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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unpopularity Makes Grachev Disposable

The ongoing reorganization of the Russian government has given new impetus to rumors that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev faces a quick and inevitable retirement. He has, of course, been a very convenient defense minister from President Boris Yeltsin's point of view. He has no political support in the Duma, the government or the administration. In addition, opinion polls show that he is unpopular both in the army and in society at large. As a result, Grachev's career depends completely on the will of the president.

For that reason, Grachev is ready submissively to fulfill any decision that Yeltsin may make, including those that are extremely unpopular in the military. A recent example of this was the announcement that General Alexander Lebed's 14th Army would be withdrawn from the breakaway Transdnestr region.

Currently the Duma is beginning consideration of an anti-inflationary "austerity" budget for 1995. With Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's support, the Finance Ministry has limited the defense budget to 4 percent of the gross domestic product and, since the GDP is falling, defense expenditures continue to fall as well. Naturally, the army chiefs are very worried about this situation, but Grachev, locked in a struggle for his own political survival, does not have the time or the influence to defend the interests of the army, including some completely justifiable ones.

Grachev, then, is a lame duck. In the Byzantine world of Moscow politics, however, many people are not displeased with this situation. But as soon as Yeltsin feels that Grachev is bringing him more trouble than benefit, he will not hesitate to dump him. It is, after all, not just the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that is calling for Grachev's head, but a majority of the factions in the Duma and even Yeltsin's own national security adviser, Yury Baturin. Since this spring, Baturin has been openly saying that in order to carry out serious and fundamental military reform, the army needs a more innovative and professional leader.

Last weekend it did not take Yeltsin long to accept the resignation of Economics Minister Alexander Shokhin, even though that step may lead to delays in the receipt of the credits, promised by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, that Chernomyrdin hopes to use to fill in the 1995 budget deficit. If Yeltsin decides to remove Grachev, there will not be any such complications. For all these reasons, it seems a good moment to take a look at Grachev's possible successors.

The only realistic civilian candidate is Andrei Kokoshin, who has been first deputy defense minister since 1992. He is the only civilian with enough practical experience managing the work of the defense ministry. Alexander Pochinok, an influential member of the Duma, told me recently that Russia's Choice will support Kokoshin. But Yeltsin himself, and his closest advisers, are convinced it is still impossible to name a civilian defense minister, arguing, that "the army would never accept it."

In addition, it seems that Yeltsin is simply afraid to appoint anyone who might harbor political ambitions. For him, the most important thing is to maintain complete control of the army. If he cannot hold onto Grachev, he will try to find a pure professional.

The uncontrollable Lebed is out of the question. Likewise, General Boris Gromov has only a poor chance, since he ran against Yeltsin on Nikolai Ryzhkov's ticket in the 1991 presidential elections. Also, in August 1991 he signed the infamous "Address to the Nation," together with the future leaders of the coup.

Only two prominent generals remain. Andrei Nikolayev, who is second to Grachev in military seniority and currently commands Russia's border guards, and Mikhail Kolesnikov, who is chief of the general staff. Neither of these two has any political background. For that reason, Yeltsin will most likely choose between them.

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.