Disgruntled military poses constant threat

YELTSIN ON THE BRINK ARMY'S ROLE

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

The Russian armed forces have traditionally steered clear of politics, but they have been unable to ignore it since the 1991 coup attempt, when their refusal to fire on their own people and join the conspiracy against Mikhail Gorbachev tipped the balance in the president's favour.

But the views of senior officers vary widely, and it would be unwise for any political leader to count on the support of a vast and disparate organisation which is still in crisis.

The Russian military, still 1.5 million strong, is not a united political body, as its response to the Russian parliamentary revolt against Boris Yeltsin in 1993 showed. To form a force of just 1,700 troops to storm the White House and restore President Yeltsin's authority, the Russians drew from five different divisions in the Moscow military district. The commanders had to pick their soldiers carefully.

Of likely presidential candidates, General Alexander Lebed, the charismatic former commander of the 14th Army, would probably gain most support from the armed forces.

General Pavel Grachev, the Defence Minister, on the other hand, had very little respect within the military before the Chechnya debacle, and now has even less. In August 1994, a poll of 615 generals and colonels showed President Yeltsin was trusted by under 30 per cent, and fewer than 20 per cent trusted General Grachev. But half said they trusted generals Lebed and Boris Gromov.

The poll was revealing: 80 per cent of top ranking military officers favoured an authoritarian form of government. Sixty-four per cent dismissed Western-style democracy as unsuitable for Russian conditions.

General Lebed was widely praised when, as the commander of the 14th Army, he publicly criticised the deputy defence minister, General Matvei Burlakov. He said there was no point General Burlakov coming to see the 14th Army because there was "nothing to steal", and that if he did he would have him arrested. His crusade against corruption is General Lebed's strongest card.

General Lebed has no economic policy and probably would not be a strong enough candidate to stand alone. However, if he joined forces with the technocrats, led by a former Security Council member, Yuri Skokov, with the Civic Union or with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, he could be a significant asset.

Below this level, the Russian armed forces are probably as diverse in their political views as the rest of the country. As well as the chronic undermanning, Russian units have been preoccupied with feeding themselves and keeping warm. Training standards and morale appear at an all-time low.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'