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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev: Here for a While

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has become a very public symbol of all the worst qualities of the Yeltsin administration: professional incompetence combined with an unfounded conceit -- such as when he bragged that a single regiment could capture Grozny in two hours -- and shameless corruption.

Of course, public opinion polls in Russia have proven notoriously misleading in the past, and so it is virtually impossible to find out if all Russians really consider him the root of all evil as he is often portrayed by opinion-shapers in the mass media and parliament. These observers are predicting a final showdown between good and evil in the Kremlin, between the "party of war" -- headed solely by Grachev after the resignations of Interior Minister Viktor Yerin and security services chief Sergei Stepashin -- and the "party of peace" headed up by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

But in reality, the battlefield for the parties of war and peace in the Kremlin is inside the mind of Boris Yeltsin.

Using his long experience as a high-ranking Communist Party official, Yeltsin has built an administration that will grind to a halt and disintegrate the moment he, for what ever reason, is removed from the loop. Yeltsin himself is the only real source of decision-making and coordinating authority in the administration. But all the responsibility for those decisions and their consequences rests squarely on the shoulder of dispensable, high-ranking bureaucrats such as the "power" ministers.

This is why personnel changes within the administration rarely result in pronounced changes of policy. Yegor Gaidar, Boris Fyodorov and Gennady Burbulis came and went, but the pattern of market-oriented reform and monetarist efforts to stabilize the economy have remained. It seems to me that the dismissals of Yerin and Stepashin will have even less political significance than earlier cabinet reshuffles.

Grachev will also be dismissed -- after he has outlived his usefulness as the administration's lightning rod. As long as everyone thinks of Grachev as the most worthless member of the administration, Yeltsin can count on never finding himself any higher up than second place. That is why Grachev is "indispensible." One presidential aide who has been trying for the last 18 months to have Grachev removed admitted to me last week that "now Grachev will be here for a while, at least until next spring." At that point, he will perform one final service to Yeltsin: resign in order to boost the president's abysmal approval rating.

For the last five years now, Yeltsin has outmaneuvered and outwitted all of his opponents, using people -- even shrewd operators like Mikhail Gorbachev -- as expendable pawns. But the master is growing old and tired. Russia is too big a country to be effectively run for long by a single person, especially an aging one in increasingly fragile health. It appears that Yeltsin is beginning to lose his grip over the new Russia's ruling class, which will soon have to learn how to get by without him. The transition period will no doubt be difficult and perhaps even violent. The infighting between that has been built into the administration in order to make Yeltsin indispensible will become increasingly pronounced as he loses control.

It is the fear of future disorder rather than any love of peacemaking that has rallied the new nomenklatura around Chernomyrdin. His new movement has considerable resources and the support of officials who have already shown they are capable of "controlling" the elections. However, Chernomyrdin has not had a foothold in the army -- until now.

Now he has a chief military advisor, General Valery Mironov, who has good connections within military circles. Mironov never publicly opposed the war in Chechnya as did generals Boris Gromov and Georgy Kondratyev, both of whom were dismissed from their posts as deputy defense ministers together with Mironov soon after the Chechen campaign began. In the defense ministry, Mironov was responsible for education, and Grachev blamed him for the low morale in the armed forces. However, he was never part of Grachev's inner circle and he was not a Grachev appointee as were Gromov, Kondratyev and Alexander Lebed.

Mironov, though, is known to have connections with the chief of the general staff, Mikhail Kolesnikov, who happens to have good relations with Chernomyrdin. A power struggle within the Kremlin may be forming, but it is by no means a battle between good and evil.

Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security editor for Segodnya.