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Russia: Yeltsin Moves To Reform The Military

Moscow, 20 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - In an apparent move to reform armed forces, Russia's President Boris Yeltsin issued this week a decree to put the elite airborne troops (VDV) under the ground forces command.

The decree is the first step in a planned series of moves that include plans to merge air and air defense forces as well as space and strategic missile troops into a single centrally commanded force. The plans are reported to have been drafted by the presidentUs Defense Council.

Before any of these moves are implemented, the council is also to look at reform plans prepared by Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. This is likely to happen in early April.

The VDV accepted the move, but the decision was clearly unpopular. "We do not discuss commands, we fulfill them," VDVUs spokesman Nikolai Bragin told RFE/RL two days ago. But Bragin did not even try to hide his disappointment. "How do you think we should feel about it?" he rhetorically asked.

VDV used to report directly to the defense minister. But both Rodionov and his predecessor Pavel Grachev tried to submit VDV to a regular military chain of command. Early last year Grachev removed the then VDV chief Col. General Yevgeny Podkolzin who openly opposed attempts to put his troops under the regular army command.

Following Podkolzin's ouster, VDV continued to resist changes until Rodionov dismissed last October deputy commander of VDV Major General Valery Kazantsev for publicly disagreeing with the planned downsizing of his force. Prior to his removal, both Kazantsev and other VDV commanders had taken part in a secret meeting with former general Alexander Lebed allegedly to discuss ways to countermand RodionovUs plans to reform the force.

Subsequently, Rodionov appointed Col. General Igor Shpack, who swiftly implemented the minister's plan to downsize VDV. The total personnel of VDV have been substantially cut (from 64,300 to 48,500) and, according to Bragin, further cuts are in the offing.