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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Restructure Dismissed as Rumor

Senior government and military figures Thursday played down reports that President Boris Yeltsin and three top leaders have decided to remove the army's General Staff from the Defense Ministry, saying the idea merely came up in a general discussion on military reform.

The announcement of the proposed restructuring, made by Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko, might have been a warning shot fired at Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, defense analysts said.

On Wednesday, after meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, Shumeiko announced that the General Staff -- the brains and brawn of the Russian armed forces -- should be moved from the Defense Ministry and subordinated directly to the president.

Shumeiko told Itar-Tass the meeting's participants agreed to the move without delay, in order to free the ministry to work on military preparedness.

But Thursday, the president's office and the Defense Ministry denied any such agreement had been reached, saying the notion of relocating the General Staff has long been the subject of wide-ranging discussions on military reform.

"The question of the General Staff came up as a part of a general exchange of opinions in connection with a presidential order given several months ago," presidential spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov told Itar-Tass.

Officials from the Defense Ministry and Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin's office confirmed that no concrete decision had been made, nor had the discussion arisen in relation to the army's poor performance in Chechnya. "As far as I know, this did not come up only in connection with Chechnya," said Dmitry Biryukov, Rybkin's spokesman.

The General Staff, located in the Defense Ministry headquarters in downtown Moscow, is in charge of both day-to-day operations in the five branches of the Russian armed forces as well as coordinating the work of various military hierarchies.

That Shumeiko's remarks were not serious was immediately obvious to military analysts, who said severing the General Staff from the Defense Ministry would be impossible without extensive planning and colossal expense. Shumeiko was either shaking his finger at Grachev or revealing his ignorance of Russian military affairs, they said.

According to Andrei Piontkovsky, director of the Moscow Strategic Studies Center, he did both.

"It came across as completely absurd," he said, adding that Shumeiko clearly does not understand the scope of his remarks. Moreover, he said, separating the General Staff from the Defense Ministry would be impossible under current military structure. "The idea makes sense only under a civilian Defense Minister."

Which is where Grachev comes in. Whether he meant it or not, Shumeiko's remark was another shot in his direction. "It sounded just like that," Piontkovsky said.

In any event, Shumeiko's announcement, had it been completely true, "would have caused a sensation," Piontkovsky said.

As it turned out, that was exactly what happened. Shumeiko's words hit the Defense Ministry and General Staff like a bomb. The chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Mikhail Koles-nikov, told Interfax he was taken completely by surprise.

And though Kolesnikov, who reports to the defense minister, has little choice but to be shocked when he hears his boss is going to lose one of the most important pieces of his empire, Friday's edition of Izvestia said Shumeiko set off a "mild panic" in the General Staff.

"They found out about being subordinated to the president from television reports," the headline reads.