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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev Deflects Parliament Onslaught

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev successfully deflected a widely expected parliamentary onslaught Friday, when he made a passionate appeal to the State Duma for financial support to avert a looming crisis in the army.

In more than an hour long joust with parliament's lower house, Grachev faced only two questions on the issue that a few weeks ago had seemed likely to topple him: corruption in the armed forces. Instead he used the occasion to paint himself as the victim of a campaign against a military on the point of collapse.

At the beginning of a fighting speech the defense minister was heard in silence as he said: "It seems we'll soon hear 'Beat the generals and save Russia!'" a reference to an anti-semitic slogan commonly used this century.

But the mood of the chamber visibly softened as Grachev went on, and he won applause for saying: "It's beneath my dignity to engage in polemic with boors and people who cover me in dirt."

Pressure has been mounting on Grachev to resign since the murder on Oct. 17 of investigative journalist Dmitry Kholodov, who was killed by a booby-trap bomb while investigating top level army corruption

Grachev said he did not want to comment on Kholodov's murder as he did not want to "pre-judge" a judicial enquiry. And he dodged criticism of the Western group of forces, which has been accused of widespread corruption, saying that no investigation had turned up any incriminating evidence against it.

Instead he used the occasion to lobby for funds. Conscription rates were dangerously low, he said, and qualified professionals were leaving. He said the army had only received half of its funding for 1994 and was 8 trillion rubles ($2.53 billion) in debt.

He strongly condemned the draft budget for 1995. The DefenseMinistry has called for 111 trillion rubles to be allocated to the armed forces, almost three times more than what is outlined in the budget.

"I call on you, esteemed deputies, for the sake of the security of our great power, to approach the adoption of the budget for 1995 with a feeling of deep responsibility," Grachev told the Duma."If that is not done we have to say honestly -- do we need an army or don't we? If we need one it is criminal to keep it half-starved and destitute and driving people to the edge."

Grachev said morale was dangerously low in the armed forces. He said a civilian defense minister, something pro-reform groups have been lobbying for, was "possible, but not now."

Deputies, many of whom have called for Grachev to step down, did not move in for the kill, with even the hardline opposition -- which has repeatedly condemned him -- moderating its language. Ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky was heard telling colleagues in the Duma corridor that he was not calling for Grachev's head because the situation in the army was too fragile.

The reformist Russia's Choice, which is resolutely opposed to Grachev, also decided not to call formally for him to go. It released a statement saying the Duma was "not right" to demand the resignations of individual ministers.

Grachev leaves with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin Saturday for a tour of the Gulf States.

Sergei Stepashin, Russia's top security minister, speaking just before Grachev, was given a much rougher treatment by the Duma.

Stepashin was in the chamber to speak up for a draft law "on the counterintelligence organs of the Russian Federation," which sets out the legal basis for the Russian intelligence services.

But the debate dissolved into chaos when Zhirinovsky persistently heckled the security chief from his seat, calling him an "agent of Mossad." Stepashin responded by saying "we'll meet in court."

Liberal deputy Sergei Mitrokhin proposed stripping Zhirinovsky of the right to speak for three days. A substantial 203 deputies voted for the proposal, 22 short of the number required.

The draft law was passed in a first reading. Stepashin said that he could not guarantee it fully protected civil rights but it was needed because "a war is going on in Russia against every person."