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Russia: Commission Meets To Consider General Semyonov's Fate

Moscow, 5 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - A Russian commission charged with advising President Boris Yeltsin on top military appointments apparently refrained yesterday from deciding on the fate of the commander of the country's ground forces, General Vladimir Semyonov.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov appeared before the commission to argue for Semyonov's dismissal, but most Russian news reports say no final decision was made. Rodionov has accused Semyonov of "activities which discredit the honor and dignity of a military serviceman" and which are "incompatible with his post." However, the Defense Minister has not provided specific allegations to the press or public.

The presidential commission is headed by the secretary of Yeltsin's Defense Council, Yuri Baturin, and includes members from all the country's power ministries and members from both houses of the Russian parliament.

While observers say the commission obeys Yeltsin's orders, the president's press spokesman said earlier this week that the president would not sign any dismissal decree until the commission considers the case. However, the Kremlin says Yeltsin has already agreed "in principle" to dismiss Semyonov.

Few details are available concerning yesterday's proceedings. But the Interfax news agency quotes a source at the Defense Council as saying that some commission members voiced approval for the firing of Semyonov while others were critical of Rodionov. The report said that members only agreed that "legal purity" is needed in deciding the matter.

The source told Interfax that the commission is waiting for written materials backing up Rodionov's charges before it formally considers the dismissal request. Earlier this week, Rodionov's press secretary, Viktor Baranets, said results of an investigation of Semyonov would be available today.

With few reliable details being made public, Russian press reports vary on the likely outcome of the controversy. Izvestiya, in a piece sympathetic to Semyonov, reported yesterday that the commission has already decided that he will be dismissed. The article by Viktor Litovkin accused Rodnionov of insulting "the top official in charge of a 600,000-strong armed grouping" without "taking the trouble to offer a well-reasoned justification of these charges."

Meanwhile, Argumenty I Fakty reported yesterday that the controversy may actually result in the dismissal of Rodionov. Unnamed military sources were cited for the report.

RFE/RL spoke yesterday with General Yuri Lebedev, the leading military analyst of the RAU Corporation. Lebedev argues that President Yeltsin must personally intervene to quickly resolve what Lebedev called a "pernicious" and "embarrassing" conflict before it divides the country's military leadership. Lebedev said that Yeltsin's reluctance to act is "demoralising the armed forces."

Both Lebedev and other interviewed analysts said Yeltsin must cleanse the Defense Ministry of its seemingly endless intrigues and install a clear and transparent chain of command.

The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, has denied widespread reports that the controversy over Semyonov is responsible for Rodionov's decision to cancel an official visit to the United States. The Defense Minister had been scheduled to arrive in the United States yesterday.