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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grachev Firing Reportedly Near

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev is once again in the hot seat, with a leading newspaper reporting Tuesday that he will be sacked at the beginning of June and replaced by General Boris Gromov, former commander of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, citing "a well-informed source in the Kremlin," reported that President Boris Yeltsin will announce Grachev's replacement by Gromov during his trip to Chechnya, which, it said, will take place sometime around June 3 to June 4.

But a Kremlin spokesman would not confirm the newspaper's claims Tuesday. The Defense Ministry refused to comment on the article, and no one in Grachev's office could be reached.

A spokesman in Gromov's office at the State Duma said he knew about the reported promotion only from the Nezavisimaya Gazeta article, and would not comment further.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "the Kremlin plans to make Pavel Grachev the main culprit for the failure of the federal forces in Chechnya, the collapse of military reform and the calamitous situation of the army."

Grachev has become a controversial figure, both because of the war in Chechnya and charges that he and other senior military officials have been involved in corruption.

Speculation about Grachev's dismissal grew last month after the defense minister told parliament that he had waited six days before fulfilling Yeltsin's March 31 order to cease fire in Chechnya.

Yeltsin, however, made no comment on the apparent act of insubordination.

Yeltsin may be finding it hard to sack Grachev, who backed the Russian president during the August 1991 abortive hard-line coup and the October 1993 parliamentary rebellion.

But the rumors persist. Grachev may hold the world's record for the number of times his imminent departure as defense minister has been reported: Izvestia last month calculated it at 30 times since May 1992.

Gromov, a widely respected military man, a hero of the Afghan war and currently a deputy in the State Duma, has had a high profile lately. He, rather than Grachev, accompanied Yeltsin during a Victory Day trip to Volgograd on May 9.

The 52-year-old former deputy defense minister was featured on television several times last week commenting favorably about Yeltsin's recent decrees on professionalizing the armed forces.

"As far as I know, Gromov is now very close to the president," said Mikhail Gerasyov of the Russian Academy of Sciences' USA/Canada Institute.

Gromov's political fortunes have undergone a radical upward shift since January 1995, when he was suspended from the Defense Ministry for publicly disagreeing with Grachev on the war in Chechnya.

Some analysts said that Gromov's appointment could help Yeltsin politically.

"He's not as visible as he used to be, but I think his reputation is basically good within the military and within society in general," said Andrei Kortunov of the Russian Science Foundation. "He's perceived as an honest person, as a person who has some integrity. Besides, he's an Afghan hero. And he might signal a new beginning and that serious military reform is on the way."

While Grachev's removal may be popular with voters, the reaction within the military may be less clear.

"There are personal ties between Grachev, who has already been in charge for five years, and higher middle level officers, who are able to influence the positions of their subordinates," said Gerasyov, adding that middle officer corps' view of Yeltsin "in general is more negative than positive, taking into account all the problems which the armed forces have been facing during recent years."

In addition, Gromov will be less of a known quantity for Yeltsin than Grachev.

"In the event of a victory for Gennady Zyuganov in the presidential elections and the taking of retaliatory measures by Boris Yeltsin, it is unclear whether Gromov will want to fulfill unconditionally all the instructions that will inevitably follow from the Kremlin," Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.