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Lebed' and Rodionov: Views on Russia's Security
Aleksander Lebed's appointment, two days after the 16 June first round of presidential elections, to the positions of National Security Advisor to President Yel'tsin and secretary of the Security Council was not entirely unexpected. The president's statements in the closing weeks of the campaign, hinting that he would soon name his successor, clearly referred to the retired two-star paratrooper general who, thanks to his electoral promises to restore order, had become a very popular figure as early as last year.
Some questions arose: Where did a retired general who had quarreled with the leadership of the KRO (Congress of Russian Communities), the electoral bloc which had supported him in the 1995 Duma elections, obtain the huge amount of funding necessary to participate vigorously in the presidential elections? The answer to this puzzle came later, when a Russian journalist revealed that Lebed' received support from Gennadi Burbulis, who was handling very delicate tasks on behalf of the Kremlin leadership, and Anatoli Chubais, who moved from his position as Deputy Prime Minister to become campaign manager for President Yel'tsin.
According to press reports, "Aleksander Lebed' was given everything he needed to organize a full-fledged campaign: structures for campaigning in the provinces, cash (according to some estimates, Lebed' received up to $20 million), television air time, and the support of the local authorities in arranging tours around the country. The ambitious general did not reject the assistance, understanding fairly well that he would have to pay off the 'debt'."(1)
Even before the first round of the elections, Yel'tsin offered to appoint him secretary of the Security Council in order to forestall an alliance between Lebed' and the communists. A little later, the post of National Security Advisor, with wide authority over the power ministries, was added to sweeten the offer. "Moreover, a hint was made to the effect that Lebed' would become vice-president."(2) The general agreed to accept the positions and, after the first round of the elections, declared his full support for the president.
If this account is accurate, then the image of Lebed' as a "disinterested, uncompromising and devoted servant of the Fatherland" created by government propaganda does more than ring false, but rather demonstrates the opposite. The discrepancy between the political image and the general's actions became evident soon after he assumed his duties.
Lebed' at the Helm of the Security Council
Correspondingly, Lebed' moved quickly to install his own people into what became his organ. One of them, an officer from the Directorate for Military Policy of the Defense Ministry, Colonel Vladimir Denisov, had already distinguished himself by compromising General Gromov. According to knowledgeable sources, it was not without Denisov's assistance that Lebed' was able to cut down a rival --Gromov--with a single phrase at a press conference: "'He is a good general but has sold himself cheaply.' This was sufficient for President Yel'tsin to cross off Gromov's name from the list of candidates for the post of Defense Minister."(4)
Commenting on the many dismissals Lebed' has organized, Novoe vremya points out that "having accepted Yel'tsin's invitation to join his team, he also agreed to become part of a circle of people who had grown accustomed to having their peace and to playing by their rules. However, it is evident that Lebed' follows only his own rules. He has challenged a clan of persons who have positioned themselves well within the Kremlin's shadow. This sort of thing is not easily forgiven. In this set of circumstances, a cold calculating realist can forecast Lebed's possible removal, since in his short tenure he has already managed to cross too many people who only recently were quite powerful."(5)
These forecasts were confirmed as early as three weeks after the election. Whereas Yel'tsin had promised Lebed' that the Security Council could become something of a super ministry (which would direct the activities of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service, the Border Guards and other security services that are successors to the KGB), in fact, the current Security Council no longer has such potential. The Security Council will have to share its functions and powers with a new body within the presidential administration, the Defense Council, which was created in accordance with a presidential edict of July 25.(6) The new council has the president at its head and Victor Chernomyrdin as his deputy. Yuri Baturin, who in June was removed from the post of Yel'tsin's National Security Adviser to make room for Lebed' and hence must feel little sympathy for the general, was appointed secretary of the Defense Council.
Lebed', for his part, became merely a member of the Defense Council on a par with the other power ministers, who were supposed to become his subordinates. Other members of the new council--Anatoli Chubais, Yevgeni Velihov, and Yevgeni Yasin--hold views diametrically opposed to the general's. Now Lebed' may be expected to bring proposals for discussion at the Defense Council, which could have the last word. Thus Yel'tsin fulfilled his promises to Lebed', but minimized his capabilities by creating the new council, in effect casting doubt on Lebed's ability to implement his plans.
These circumstances illuminate Lebed's hysterical reaction to the changes in the Kremlin leadership. In an interview with the Washington Times, he expressed concern that he might be removed from power and physically eliminated; he told the Financial Times that he could be blown up or shot and that his first priority in the current condition is to survive.(7) This adds another dimension to the portrait of the brave Russian ex-general and politician.
It seems that Lebed's political star may begin to fade without ever having reached its full luster. Fifteen percent of the Russian electorate which voted for him, although poorly acquainted with him, still had high hopes. He had promised to ensure the personal safety of Russian citizens, to restore order in the country, to fight crime, to reform the military, and to end the war in Chechnya. However, beside clearing out the higher levels of the military leadership, which Lebed' described as "the beginning of the departure of the adventurists from the military," and making a serious attempt to tackle the war in Chechnya, at this point he is still trying to establish his authority.
Lebed's National Security Concept
The Security Council's new document on Russia's national security concept reflects views Lebed' expressed earlier. As he wrote in Segodnya, "the end of the Cold War" has not engendered a more peaceful world.(8) There are 73 hot spots on the planet, he says, which pose a threat to regional and international stability. Of those, 25 are experiencing wars or intense armed conflicts, in 25 cases rising military tensions have been observed, and the 23 remaining are regarded as areas of potential conflict. Most of these conflict areas are located on the territory of the former Soviet Union. The main sources of conflict are legal nihilism, aggressive nationalism, territorial issues, the unresolved status of socio-economic development in certain CIS and RF areas, conflicting state interests, allegedly discriminatory laws on citizenship adopted by some CIS members, unresolved issues regarding the status of former Soviet property, the creation of unconstitutional armed formations, and lingering mutually conflicting economic and territorial claims among the NIS.
