Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 42

Less than eight months after his appointment as defense minister was greeted with praise across Russia’s political spectrum, retired Gen. Igor Rodionov appears to be on the hot seat. Russian president Boris Yeltsin met yesterday in the Kremlin with Col. Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, commander of Russia’s Far Eastern Military district and the man said by most news sources to head the list of possible replacements for Rodionov. Speculation over the retired general’s impending dismissal has heightened in recent days as tensions between Rodionov and Russian Defense Council secretary Yuri Baturin have burst into the open and the Kremlin has been forced to censure Rodionov for the inflammatory remarks he made during a Russian army day speech on February 23.

Both Chechevatov and Kremlin sources said after yesterday’s meeting that the Defense Ministry post had not been discussed, but few in Moscow were taking that remark seriously. Chechevatov and Yeltsin have met frequently in recent years — four times in 1996 alone, according to one source — and the Far Eastern Military district commander was considered one of several front runners last summer when Yeltsin was pondering candidates for the post that eventually went to Rodionov. And although Chechevatov yesterday repeated Rodionov’s own warnings to Yeltsin that the armed forces face a crisis, he also reportedly said the one thing that Yeltsin really wanted to hear: that the armed forces do not require additional funding in order to implement desperately needed reforms. That view places Chechevatov squarely on the side of Baturin, and stands in sharp contrast to Rodionov’s constant public harping on the army’s under-funding, a theme that has increasingly riled the Kremlin. Russian media speculated yesterday that a change in defense ministers could come after the next meeting of Russia’s Defense Council — scheduled for March — at which key decisions are expected to be taken on military reform. (AP, Itar-Tass, Interfax, February 27)

The 51-year-old Chechevatov has had a quiet, yet at times controversial career. He was named commander of the Kiev Military district in 1991 as the Soviet Union was on the verge of dissolution, only to be fired in late January of 1992 by then Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma for his unwillingness to take an oath of loyalty to the new Ukrainian state. Several months later Chechevatov was named to his current post as commander of Russia’s Far Eastern Military district. In early 1995 he registered as a candidate for Russian president (in a move orchestrated by the Kremlin to draw votes away from Aleksandr Lebed, one Russian source intimates), and dropped out of the race a short while later. (Kommersant -daily, February 27) Chechevatov has also been dogged periodically since his stint in Kiev by allegations of corruption, a fact that could prove problematic as the Kremlin pursues its latest crackdown on corruption. (Moskovsky komsomolets, May 22, 1996; Vechernyaya Moskva, August 29, 1996)

Yeltsin Criticizes Russian Government Again.