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Russia: Yeltsin Fires Defense Minister For Reform Failures

Moscow, 22 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin fired his Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and the head of the General Staff, Viktor Samsonov, after blaming them for Russia's failed military reforms.

Yeltsin also signed a decree naming First Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, as well as the head of his administration Valentin Yumashev, to his Defense Council.

Yuri Baturin, who heads the Presidential Defense Council, said Yeltsin announced the decision to sack the two top military commanders at a meeting today of the defense council headed by Yeltsin. He told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the commander of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, Igor Sergeyev, would serve as interim defense minister until a replacement is appointed. There was no word on who would replace Samsonov.

Before today's defense council meeting, Yeltsin criticized the general staff, and in particular, Rodionov for the slow pace of reform in the armed forces. He said Rodionov, who had been appointed last July, had "forgotten what the armed forces exist for."

According to ITAR-TASS, Yeltsin said he was not merely "dissatisfied," but "upset" with the course of military reform. Yeltsin laid blame on the general staff, but singled out Rodionov who was appointed last June, saying his efforts were unsatisfactory.

Rodionov retired from the army to become Russia's first civilian defense minister. He had spoken out against rapid military reforms which reportedly put him at odds with Baturin, Yeltsin's top defense adviser.

Yeltsin promised during his presidential re-election campaign a year ago to end conscription by 2000 and create a modern professional army. But so far those intentions have led to few results.