Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Who Is Really Behind Decisions on Defense?

Russia emerged from the shambles of the Soviet empire with vaguely established borders and vaguely defined national strategic interests. The structure and strength of the Russian military are still subject to debate, and the uncertainty surrounding Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has raised questions about who really determines defense policy.

In fact, virtually all important decisions are made by President Boris Yeltsin through a network of assistants that has developed into one of Russia's predominant institutions of executive power. Yeltsin's national security assistant, Yury Baturin, has the right of "comment and inquiry" on national security or defense policy documents coming in for presidential approval from the "power" ministries and intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

All the power ministries have been placed under Baturin's jurisdiction in aspects of national security.

Baturin told me Yeltsin gave him a free hand in reforming the KGB's successors. However, Yeltsin specifically asked him to be tolerant with the Foreign and Defense ministries: Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Grachev are old friends of Yeltsin and see the emergence of a powerful national security assistant as a direct challenge to their authority.

Kozyrev is generally out of the direct line of Baturin's command. So strained relations with the Foreign Ministry are not as important as bad relations with the Defense Ministry. Baturin and Grachev currently barely speak to one another. Baturin told me that when necessary he calls a deputy defense minister.

Baturin must contend with other overlapping jurisdictions. The Security Council chiefs oppose initiatives coming from the national security assistant. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin can issue executive orders to the Defense Ministry. The administrative authority of Sergei Filatov, the chief of staff, in theory overlaps the presidential structures.

Almost all security-related decisions in 1994 were reached not after orderly discussion, but after bureaucratic feuds in which Yeltsin repeatedly shifted his support.

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.