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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Pledges to Pay Army on Time

President Boris Yeltsin told Russia's soldiers he is personally taking charge of abortive efforts to reform the cash-strapped and demoralized military.

He signed a message to servicemen pledging to pay them on time and put an end to corruption. "All those guilty of crimes, from privates to generals, will face punishment," he said Monday.

In a separate national radio address, Yeltsin dismissed accusations by opponents that he capitulated over NATO expansion during last week's summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton. He said cooperation with the West is the best security route for Russia, along with closer ties to eastern neighbors such as China and India.

By announcing his intention to take charge of stalled military reform, Yeltsin sought to end a high-level Kremlin feud over how to proceed.

Yeltsin's chief security adviser, Yury Baturin, has favored reforming and reducing the size of the military within the constraints of the government's tight budget. Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, on the other hand, has insisted the military desperately needs more funds before reform can start. He has even publicly suggested that the stability of nuclear forces is under threat.

That drew an admonition from Yeltsin to "stop whining" and predictions that Rodionov was about to be dismissed, although he survived a recent government shakeup.

In his message to the troops, Yeltsin said reform would be carried out in stages.

"As president and supreme commander in chief, I am taking steps to improve the situation in the army and navy and have the wages to servicemen and civil servants and debts under defense contracts paid," Yeltsin said.

"Order is being instilled in the armed forces. The overriding priority is to put an end to embezzlement of public funds, corruption, pilfering of military hardware and various scams," he said.

In his radio address, he lashed out at nationalists who accused him of backing down in Helsinki.

"Will the danger be reduced if we return to the way of mutual threats? No, on the contrary, it will grow. We do not intend to return to that path. Our choice is cooperation and mainly economic," Yeltsin said.

Despite failing to persuade Clinton that NATO expansion is a big mistake, Yeltsin said Russia had made important gains at the two-day summit in Helsinki last Thursday and Friday.

These included a NATO pledge not to move nuclear weapons onto the territory of new members, not to threaten Russian security with eastward military movements and to agree on producing a future binding document on relations between NATO and Russia, he said.

"Despite the importance of the problem of responding to NATO expansion, it's not the only direction of our external policy," Yeltsin added. "We will, as before, develop and deepen our friendly relations with our traditional partners," Yeltsin said.

He cited China and India, as well as the 12 former Soviet republics that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States, but did not hint at any partnerships directed against the West.

(Reuters, MT, Interfax)