Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 204

Reportedly to review Russia’s military reform program, Russian President Boris Yeltsin conferred in Sochi yesterday with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Few details of the discussion were available. Reports said only that Yeltsin had approved the work done by the Defense Ministry to date this year. Yeltsin and Sergeev also previewed Russia’s defense reform agenda for 1999, the core of which was said to be the transition of Russia’s armed forces to a three-branch service structure. The ailing Russian president apparently ordered Sergeev to report back to him following a conference on military reform to be held at the Defense Ministry on November 11-12. Reports prior to yesterday’s meeting had said that Yeltsin and Sergeev would also discuss a series of international issues, including the Iraq and Kosovo crises, as well as Sergeev’s recent visits to India, Vietnam and China. It was unclear afterward, however, whether those issues had made the agenda (Itar-Tass, Russian TV, November 3).

The vagueness of yesterday’s reports appeared to reflect Yeltsin’s diminished engagement in Russian political affairs. It appeared to reflect also a more general drift in Russian defense policy evident since the dismissal of the Kirienko government in late August. That drift has been prolonged by Russia’s enduring political and economic crisis. The Kremlin’s defense reform effort has probably also suffered from the ouster in September of former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin. A long-time civilian defense expert, Kokoshin had helped to draft Russia’s military reform program. He had subsequently gathered into his own hands a considerable array of formal powers in the effort to restructure Russia’s military and various security forces. That sort of broad authority, however, has not been invested in any individual since Kokoshin’s departure. Russia’s new Security Council secretary, former border forces chief Nikolai Bordyuzha, has proven to be a far less influential player in the Kremlin than was Kokoshin. His role in the military reform effort appears to be minimal.