Yeltsin Fires Defense Deputy To Curb Military Corruption

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin's decision Tuesday to fire Deputy Defense Minister Matvei Burlakov, widely accused of corruption, is also seen as a blow to Defense Minister Pavel Grachev - one of Mr. Burlakov's strongest supporters.

But General Grachev himself seems safe in his job for now, despite public calls for his dismissal, military analysts here say.

Burlakov, former head of the Western Group of Forces that withdrew from Eastern Germany at the end of August, was sacked ``to protect the honor of the Russian Federation's Armed Forces ... and in connection with current probes,'' in the words of Mr. Yeltsin's decree.

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Burlakov has long been at the center of press reports of arms smuggling and shady business deals. Government anticorruption investigator Yuri Bodyrev was sacked in May last year, some time after presenting results of his investigation into the Western Group of Forces to Yeltsin.

Public attention focused on the corruption when a journalist who had written extensively about reported corruption in the Western Group of Forces was killed by a briefcase bomb two weeks ago. The ensuing outcry included charges that Grachev was involved in the journalist's death, with politicians and newspapers calling for his resignation.

Yeltsin appears to have chosen Burlakov - more directly implicated in the corruption charges - as more expendable.

Burlakov's dismissal is a shot across Grachev's bows too, but makes his own dismissal less probable, according to some foreign observers. ``Grachev is unpopular in the Army, but a weak defense minister unpopular with the general staff and in the Duma [parliament], dependent on the president, may be just what Yeltsin wants,'' one Western diplomat suggested.

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