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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belated Sack Of Grachev: A Fresh Start

It is almost embarrassing to recall how many times this newspaper has called for the removal of Pavel Grachev, whom President Boris Yeltsin once described as the best defense minister in the history of Russia.

At first it was because of the corruption that Grachev defended. Colonel General Matvei Burlakov was convincingly shown to have been at the center of widespread corruption in the Group of Western Forces as it pulled out of Eastern Europe, making an arms bazaar out of the arsenals of the former Soviet armies.

In response, Grachev -- dubbed by the admittedly scandal-happy daily Moskovsky Komsomolets as "Pasha Mercedes" for the fleet of cars he acquired -- promoted his friend to deputy defense minister. There was general outrage. Burlakov was removed, but Grachev kept his job.

MK reporter Dmitry Kholodov paid with his life for his articles about the Western Group of Forces, and the full force of the public fury unleashed by his murder -- still unsolved -- was directed at Grachev. He responded by saying that Kholodov -- who died in his office when he opened a boobytrapped briefcase -- had probably been playing with explosives he picked up in Chechnya. It was a disgusting performance. Grachev kept his job.

The decision to march into Chechnya cannot be pinned on Grachev, but his execution of the campaign was enough to see him dismissed, starting with his boast that he could take the capital in a few hours. In the event, he sent untrained conscripts into battle. They suffered massive casualties in a campaign that took weeks and left virtually nothing of the city standing in its wake.

Despite the fact that the war in Chechnya has spotlighted the unpreparedness of the army, that commanders in the field have repeatedly ignored orders from Yeltsin and that each high-profile operation has been botched, Grachev has survived this, too.

The reason is not hard to find. Grachev was loyal to Yeltsin at a moment of extreme crisis, on the night of October 3-4, 1993, when he prevailed on a few army commanders to shell the former Supreme Soviet into submission. Yeltsin owes Grachev for this and could reasonably hope for his cooperation if he ever needed such help again.

Unfortunately, when Yeltsin finally jettisoned Grachev it was not for anything he has done, but for political expediency. Grachev's head clearly was part of the price demanded by Alexander Lebed for joining the government, and Yeltsin desperately needs Lebed.

The roots of this change of guard are not auspicious, but it therefore offers a tremendous opportunity for a fresh start in Russia's demoralized armed forces, in the Defense Ministry -- and even in Chechnya.