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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Suspends 3 Deputy Defense Ministers

Three deputy defense ministers were suspended from duty Thursday in a major shakeup ordered by President Boris Yeltsin. The move carries out a housecleaning threatened since December, after several high-ranking generals sharply criticized the army's operation in Chechnya.

The order, part of a reorganization of the armed forces, left generals Boris Gromov, Georgy Kondratyev and Valery Mironov without offices. The three were ordered to go on vacation by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Interfax said.

"At the end of last year the president of the Russian Federation signed a decree concerning a new organizational structure of the leadership of the military administration, in accordance with which the number of deputy defense ministers is reduced as of Jan. 1," Interfax said.

The Defense Ministry denied that the three men had been fired. "They didn't fire them. We don't have that kind of information," spokesman Colonel Ivan Skrylnik said. "The decision on their new responsibilities will be taken in the near future."

Their departure from the grand, white fortress on Arbatskaya Ploshchad, according to Defense Ministry sources, is officially connected with the transfer of their responsibilities to other departments, Interfax reported.

Gromov's department for military cooperation in the Commonwealth of Independent States will be abolished and its responsibilities will be moved to the general staff.

The responsibilities of the personnel department, formerly headed by Mironov, will be assumed by Grachev, Interfax reported.

Kondratyev's responsibilities as head of the army's peacekeeping forces is being assigned to a different deputy defense minister, the agency said.

Although the three generals' suspension is being officially attributed to an ongoing restructuring of the armed forces, all have been the subject of scorn since they took outspoken stances against the army's operation in Chechnya.

Among them, Gromov's voice has been the loudest. A popular general who in 1989 led the Russian army out of Afghanistan, Gromov accused the military leadership of forgetting the lessons of that fiasco.

"No one is drawing the right conclusions from the experience we had 15 years ago," Gromov told Reuters last month. "The main thing I do not understand is for what reason our young and not so young people have to die."

Kondratyev came under fire for refusing to take over the operation in Chechnya after Deputy Commander Eduard Vorobyov's refusal to do the same. Mironov is said to be at the center of a Defense Ministry sphere of influence that opposes Grachev.

Rumors of their dismissal first began in December, when Yeltsin was said to have signed a decree ordering them fired, but presidential sources at the time denied that any such decree had been signed.

The new presidential decree that omits Gromov, Kondratyev and Mironov is in keeping with a 1994 Yeltsin decree on a new organizational structure for the Defense Ministry, spokesman Skrylnik said. Included in that decree was an order to shrink the number of deputy defense ministers.

Yeltsin has now named six deputy defense ministers, four of whom already had the post, and two of whom are new. The six, according to Interfax are: Mikhail Kolesnikov, Andrei Kokoshin, Vladimir Toporov, Konstantin Kobetz, Anatoly Solomatin and Vladimir Churanov.

In addition to the suspension of the three deputy ministers, the Military Prosecutor's Office is conducting an investigation into high-ranking generals who have refused orders to lead their troops into battle in Chechnya. General Prosecutor Alexei Ilyushenko announced that probe Monday.

It is not known whether the three deputy ministers are under investigation, but Ilyushenko announced that Colonel General Vorobyov, who submitted his resignation rather than lead an assault on Chechnya, was at the top of the list.

Other generals who have taken shots at the Defense Ministry include General Ivan Babichev, an officer leading one of the three columns that constituted the initial attack on Grozny.

General Alexander Lebed, arguably the most popular general in the armed forces, said he would gladly serve in Chechnya, but only if it were to withdraw troops, and only if his soldiers were the sons of government officials and legislators.

Also Thursday, a top general rejected reports painting the military operation in Chechnya as a failure, insisting that soldiers were fully prepared and that reports of low morale were exaggerated.

Sergei Zdorikov, head of the training department of the Defense Ministry, also argued that Chechen forces were not untrained villagers but "skilled professionals" at war.