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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Key Deputy Calls for Resignation Of Grachev

The head of parliament's defense panel Wednesday called for the resignation of Defense Minster Pavel Grachev, one day after President Boris Yeltsin fired one of Grachev's highest-ranking deputies.

Sergei Yushenkov, head of the State Duma's Defense Committee and a strong supporter of Yeltsin, said he would be pleased if Yeltsin fired Grachev in similar style, but added: "I think Grachev himself should resign. For the exact same reason Burlakov was fired."

Tuesday, Yeltsin fired Burlakov, saying in a decree that the move came in connection with "ongoing investigations" and was essential to preserving the "honor" of the armed forces.

But Wednesday, Burlakov was still at his desk. "He's sitting in his office," said Yelena Agapova, a top aide to Grachev. According to Yeltsin's decree, she said, Burlakov lost his title, but not his job.

"In the coming days, Grachev will determine what to do with him," she said. "This is not a resignation nor a removal from his post. It is a relieving of his responsibilities. And everything depends on the outcome of the investigations."

Yeltsin's office confirmed that Burlakov's fate remains in Grachev's hands and said there was no contradiction between Yeltsin's decree and the Defense Ministry statement.

Burlakov's dismissal, however, was also seen as a severe blow to Grachev, who fought a major battle during the summer to make the former commander of the Western Group of Forces a top assistant.

"I think this is a warning shot fired over Grachev's brow," said John Erickson, a Russian military expert and director of defense studies at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "I think the close association of Grachev and Burlakov is really very dangerous."

He added that it is entirely possible that Grachev might not survive Yeltsin's most recent display of disapproval. "I would read it as a warning to Grachev that unless he puts his own house in order, there is quite serious trouble afoot," Erickson said.

That trouble stems, in part, from allegations of illegal arms, fuel, food and real estate deals by the military leadership of the Western Group, as contained in a report issued two years ago by Yury Boldyrev.

Boldyrev, a former chief inspector of the Russian Federation who is now a deputy in the Federation Council, said he presented the report to Yeltsin two years ago, but the president ignored it.

He told reporters Wednesday that his report was "just a drop in the ocean," adding that even if Grachev were to resign, the army would remain corrupt.

"The army does not differ from other state organizations from the standpoint of corruption," Boldyrev said.

The Western media, too, seemed to expect further revelations as a result of this week's events.

The Guardian of London said the move would open a "Pandora's Box that could being even bigger troubles."

"This step," the Guardian continued, "is a strong blow to the prestige of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev."

The Russian media has long placed Grachev and Burlakov at the center of a scandal involving embezzlement and illegal arms trading in the Western Group. And in October, when a reporter, Dmitry Kholodov, investigating the Western Group was killed by a bomb blast, the media laid the murder at their feet.

Burlakov's dismissal, however, did nothing to dampen the outrage at Moskovsky Komsomolets, where Kholodov worked.

"He shouldn't have been thrown out of office, he should have been thrown in jail," editor-in-chief Pavel Gusev said.

"We laughed when we heard the news. We laughed at how Yeltsin thinks he can manipulate public opinion."

For Gusev, Yelstin's decree was vague, evasive, and fell short of its target. "We're not interested in personalities, we're interested in the truth," Gusev said.

"If the situation doesn't change, the Russian Army will perish, simply perish," he said.

Two years ago, investigations were opened into alleged abuse of power and illegal commercial trade in the Western Group, but no firm evidence of mass corruption has been found, said Alexander Zvyagintsev, a spokesman for the Public Prosecutor.

Alexander Lebed, commander of the 14th Army and a possible contender for Grachev's job, called Yeltsin's move a "work of common sense and justice." In an interview with Itar-Tass, Lebed said the faster there is a clean-up in the armed forces, "the stronger the army will be, and with it the Russian state."