By Simon Saradzhyan and Jan de Weydenthal
Moscow, April 30 (RFE/RL) - A ranking State Duma deputy says that the communist presidential candidate Gennady Zyuganov plans to impose personal control over Russia's armed forces and security operations if he wins election, and is opposed to further cuts in military personnel.
Mikhail Surkov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee and a senior member of the Russian Communist Party's Presidium, told RFE/RL this week in Moscow that Zyuganov plans to set up a special Defense Council to ensure control over the so-called power agencies. These include Defense, Foreign and Interior Ministries and the Security Service.
Surkov said that "there has to be a single body chaired by the president himself to oversee and ensure order in everything, from Chechnya to conscription, from food supplies to national security and defense industry matters." He also said that Zyuganov wants the General Staff of the Armed Forces to report directly to him rather than to the Defense Minister as is does now.
Surkov added that the creation of the council is seen by Zyuganov as a priority, although the communist candidate has until now been reluctant to discuss the issue in public.
Surkov went on to say that Zyuganov further plans include an elimination of several federal ministries and agencies which now deal with military an security matters. "There are too many masters," he said.
Further steps to streamline the military are to include the disposal of outdated armament and equipment which is now stored at considerable cost.
But Surkov was quick to say that Zyuganov is opposed to any further personnel cuts in the Russian armed forces. The force stands now at 1.8 million, and the current military leadership is envisaging cuts of about 400,000 troops. General Aleksandr Lebed, another presidential candidate, also advocates cuts in military personnel.
By opposing cuts, Zyuganov gives his support to many ranking military commanders - among them the army chief General Vladimir Semenov - and prominent military politicians, such as Chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee Lev Rokhlin.
Rokhlin, who is closely allied with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, said last week in a speech at the Duma that reductions of personnel "have left the national armed forces with practically no units capable of effective operations in Chechnya."
Zyuganov plans to unveil his electoral platform in mid-May. It is not yet clear whether his plans for streamlining military and security operations will be included in that platform.