Appointment of General Stepashin as the Premier reduces the possibility of the opposition’s victory in the struggle against the President
Appointment of Sergei Stepashin as the acting Premier on the eve of the impeachment procedure beginning demonstrates that Boris Yeltsin does not rule out the forceful scenarios of struggle for power in Russia. Appearance of Stepashin in the Presidential entourage every time when the situation is critical makes us say this. Thus it happened in August 1991, when an ordinary deputy, lecturer of the anti-fire school, became one of the most active opponents of the GKCHP (State Committee for the State of Emergency). With the protection of Yeltsin’s entourage he turned from an unknown officer into one of the top ranking officials of the “separatist” Russian Federal Security Agency, being actively formed after the failed coup before the break-up of the Soviet Union.
In the rebellious days of October 1993 Stepashin, being the First Deputy Security Minister, was one of the organizers of shelling of its colleagues, Duma deputies, in the White House. Unlike the army leadership, which was not so easy to command, the snipers of Stepashin did this job quite well. Then followed the war in Chechnya. Here in 1995 Stepashin, who was already Director of the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FCIS), was involved into organization of the opposition’s offensive on Grozny in November. It is known that together with the militants from the Nadterechny District Russian officers, being mercenaries, participated in the storming of the Chechen capital. They were recruited in the Russian Armed Forces units for cash by the agents of special FCIS departments. At that time the whole Russia was shocked by the press publications, saying that the FSIC agents tried to secretly bury the killed and unidentified Russian servicemen, who had signed contracts with them and participated in the march to Grozny on November 26, 1994. Only the interference of Colonel Zubkov, Military prosecutor of Mozdok, and personal interference of Defense Minister Grachev saved the bodies of killed servicemen from unidentified graves. Defense Minister Grachev was indignant about the accident and personally ordered to deliver the bodies of the killed to Moscow. Another interference of the militaries saved the bodies of mercenaries from secret burial near Kizlyar.
Stepashin also showed himself as an unprofessional during the events, associated with seizing of Buddennovsk by the militants of Basaev in June 1995, when the unjustified storming of the city hospital resulted in deaths of civilians. For his failures during the Chechen war Stepashin, like Interior Minister Yerin, was dismissed in 1995.
However the personal loyalty and “plasticity” of Stepashin are necessary for Yeltsin, especially now, when not so many former “allies” remained in his entourage. Of course, appointment of the General as the Premier postpones a possibility of the socioeconomic crisis solving in the country. Meanwhile, it is evident that this strengthens the President’s positions in the struggle against the Duma being in opposition. At present commanders of all security agencies are loyal to Yeltsin, that is why a military coup is ruled out. Stepashin knows the possibilities of Interior Forces, subordinated to him, very well. With his participation formation of mobile units was launched in the Interior Forces (unlike in the Defense Ministry) in 1999. Their arrival to the destination area on the military transport aircraft is possible less than within a day. Thus, reinforcement of the Moscow garrison is possible not only on account of the Interior Forces division (Special Division of Dzerzhinsky, – translator’s note), but also on account of troops from other regions.
The sources in the Defense Ministry reported that participation of the Armed Forces in suppression of possible unrest in Moscow is not planned. However this does not mean that the Army is unable to transport the prepared troops at big distances. For example, several airborne units are currently in the state of permanent readiness. If there is a shortage of military transport aircraft, airborne units can be transported by civil aircraft. At this point we need to point out that General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin and Stepashin are friends. Thus, for the first time after break-up of the Soviet Union contradictions between the Interior Ministry and Armed Forces will not appear at least at the level of their top ranking officials. The visit of Stepashin (Interior Ministry), Vladimir Putin (Federal Security Service) and Igor Sergeev (Defense Ministry) to the anti-terrorist center of the Federal Security Service on May 11 confirms the accord of the security agencies leaders and their preparation for the “unforeseen actions.” During the visit the wish to support the units of this kind was expressed.
According to representatives of the Federal Security Service, this was a regular planned visit. Meanwhile, we cannot rule out that Sergeev was informed about the upcoming dismissal of Primakov and he evidently assured his colleagues that the Army fully supports the President.
The fact that participation of servicemen in the opposition public-political movements is practically nullified confirms that the troops are apolitical and will not interfere into the struggle. After the death of Duma deputy General Lev Rokhlin the Movement in Support of the Armed Forces, which had been formed by him, does not enjoy popularity in the troops. The apolitical attitude of the militaries is also confirmed by the fact that material welfare of servicemen started being gradually improved recently. Representatives of the Defense Ministry confirm the report of the Finance Ministry saying that the wages arrears were mainly repaid to the officers and warrant officers of the Armed Forces. However compensations for the food ration and the annual bonus for 1998 was not paid yet. Combat training in the Armed Forces was also recently activated, which contributes to strengthening of the troops morale as well.
Meanwhile, the mass media (Nezavisimaya Gazeta) point out that representatives of the Defense Ministry disproved the rumors about the preparation of the Army for the move to the capital. They characterized the troops activity saying: “The units and formations are occupied with their daily military labor. Results of the winter training period are summed up, and the armament and combat equipment is transiting to the summer operational regime. Preparation for the new training period has also been started.”
However representatives of the Defense Ministry do not exclude that in case of massive unrest in Moscow and other cities the Army will be able to assist the Interior Troops in enforcement of the law, if necessary. At any rate, analysis of the situation enables us to make a conclusion that the anti-Constitutional actions of the Kremlin or opposition are unlikely.
The President has enough forces to “settle the scores” with his opponents by the legal methods. Boris Yeltsin is evidently going to stay in the President’s chair until the end of his presidency term, and for the sake of this he will take the steps to remove the obstacles, but he will evidently take such steps cautiously. The time will show how will the seriously ill person manage to do this. Planning a possibility of forceful actions in the struggle for power Yeltsin is still a little bit naive. He evidently hopes for accord of society. He spoke about this in his speech, addressing the troops during the military parade on May 9:”The power of Russia is in the national accord and unity.” Addressing participants of the military parade on the Red Square the President called on them not to ever forget this: and “to become the support of each other, safely defending security and integrity of Russia.”
Meanwhile, the Duma has brought serious charges against him. If Russia follows the democratic traditions, the impeachment procedure is likely to take place, but we can hardly believe this.