Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 100

Charging that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov had failed to follow his earlier orders, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday directed the military to halt the reorganization and reduction of Russia’s Airborne Troops. The ministry was in the process of cutting the force from 46,000 to 34,000 men by eliminating several divisions, and was resubordinating them from the direct command of the minister or the president to the command of Russia’s Ground Forces.

Yeltsin’s intervention comes at the eleventh hour. The reorganization has been reported and discussed for months and has provoked bitter protests from such ex-paratroopers as former Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed as well as costing several former high-ranking airborne officers their jobs. The resubordination was due to begin on May 12 but was then delayed until May 28. Yeltsin’s press secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said that the reform plans run counter to Yeltsin’s instructions of April 4, when he declared that the paratroopers would form the core of Russia’s Mobile Forces. According to Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin had noted that Rodionov’s latest military reform proposals made no mention of the paratroopers, and the Russian president had declared that a "hasty reduction and reorganization of the Airborne Troops is under way which will by definition diminish [their] role and potential." The press secretary said that Yeltsin viewed the Airborne Troops as a peacetime reserve for the commander-in-chief, i.e., Yeltsin.

A spokesman for the headquarters of the Airborne Troops applauded Yeltsin’s action but indicated that the whole issue was still up in the air and would be decided at tomorrow’s meeting of the Defense Council. The president’s intervention sends a strong signal that Rodionov’s plan — the only concrete "reform" measure he has so far attempted — will be overturned. (Interfax and RIA, May 20)

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