Lebed' emphasized that what he termed the "black process" of converting former Soviet property into private domains has created local lords whose main ambition consists of protecting their property from the claims of the central and local authorities and of securing whatever else can be obtained. Stability will not take hold until this "black process" is halted, and new legal norms governing property are institutionalized in all the CIS member states. This suggests that the threat of conflict close to Russia or on its borders remains an objective reality.
In listing the existing and potential conflicts close to Russian borders, the general took special note of the unresolved problems in the South, the Transcaucasus, Central Asia, and the Far East. In these areas the political conflicts are further complicated by ethnic and religious animosities as well as by issues of transferring property rights. He further believes that Tajikistan, Iran, and Pakistan are being drawn into the Afghan conflict to the detriment of Russian interests. There a bundle of contradictions is taking shape. Strategically, this poses a serious threat for Russia and Tajikistan, and, should that alliance fail, Uzbekistan and Muslim portions of Kazakhstan could follow, producing a massive hostile springboard close to Russia.
Nor should we forget, the general alleged, that "certain circles in Turkey" work to inspire tensions in the Transcaucasus and North Caucasus. The Islamicists who won in the last election, he claims, regard these territories as Turkey's sphere of influence, part of the great Turan that stretches from the Bosphorus to the Pacific Ocean.(9) This area includes communities of the Ural and Siberian Tatars, the Chuvash, and the Yakuts, as well as all of Central Asia. Moreover, having carefully analyzed events like the hostage taking in Budennovsk, and Kizlyar, and the attack on the barge in Trab'zon, Lebed' alleges that Turkey's security services may have played a part in those affairs.
The general further believes that the next decade will not see a large-scale war since the parties lack the strength to start one, nor would this be in their interests. The "Cold War" is indeed over, but local conflicts remain. These have the potential of involving states or coalitions of states, and growing into large scale conflicts. For this reason local conflicts must be resolved rapidly at their source. This requires planning and executing special operations with the involvement of different departments, forces, and resources.
In regard to this, General Lebed' pointedly criticized plans for military reform announced long ago, stressing in particular the absence of implementation. For his part, Lebed' has not come forth with any new approach to the problem, commenting only that mobile forces must be created to deter, limit, and neutralize rapidly local conflicts, and that paratrooper forces should be retained until rapid reaction capabilities are in place.
Rodionov's Views on Military Reform
For this reason, General Rodionov believes that military reform cannot be accomplished without country-wide implementation. Reform of the armed forces is a general concept; it requires the adaptation by all of the state's defense organs to new political, economic, social, and demographic conditions. Military reform was proclaimed, but never implemented. Since nothing, save for some reductions in size, is being accomplished on a country-wide scale, military reform remains at a standstill.
The general notes that during past Soviet efforts to remain abreast with the US, the country built up its defenses, relying on vast quantities of weapons, strategic weapons in particular. As a result the economy was forced into a dead end and the population into poverty, all for the sake of the arms race. Today, as in the past, Russia tries to measure itself against the US, yet a new approach is needed, because today Russia lags behind the US by a considerable margin. Since it has lesser resources, it must have a different approach to defense, because defense above all else depends on the economy. It is no secret, Rodionov explains, that currently there is not a single regiment, never mind a division or anything larger, that can be ready for combat within two to three hours. For this reason, the practice of using the army for agricultural work must cease. The army can be smaller, but it must be more combat-capable.
As Rodionov sees it, Russia has such a large territory, vast borders, and complicated relations with its neighbors, that threats can arise from the West, the South and the East. Now all is calm in the East, but with the Russian population unwilling to live in and emigrating from remote areas, who can tell what it will be like in ten years? Who is going to fill that space? Neighboring states and their populations, of course. In the West, there is NATO, which not only continues to exist but expects to expand, moving closer to Russia's borders. To the South there is the Muslim world. Russia, therefore, is vulnerable from all sides. Naturally, following this logic, if with time threats can arise from all sides, then it is necessary to have powerful forces in all directions, but this hardly solves the problem since no economy can withstand this demand.
General Rodionov emphasizes that he is a supporter of agreements which expand the partnership with NATO, provide for exchanges, and facilitate greater trust and lower tensions. These contacts should be supported and broadened. However, he states, "I am an opponent of those policies by which we strive to uphold Russian prestige, inherited from the great USSR, or worse, when in trying to fulfill our illusions of grandeur we seek to prove that no problem anywhere in the world can be resolved without Russian involvement. These policies must be revised; they call for huge expenditures and give no return, except of course for demagoguery and false prestige."
Furthermore, the general states that, since Russia established presidential rule with the cabinet and parliament in a lesser role, he has supported appointing a civilian Defense Minister, duly trained "in operations and strategy, who has at least a three-month course in [the Academy of the General Staff]."
Of course Russia, like any country, needs a defense and security system, but it must correspond to the state's capabilities. In this light, General Rodionov's sober views on military reform take into account the very serious economic, political, and social crisis Russia is experiencing. Whether he actually can restructure Russia's armed forces to correspond to Russia's current circumstances is another matter. The military-political ambitions of the Kremlin's current leadership, its yearning to dominate not only regions on the perimeter of the former Soviet Union, but places far removed from it, will inevitably alter Rodionov's plans.
How this general, who is highly esteemed in the armed forces, responds to these corrections will determine not only Russia's defense and security system, but also the global military-strategic environment for the end of this century and the beginning of the next. Unless, of course, the walls of the ancient Kremlin witness another cycle of extraordinary events.
Copyright ISCIP 1996