Yeltsin sacks defence chief over reforms

Boris Yeltsin has taken on his own military by sacking two top defence officials, including the popular Minister of Defence, Igor Rodionov, for failing to make any headway in reforming Russia's vast, tottering armed forces.

The dismissals came as the president delivered a ferocious, and evidently choreographed, televised bawling-out to the two in front of top officials at a meeting of the Defence Council. He was, he complained, "indignant" over the lack of reform and the state of his armed forces: "The soldier is losing weight while the general is getting fatter."

Mr Rodionov, a career general turned civilian minister, was fired after only 10 months in one of the toughest jobs in the country, after the presidency itself.

Perhaps significantly, his acting replacement was named as General Igor Sergeyev, the head of the elite strategic rocket forces - part of the armed forces that may become the nucleus of Russia's overhauled military in the future. The other sacking was the chief of the general staff, the number two in the army, General Viktor Samsonov.

Mr Yeltsin's accusations were certainly founded on fact, although they may be seen as unfair by many in the military. Mr Rodionov achieved almost no reforms, and what did happen - the axing, for instance, of an intermediate level of command in the air force and cuts to the elite paratrooper forces - was piecemeal and even illogical.

If anything, the chaos in the Russian armed forces, still reeling from their humiliation in Chechnya, worsened. Reports poured in of increased suicides among officers, soldiers being treated for malnutrition, mass draft-dodging, moonlighting, theft, and embezzlement and bribery among the senior ranks.

Chief among the reasons for the minister's lack of progress was shortage of money. Cutting armies is costly; equipment has to be replaced, and laid-off soldiers are entitled to pensions and 20 months' redundancy pay. Yet this year, the Russian Defence Ministry was facing a budget of 83 trillion roubles (pounds 8.8bn), no greater than last year's.

When Mr Rodionov was appointed last August, on the urging of Alexander Lebed, then Mr Yeltsin's protege and security supremo, there was a sharp intake of breath in the West. He was widely blamed for the loss of 19 lives when Soviet troops suppressed a pro-independence protest in Georgia in 1989. But his hardliner reputation quickly dissolved. Last night, Western sources portrayed him as an honest official, a soldier's soldier who was being scapegoated by Mr Yeltsin.

They pointed out that the defence minister was, in effect, working without a script. Before last year's presidential election, a vote-seeking Mr Yeltsin announced plans to turn his conscript army into an all-professional force by the end of the century - a target that is regarded as unrealistic. But his government has yet to compile a blueprint outlining its overall military strategy.

Moreover, the Russian Security Council has only just completed work on a national security concept. "It was asking the impossible of Rodionov to produce cuts on the ground, when he had no concept, no blueprint, to work with ... Mr Yeltsin is making him pay the penalty for failing to carry out reforms that can only be achieved by the president himself," said one Western analyst.

In part, Mr Rodionov was the author of his own downfall. His outspoken attacks on Kremlin policy, and his clashes with the president's top defence adviser, Yuri Baturin, angered Mr Yeltsin. In February, the minister warned that Russia could lose control of its vast nuclear arsenal, such was the financial crisis.

"The whole horror of the thing is that as Russia's defence minister I am a spectator of the process of destruction in the army, and cannot do anything about it," he told reporters. Fed up with frequent public complaints, Mr Yeltsin eventually ordered him to "stop whining".

Mr Rodionov's sacking appears to mark another step in the rapid ascendancy of Mr Yeltsin's two young reformers, Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, who have been pressing hard for military reforms. Yesterday the two deputy prime ministers were appointed to the Security Council, one of the key forums for defence policy-making.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

HSE Manger - Solar

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: HSE Mana...

Data Governance Manager (Solvency II) – Contract – Up to £450 daily rate, 6 month (may go Permanent)

£350 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently looking...

Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £22000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Recruitment Resour...

2nd line support - Derbyshire - 6 months

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: 2nd line support - Derbyshire - 6 months...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried