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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Blasts Wage Crisis, Government Chaos

President Boris Yeltsin, in an apparent attempt to address rising discontent over unpaid wages, promised Friday to punish government officials who fail to do their jobs, while his defense minister warned that the non-payment crisis in the Russian armed forces could lead to "uncontrolled processes."


In a radio address taped at Barvikha, where the president is preparing for heart surgery next month, Yeltsin said Russians were right to blame the government for wage delays and other problems.


"For the majority of you, it does not matter precisely what ministry or agency is at fault for delays in the payment of pensions and wages, [or] who -- the government or the [parliament] -- is responsible for the inaction of laws or difficulties with the budget," Yeltsin said.


"The president, the government, the parliament, the presidential administration and the leadership of the regions -- all of them are for you the government, the government that is called upon and is duty-bound to solve your problems, install order in the streets, force government institutions to work effectively, regularly pay pensions and wages."


But, according to Defense Ministry officials, Yeltsin's words may not be enough to calm the situation in the military, where months of unpaid salaries have produced a dangerously explosive situation.


Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, speaking Friday in Moscow to military veterans who had served in "hot spots," said the budgetary crisis had created an "intolerable" situation within the armed forces.


"The country's leadership and society should know that chronic underfunding has put the armed forces on the edge, which may bring about extremely undesirable and even uncontrollable processes," Interfax quoted him as saying.


Rodionov said the 1997 defense budget covers only a third of the armed forces' necessary expenses.


"If the 1997 defense budget is not corrected, Russia may finally lose the armed forces as an integral and capable state structure [and face] all corresponding repercussions," he said.


A little over a week ago, a Russian newspaper published an open letter allegedly from officers of the armed forces' general staff to Rodionov, which contained a thinly veiled threat of mutiny if they did not receive back wages by Oct. 25. Rodionov's warning Friday coincided with that deadline.


Rodionov is not the first to sound the alarm. Earlier this month, Alexander Lebed, then-national security adviser, warned that the military was on the verge of mutiny over the non-payment of wages.


Lebed was sacked Oct. 17 in a Kremlin power struggle that was played out on television screens and newspaper pages.


Yeltsin, in a clear reference to the flurry of charges and countercharges that preceded Lebed's ouster, blamed officials for airing their differences in public.


"They are busy criticizing one another, arguing. They are putting forth all sorts of accusations against each other, collecting compromising materials," he said. "Matters have gone so far that some high-placed government officials are sorting out their relations in public. Such actions discredit the government, undermine the trust of citizens in the state.


"We will part with such bureaucrats without any regret," Yeltsin said. "A number of senior officials at the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry have been dismissed for this reason in the last few days. That is what is going to happen to anyone who will quarrel instead of doing their job."


According to Russian press reports, the firings of General Vladimir Kazantsev, head of Russia's airborne forces, and General Vladimir Rushailo, head of the Interior Ministry's Moscow regional anti-organized crime directorate, were connected with the political battles surrounding Lebed.


But the call for unity in the government was at odds with moves by the parliament, which seems intent on defying the weakened and ill president.


The State Duma on Friday overwhelmingly passed a resolution charging Chechen separatists with violating the peace agreement reached last August and condemning their plans to hold elections next month.


Only the liberal Yabloko faction voted against the measure, calling it "irresponsible."


Earlier this week, the Duma passed resolutions freezing the division of the Black Sea Fleet and proclaiming the Crimean port of Sevastopol as Russian territory.


The move came as Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma arrived in Moscow for talks with Yeltsin, during which the two proclaimed that agreement on the fleet had been reached.