Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 102

Angry at the slow pace of military reform, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday fired Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and the chief of the General Staff, Army Gen. Viktor Samsonov, at a stormy meeting of the Russian Defense Council. The commander in chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Army Gen. Igor Sergeev, was named acting defense minister. Sources at the Defense Ministry indicated that Col. Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, the commander of the Far Eastern Military District and a participant in yesterday’s meeting, had been appointed General Staff chief, but Yeltsin’s office refused to confirm this. (See News item above)

While Yeltsin had previously signaled his unhappiness with the top military leaders and had opened yesterday’s meeting by declaring he was not satisfied with their work, his unexpected and precipitous action might have been triggered by what Yeltsin perceived as a lack of respect from Rodionov and Samsonov at the session. Defense Council secretary Yuri Baturin indicated that the behavior of the two was "not quite correct" when Yeltsin asked them to report to the council. Yeltsin’s critics placed the blame for the dismissals on Baturin himself, who has long clashed with Rodionov over the course of military reform, or on First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov, who also joined the Defense Council meeting yesterday.

Yeltsin subsequently set up two commissions to take charge of military reform — one headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the other by Chubais. Nemtsov indicated that one of their first tasks would be to cut what he claimed are the more than 4 million persons serving in armed units not subordinate to the Defense or Interior Ministries. Ironically, Rodionov, and his predecessor, the disgraced Pavel Grachev, had advocated a similar step but could never muster the political support to push it through.

Those tasked to implement the reform of the Russian armed forces to date have all insisted that the process would be an expensive one requiring additional funding and that their meager results have matched the scanty military budgets allocated for the effort. With the military looking at a further 20 percent budget cut, however, there was clearly no future for this sort of approach. Former prime minister Yegor Gaidar, for one, welcomed Yeltsin’s actions and spoke up for the other school of military reform — which argues that the Defense Ministry’s vast "hidden reserves" can be used to fund the necessary changes.

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