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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baturin Strikes Back at Rodionov

In an escalating war of words between the country's top security officials, presidential military adviser Yury Baturin sharply criticized the defense minister Tuesday for suggesting that Russia's nuclear forces are falling apart.

"The nuclear forces are under full control," Baturin, secretary of the Defense Council said in an interview with the weekly magazine Itogi. "There is no doubt that these forces can fulfill an order they receive."

His remarks were seen as an attack on Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who on Sunday blasted Baturin for minimizing the extent of the problems in Russia's struggling military.

Rodionov has issued dire warnings about the army's plight and said recently that Soviet-era command centers for the nuclear forces were becoming too worn out to be reliable.

But Baturin praised the nuclear forces for properly controlling their spending, unlike other parts of the military, so that "not a single ruble is spent in vain."

President Boris Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to inspect personally the Russian nuclear command system last Friday. Chernomyrdin praised the forces' level of readiness, but he acknowledged that it was necessary to solve financial problems to keep equipment in proper condition.

Baturin, a proponent of radical measures to modernize the military, has been at odds with Rodionov, who favors a more gradual approach.

Military experts said Tuesday it would be up to Yeltsin, the constitutional commander in chief, to settle the dispute between his two underlings and take personal responsibility for the direction of reforms.

"Yeltsin is playing his old game of watching two tigers devour themselves from on high. It is his way of keeping the balance of power," said Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"That is not a good position. The president must assume direct responsibility for reforms," he said.

In his Itogi interview, Baturin questioned Rodionov's statements that severe fund shortages have made reforms impossible, saying the military misspent the money it received. "There is interminable talk about reforms, while there are no reforms taking place," Baturin told the weekly.

Yeltsin has ordered the Russian armed forces cut from the current 1.7 million to 1.5 million by the end of this year. But some analysts say the actual number of soldiers is lower than the official figure and that some units exist only on paper.

"The uncertainty surrounding the armed forces isn't just harmful, it's dangerous for society," Baturin said, warning that the "army's degradation will become irreversible unless reform starts."

Baturin and Rodionov held a joint news conference earlier this month and said they were united in their attempts to launch military reform. But within days, they resumed criticizing one another in the media.

Despite the numerous predictions that Rodionov was on his way out, Yeltsin has publicly supported his defense minister and said there were no plans to remove him. (AP, Reuters)