Russian president Boris Yeltsin told reporters in Yekaterinburg yesterday that reform in the armed forces "is going badly, though Defense Minister Pavel Grachev seems to consider it is going on normally." (5) To date, Grachev has been the Teflon defense minister. Almost since his appointment as head of Russia’s newly created armed forces in spring 1992, he has been criticized from across the political spectrum for incompetence, failure to pursue military reform, and alleged corruption. Many have also held him responsible for the dismal performance of the Russian army in Chechnya and for the equally disastrous attempt to free Russians taken hostage by Chechen forces in Budennovsk last summer. But Grachev’s close personal relationship with Yeltsin has always saved him.
If Yeltsin does choose to dump Grachev, it will not be because the defense minister is insufficiently hard-line, as was alleged of former foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev. Last week Grachev sharply criticized planned NATO expansion and warned that Russia would take harsh countermeasures if it came to pass. Yesterday he described two Chechen military leaders as bandits and added that those "who kill, rob, and rape must be destroyed." Grachev also spoke favorably of Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov’s recent call for a partial renationalization of key banks and industries as a means to finance interior ministry and regular army forces. (6) Although Grachev has long spoken like Yeltsin’s hard-line opponents, the sense of humiliation accompanying the army’s performance in Chechnya, together with the fact that Grachev has lined the Defense Ministry up behind Yeltsin at several crucial political junctures, nevertheless means that he has few allies in the opposition. Grachev’s standing with Yeltsin has probably also been undermined by reported tensions between him and Yeltsin’s right-hand man, Aleksandr Korzhakov.
Maneuvering on Bosnia Continues.