President Boris Yeltsin gave beleaguered Russian defense minister Igor Rodionov a strong, public vote of confidence yesterday, but it was unclear after a 40-minute meeting between the two men whether the Kremlin had made any progress in its efforts to settle on a program for military reform. In a televised appearance that preceded the talks, Yeltsin called reports of Rodionov’s imminent dismissal "totally unfounded," and he praised the defense chief for his efforts to improve conditions in Russia’s armed forces. But Yeltsin also confirmed that there are differences in the military reform programs of Rodionov and Defense Council secretary Yuri Baturin, and, without appearing to indicate his preference for either approach, pointedly emphasized that he himself will make the final decision on the reform course that the armed forces will ultimately adopt. (See Monitor, January 31) Yeltsin appeared stronger in this television appearance than he has of late, and that last assertion appeared designed to demonstrate that he remains on top of defense affairs — a proposition that has been much questioned since the president’s incapacitation by health problems — and that he remains in control of the Kremlin.
In his own comments to the press following the meeting, Rodionov nevertheless claimed to have won the president’s support, but provided few specifics. He said that the two had discussed Russia’s military budget (Rodionov has complained repeatedly that it is insufficient) as well as personnel changes in the upper echelon’s of the defense hierarchy. Rodionov suggested that some commanders of Russia’s naval fleets and military districts would soon be replaced. But he made no mention of Army General Vladimir Semenov, who has remained in limbo since he was publicly dismissed as Ground Forces commander by Rodionov on December 2, only to have the Kremlin countermand the order several days later and place him on suspension. (ORT, AP, Reuter, February 17. See also Monitor, December 3-4, 10)
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