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Russia: Rodionov Delays U.S. Visit Amid Controversy Over Commander

Moscow, 4 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - An official at the Russian Defense Ministry says that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's decision to delay a visit to the United States is likely linked to an attempt to prevent a possible comeback by a top commander.

Rodionov had been scheduled to leave for the United States today at the start of a four-day visit. But the Russian Defense Ministry, without providing any explanation, announced yesterday that the trip had been canceled. A U.S. Department of Defense spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, said that Rodionov had sent a letter to Washington expressing regret about the postponement. Bacon said the visit would probably be rescheduled for sometime next year.

A duty officer at the Russian Defense Ministry's Information Department, who asked to remain anonymous, told our correspondent late yesterday that the trip cancellation was likely related, at least in part, to Rodionov's attempts to fire General Vladimir Semyonov. Semyonov has been commander of Russia's ground forces since 1991.

The Defense Ministry said two days ago that Semyonov had been sacked for misconduct, and said President Boris Yeltsin had approved the decision. But the Kremlin quickly said Yeltsin had only agreed "in principle" to the move. Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said yesterday that the president would not sign any dismissal decree until the case is considered by a presidential commission charged with advising him on top military appointments. A meeting of the commission is scheduled for today.

Observers say that Rodionov wants to be in Moscow to personally fight for the formal dismissal if the committee unexpectedly recommends to keep Semyonov in his post. Apparently encouraged by that possibility, Semyonov yesterday backed away from an earlier decision to step down. He told Interfax "I have not given my consent to resign to anyone."

Semyonov said he had already sent an official report to Yeltsin to inform the commander-in-chief that he would not step down unless officially fired by the president. He said those who claim that he is ready to offer his resignation "are misleading the president." The commander said he would fight for his honor and career.

The committee which will now consider Semyonov's fate is comprised of representatives from all power ministries and both chambers of the Russian parliament. However, it readily obeys Yeltsin's orders.

The commission is headed by the secretary of the presidential Defense Committee, Yuri Baturin, who claims he is unaware of any misconduct by Semyonov.

When the Defense Ministry revealed the effort to remove Semyonov on Monday, Rodionov's press secretary, Viktor Baranets, accused Semyonov of "activities which discredit the honor and dignity of a military serviceman and are incompatible with his post." Baranets refused to elaborate, but said there is an investigation underway into Semyonov's alleged wrongdoings. Baranets said the results of this investigation would be revealed tomorrow.

Contacted by RFE/RL yesterday, the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office (GVP), which normally looks into crimes committed by military personnel, said it had no information against Semyonov.

Semyonov says he is also unaware of exactly what Rodionov holds him responsible for. Semyonov told Izvestia that Rodionov only hinted about some illegal commerce when meeting with the army commander last Friday. Semyonov said the Defense Minister told him about "serious charges" against him, linked to "commercial activities" of his wife Madlena Semyonova who works at the Moscow office of the Russian helicopter-maker Rosvertol. Rosvertol traditionally supplies MI helicopters to the Russian army.