For the second time in less than a week, President Boris Yeltsin on July 29 sought to reassure Russian servicemen who might be apprehensive over upcoming military personnel cuts and defense restructuring. In a message circulated by the presidential press service, Yeltsin once again hammered home two key points: that the impending reforms are crucial to ensuring that the Russian armed forces are capable of performing their missions, and that the reforms will ultimately result in improved living conditions for Russia’s increasingly impoverished army. As he did in a radio address on July 25 (see Monitor, July 28), Yeltsin again reviewed the key points in the reform program, and he likewise reiterated the government’s commitment to clear up wage arrears and to build some 100,000 apartments for servicemen and their families. Yeltsin also pointed to plans to split various non-military service sectors from the Defense Ministry, proclaiming that military men should be able to focus on their combat tasks alone. (RIA, July 29)
Yeltsin’s two public appeals to the armed forces are aimed at winning the support of military men for the controversial reform program, and fulfill a request made by Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on July 18 that Yeltsin rally the troops behind the program. Yeltsin’s actions are also clearly a response to critics outside the armed forces — first and foremost Duma Defense Committee chairman Lev Rokhlin and his allies — who have argued that the reforms will doom Russia’s army and that they should be postponed until the country’s economic situation improves.
Yeltsin appeared to choose his words carefully in the July 29 message, defending the Kremlin’s military reform policies but granting that critics of the reform plan may also have the well-being of the armed forces at heart. The message appeared crafted to defuse confrontation and to encourage those on both sides of the reform barricade to work in tandem. That approach would be consistent with statements by other Russian government leaders, who have intimated that Rokhlin might play a part in drafting the new military reform program. Rokhlin, however, has surrounded himself with extremists, and at least some of them are likely