Wed, Jul 21, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Vladimir Putin puts the broom through military

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

Moving to quell a feud for control of the Russian military and simultaneously reacting to a stinging military setback last month near Chechnya, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday dismissed four senior military and security officers.

Putin has rarely wanted for the dramatic gesture, and the dismissals demonstrated that point once more. General Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of Russia's general staff, topped the list of those dismissed.

Putin offered the departing general a lesser post and a medal for faithful service. Russian news organizations reported that the veteran officer had refused the new job and would retire.

Kvashnin had been mired in a bureaucratic quarrel with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, one of Putin's confidantes.

Putin also removed officials responsible for security in the Caucasus, including the commander of Interior Ministry forces, the region's top military commander and a deputy leader of the Federal Security Service, the successor of the KGB.

Analysts described the public firing of a senior officer from the Federal Security Service as an atypical gesture for Putin, a former spy himself who has remained closely identified with the nation's intelligence services. But they also said a round of dismissals was both expected and deserved.

Last month, Putin trimmed Kvashnin's role by a presidential decree that reorganized the military's leadership, making the general staff subordinate to the Ministry of Defense and responsible for analysis and planning rather than operational command.

Outspoken and brash, Kvashnin came to notoriety in Russian military circles after he commanded the army's ill-fated armored thrust into Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, in the winter of 1995.

Hundreds of Russian soldiers died. Some of their frozen corpses were fed upon by dogs -- searing memories for a nation whose armed forces had so swiftly spiraled downward from their Cold War prestige.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, called Kvashnin "the most hated general in the Russian military" and said that his leadership "killed more Russian soldiers than any Chechen warlord ever did."

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