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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

This Time, Sack Power Ministers

Not for the first time, Russia's parliamentarians are calling for the dismissal of the so-called "power ministers" -- in particular Pavel Grachev, Viktor Yerin and Sergei Stepashin -- and, not for the first time, they deserve to go.

Although nominally in the cabinet and subject to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the defense, interior and security ministers are in fact subject only to President Boris Yeltsin. They sit in his cabinet -- the Security Council -- on equal terms with the prime minister. They are, as far as the parliament is concerned, untouchables.

If they were not, these men would long ago have lost their jobs. The Yeltsin administration has been, to put it mildly, vulnerable to criticism over its handling of rising crime in general, the assassination of journalist Dmitry Kholodov, the war in Chechnya in all its disastrous manifestations and now the hostage crisis in Budyonnovsk.

But there is a more important reason why the power ministers are perennial targets for attack in parliament. Depressingly, it is assumed throughout Russia's political circles that these ministries offer the key to holding power in Moscow. If you control them, then you control the country.

This perception of the political dynamic has become increasingly accurate throughout the Yeltsin administration's tenure. It first became clear in the fall of 1993, when the president courted and then imposed a violent solution to his power struggle with the then Supreme Soviet.

That was an unfortunate watershed. What initially had made this president different from his Soviet predecessors was that he had discovered a secret weapon, namely popular support, that could sweep all before him. But, despite winning a referendum to resolve his struggle with parliament in April 1993, Yeltsin was unable to keep control. In the end he turned to force.

Since then, Yeltsin has been ever quicker to resort to force, cheered on by his power ministers. His decision to approve a military solution to the crisis in Budyonnovsk before departing for a G-7 summit in Halifax, Canada, only showed how easily he now invokes violence.

The president has become far too reliant on his power ministers and his chief bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov. Through shared responsibility for such bloody escapades as the October 1993 storming of parliament, the war in Chechnya and the attempt to storm the hospital at Budyonnovsk, he has also become their hostage.

That better and significantly more humane candidates would replace the incumbents if they were sacked is unlikely. Nonetheless, Yeltsin, even at this late date should summon the fortitude and vision to be rid of them.