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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

DEFENSE DOSSIER: Phoney Security Promotion




President Boris Yeltsin has again reshuffled Russia's security establishment by abolishing the Defense Council and the State Military Inspectorate. Former First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin, who became Defense Council secretary and chief military inspector last August, is now the new Security Council secretary. Kokoshin has become head of the seemingly all-powerful security body that made retired general Alexander Lebed a security tsar for several months in 1996.


Yury Skokov, the first Security Council secretary, tried in 1992 to turn the council into a new Politburo-type organization after the Soviet Union and its ruling Communist Party Politburo collapsed. The Security Council should have become a council of elders, where the most powerful men in the land could formulate important decisions that would determine the future of the country. Skokov even turned down an offer by Yeltsin in 1991 to become prime minister and opted to become Security Council secretary.


The scheme did not work. Yeltsin did not want any Politburo overseeing his imperial-style presidency. Skokov was fired, but the Security Council remained and even became embedded in the Russian Constitution. Thus, Yeltsin can no longer abolish it.


But constitutional status still did not define the actual power the Security Council and its secretaries can wield. Unlike the Defense Ministry or Foreign Ministry, the Security Council can become anything its secretary wishes, if Russia's omnipotent president allows.


Under Skokov it was a surrogate Politburo. Under Oleg Lobov, it was an ill-defined bureaucratic entity that attempted to coordinate everything -- from foreign policy to ecology and medicine. Lobov and his deputy Vladimir Rubanov believed that because anything could conceivably pose a security risk, the Security Council should oversee everything.


Lebed succeeded Lobov, fired Rubanov and tried to turn the Security Council into a power base that would help him take over Russia after Yeltsin became too ill to govern. Ivan Rybkin came in after Lebed, and under orders from Yeltsin the Security Council became a department in charge of relations with the rebellious Chechen republic.


Under Kokoshin, the Security Council will now drastically change its image once again. It will coordinate military reform, define defense and security policies and so on.


But this is exactly the same task Kokoshin was given as chief state military inspector and secretary of the now disbanded Defense Council. Last fall Kokoshin took part in Kremlin defense policy intrigues, helped other power ministries resist attempts by the Defense Ministry to dictate military reform. The result was an organizational stalemate, and today Russia's defense policies are as badly coordinated as they ever were.


Of course, Russian governmental policies are badly coordinated in many fields. To resolve these problems, Yeltsin has created over the years many presidential coordinating councils (more than 40), but virtually all of them have proved to be totally ineffective.


To effectively coordinate governmental policy, especially in the field of defense and security, any high-ranking coordinating body should have real power and authority to make ministries and departments obey its rulings.


But Yeltsin never delegates any of his presidential powers to anyone. Yeltsin does not need any security tsars in Russia. He is the only tsar in town. Even after his heart operation in 1996, Yeltsin immediately grasped the nuclear "briefcase" that he took away from former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.


It is not that Yeltsin feared a U.S. nuclear attack. As in ancient Rome, in contemporary Russia, a tsar is a tsar only while he fully controls the armed and security forces.


Physically and intellectually, Yeltsin cannot fully control Russia's sprawling defense and security agencies or coordinate military reform. But he will never allow anyone else to do the job.


So Kokoshin's new, seemingly omnipotent position is a joke, not a real promotion. Kokoshin will have a personal plane, bodyguards and other paraphernalia, but he will have even less real power than his predecessors, who were all political figures. Kokoshin, on the contrary, is an academic turned high-ranking civil servant. Yeltsin used Skokov, used Lobov, used Lebed, used Ribkin and then sent them packing. He will have no problems with Kokoshin.


Pavel Felgenhauer is defense and national security affairs editor for Segodnya.