frequentoccurrence. This situation is reminiscent of the eve of the OctoberRevolution.

At General Headquarters, people are alarmed about a split inthe army along political lines. Moreover, there is the fear thatafter the elections, the professional elite will leave the ranksof the army and the fleet. Officials at General Headquarters donot conceal their anxiety that if, for example, Admiral EduardBaltin is elected as a deputy, the Black Sea Fleet will fall apartfor good.

Disconcerting factors have appeared in the organizational aspectof the election campaign in the Army as well. The representativesof parties and blocs have the right to collect signatures andconduct the campaigns among military personnel only outside theboundaries of military installations. The campaign workers arelimited to specially designated places. To be fair, the campaignof a military candidate ought to play by the same rules. But alla division commander has to do is give an order to collect a certainnumber of signatures by morning, or to promote the candidate amongthe troops, and his subordinates will carry it out.

In certain garrisons, officers’ families have managed to improvetheir financial situation considerably by taking part in the collectionof signatures on nominating petitions of military candidates.Some of them collected signatures for dozens of petitions simultaneously,and spread out petitions before the voter, as if they were dealingout a deck of cards.

The Defense Ministry leadership keeps an attentive eye on the"unwelcome candidates." They have a full-scale effortunderway to collect compromising material on retired Lt. GeneralLebed. The Ministry has assigned General Yevnevich, Lebed’s successoras commander of the 14th Army in Moldova, a key role in this effort.He has already retrieved a dossier on Lebed from TransdniesterKGB boss General Shevtsov. Moskovsky komsomolets Editor-in-ChiefPavel Gusev, whom General Zdorikov had personally brought to Tiraspol,has developed a keen interest in the compromising material onLebed. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev himself not long ago blurtedout that he had materials at his disposal that proved that "somethingunsavory" had been planned in the 14th Army when Lebed wasits commander. The Defense Minister is seeking to incriminateAleksandr Lebed for staging a plot with the Don Cossacks. Furthermore,Grachev plans to leak a report to the press featuring "flagrant"financial abuses in the 14th Army in the time when its was commandedby Aleksandr Lebed.

The list of "unwelcome candidates" also includes GeneralBoris Gromov. As far as the latter is concerned the Defense Ministryleaders plan to discredit him by accusing him of unsavory connectionswith the commercial world. Grachev’s entourage meticulously examinedhow Gromov privatized his dacha. But the "bloodhounds"were disappointed: it turned out that Gromov had taken out anofficial loan of 50 million rubles from a commercial bank andis paying it off on time.

Another man on the "blacklist" is General Staff AcademyDirector Colonel General Igor Rodionov. Quite recently, Gen. Rodionovwas praised by the Defense Ministry and General Headquarters bosses,but as soon as his name emerged on the slate of the Congress ofRussian Communities (Lebed’s party), "serious drawbacks"were found in his work. Grachev "suddenly" recalledRodionov’s role in the tragic events in Tbilisi, and the top militaryleadership has already begun looking for somebody to replace himas Director of the General Staff Academy.

Defense Ministry experts maintain that election fraud is likelyto occur at closed polling stations (located in military installations)where the commanders have the opportunity to influence vote-countingcommissions. The fact is that a commander’s career will dependon whether or not he carries out the "unofficial" orderof his superiors to give them the "necessary percentage ofthe vote." The same goes for deputy commanders for moraltraining and education (known as the "political officers" in Soviet days.)

There are also clever ways to manipulate the results of the votingof servicemen and their families at "open" polling stations.One of them was used in the 1993 elections, as a staff officerin the Siberian Military District told me: "The commanderwalked up to the chairman of the election commission and said:’Tomorrow, 5,000 of my men will come to vote. And there is onlyone urn. People will push and shove, it will be a real mess. Wouldn’tit be better to set up a second urn — especially for the army?Let the civilians vote on the right, and we’ll vote on the left.There will be less of a traffic jam. And then, I’ll sit a hundredsoldiers down, and they’ll count all of the votes in a jiffy."And it was in the bag. Even if the whole division votes for Lebedor Gromov, the result will be exactly what the commander has toreport.

Another point worth noting is that one can see from the listof military candidates approved by the Defense Ministry’s MainPersonnel Department, that it is possible for whole dynastiesof military deputies to emerge. Number 35 on the list is AleksandrRutskoi’s brother, Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovich Rutskoi,a candidate running on the Derzhava slate.

The most recent polls conducted by the military show that, atthe present time, the army really is splitting along politicallines. So far, there has been no direct confrontation betweenservicemen of different political views, but specialists in theGeneral Staff cannot guarantee that one will not break out inthe near future. The fact that officers and generals are willingto run for deputy on the slates of opposition parties demonstratesthe openly antagonistic mood in the army towards the governmentand the president. While Boris Yeltsin could get his militarybloc in the new Duma, it won’t be the one he expected.

Aleksandr Zhilin is the National Security Issues Editor forMoskovskie novosti.