STRUUGLE FOR THE KREMLIN: Lebed sacking clarifies role of armed forces

The military
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The Independent Online
The Russian military is unlikely to be directly or adversely affected by Alexander Lebed's sacking. Although he intervened in the issue of unpaid military salaries, warning that the military was on the verge of "armed revolt", he was not directly involved in the negotiations between the Defence Ministry and the Finance Ministry. Nor did he have any real authority to negotiate on Nato expansion.

Although he discussed the matter when he visited Brussels last week, the Russian Defence and Foreign Ministries appear to be resigned to working with Nato. And the other main issue for the military - the creation of all-professional armed forces - has been frozen indefinitely on President Yeltsin's orders.

In some ways, the removal of Mr Lebed as a security supremo covering the three ministries which have armed forces, Defence, the Security Ministry and the Interior Ministry, will simplify matters. It will probably give more freedom to the Defence Minister, Colonel-General Igor Rodionov. General Rodionov was appointed by Mr Lebed, but since then they have drifted apart. On Tuesday, just before he was sacked, Mr Lebed criticised General Rodionov for reorganising the airborne forces - Russia's elite paratroops - in which Mr Lebed served as a general and who are among the few professionally competent units. Their total strength is to be reduced from 64,300 to 48,500. Mr Lebed is no longer above General Rodionov in the government hierarchy, but it is likely that he will try to recruit supporters within the military and will still use his position as a politician to criticise any further changes General Rodionov wants to make.

Last week, on 9 October, President Yeltsin formally announced that his pre-election commitment to move to all-professional forces by 2000 had been shelved, possibly for years.

Yuri Baturin, the Secretary of the Defence Council, said "although it was clear from the moment the decree was signed that it would be impossible to carry it out, no one dared refute the President's promises directly". nMr Yeltsin dismissed the head of the general staff of the Russian armed forces yesterday, immediately replacing him with another top general. The sacking of General Mikhail Kolesnikov, 57, does not appear to have been politically motivated.

His successor, General Viktor Samsonov, has served since 1993 at the same Commonwealth of Independent States post that Mr Yeltsin now wants General Kolesnikov to take.