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Russia: Kremlin May Signal Policy Change With Sacking Of General

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the commander of Russian forces in the North Caucasus yesterday, after the general rebuffed Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov over a proposed reassignment to Siberia. The sacked general, Gennady Troshev, was one of Russia's key military commanders in the Chechen war. RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite reports.

Prague, 19 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has sacked the commander of Russia forces in the North Caucasus, General Gennady Troshev.

Troshev, a key military commander in the Chechen war for three years, had earlier in the week declined a transfer to Siberia. He said his move there would "mean the betrayal of officers serving in Chechnya, and the betrayal of the Chechen people at a time when counterterrorist operations are approaching an end."

The comments apparently enraged the Kremlin, which said they were "unacceptable from the point of view of discipline." Putin then named former commander of Russian forces in Siberia General Vladimir Boldyrev to replace Troshev.

The reasons for the dismissal are unclear, but at least one analyst says it may go deeper than a disagreement over a transfer.

The deputy director of Moscow's Carnegie Center, Dmitri Trenin, says he thinks Troshev's dismissal may mark a shift in the Kremlin's attitude toward Chechnya and may signal that the Kremlin wants more control over the situation there.

"Until now, there was a situation where the government -- and primarily the commander-chief, (Putin) in fact -- gave [control over] Chechnya to the military. The authorities did not intervene in the ways the military were trying to pacify Chechnya. In return they (the military) were loyal to the supreme commander."

Trenin says that may be changing. He says Putin may be taking a broader view of the situation, including criticism from the West and Islamic countries, and looking for alternatives to a military solution. That put Putin and Troshev at odds with each other.

"General Troshev's agenda was, as he was saying, to finish the antiterrorist campaign. He understood it as a ruthless pursuit and extermination of armed enemies and removal of all those who are helping or may be helping the opponents."

James Nixey is an analyst of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Britain. He says that view, however, may be going too far, since there are no signs that by sacking the general, the Kremlin is planning a milder stance in Chechnya.

"I don't think it particularly does [signal a change in Kremlin policy]. There has certainly been no evidence of that so far. I mean certainly, [there have been some in Moscow who say they are] heading toward a political solution rather than military one. But that has not been Putin's rhetoric up to this point and it certainly hasn't been his actions."

Trenin says Troshev may seek a political career under a nationalist banner, but that his prospects for success are not great. He says times have changed in Russia and that Troshev would be unlikely to do as well as another former Russian commander in Chechnya, General Aleksandr Lebed. Lebed ran for president in 1996 and won 15 percent of the vote.

Aslambek Aslakhanov is a deputy of the Russian State Duma, representing Chechnya. He tells RFE/RL that Troshev was rightly sacked because he politically challenged the president and the defense minister. However, Aslakhanov says Troshev is unlikely to leave Chechnya.

"It is common in Russia that generals do not just retire. They join political life, he (Troshev) will also go into politics. I think the Chechen Republic will be the object of his political ambitions. I do not rule out the possibility that he will try to become a leader of the republic, a place where he led his antiterrorist operations."

Nixey agrees that Troshev may try politics, but says he is unlikely to succeed.

"[He can try] a career, yes. But a successful one where he has a lot of power, no, I don't think so. Because even with Lebed several years ago, it never looked likely whether he was going to attain any serious political power."

Nixey says Russian generals, involved in politics, are often not able to act as politicians. They act as generals on a battlefield.