West accused of double-crossing Russia

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In the most strongly-worded warning to the west so far not to meddle in Russia's internal affairs, a high-ranking defence official has claimed Western nations are double-crossing Russia over economic aid and might invade former Soviet territory under the pretext of maintaining 'international control' over the former Soviet nuclear arsenal.

The deputy chief of the new Russian defence staff, General Mikhail Kolesnikov, has also effectively warned President Boris Yeltsin that the Russian military high command is about to draw a line on disarmament and halt any further depletion of the fighting capability of its forces.

In a speech to an independent foreign and military policy group, General Kolesnikov, who is known as a thoughtful and non-sensational officer, was reflecting a growing discontent in the Russian military hierarchy with the way Mr Yeltsin is organising the Russian army, drawing up nuclear arms reduction agreements with the United States, agreeing to a speedy withdrawal of former Soviet troops from the Baltic states, and failing to deal with the mounting social problems of the officers and troops returning from Eastern Europe. In short, General Kolesnikov is signalling what appears to be a growing conflict between the executive branch and the military.

His remarks were bolstered by charges from Leonid Sherbarshin, former head of the KGB's overseas operations, who suggested in a newspaper article in Komsomolskaya Pravda that Western reports about leaks of nuclear technologies and scientists from Russia were all part of a plot mounted by the CIA to persuade the world of the need for 'direct international control' over Russia's military and civilian nuclear potential.

The two sets of charges do not appear to presage a military conspiracy against the Yeltsin government, however. The consensus among Yeltsin's aides is that there will not be a repeat of last year's August coup attempt. General Kolesnikov's remarks indicate that the general staff has reached a point of such low morale that it has decided to fight back.

The general's remarks could not have been made in the semi-public forum of the Council on Military and Foreign Policy without the consent of the Russian defence staff, or, most probably without the knowledge of Mr Yeltsin's Defence Minister, General Pavel Grachev. The privately funded council, which includes senior military officials, politicians and businessmen, was set up a month ago.

In his speech, General Kolesnikov warned that conflicts in Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Transcaucasian republics 'might cause a direct Western interference under the pretext of a need to ensure 'international control' over the nuclear potential'. He said that Russia's emergence as a new military power, effectively replacing the former Soviet Union, was against the long-term interests of the US, Japan and Nato nations.

The evidence of a double-cross, he said, was to be seen these countries' efforts 'to stabilise the economic situation and smooth over national contradictions, while at the same time encouraging the disintegration process inside Russia, or the Commonwealth of Independent States'.

The Russians left behind, page 14