President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree to create a separate Russian army, and named himself acting defense minister, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai told a news conference yesterday.
Mr. Shakhrai said the decree aims to set up a defense ministry that would initially be headed by Mr. Yeltsin. This would pave the way for Russia to create its own army.
But he made clear that Russia had not completely abandoned its attempt to keep the armed forces of the former Soviet Union under joint control of the 11 members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
"The ministry of defense will work out proposals on setting up armed forces in the Russian Federation, with a view that these forces are a part of the joint commonwealth armed forces and are subject to its operational command," he said.
All 11 members of the commonwealth have agreed that the nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union should be kept under joint control.
Russia had also lobbied for retaining a joint conventional army. But three republics - Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova - refused, pressing ahead with moves to set up their own conventional armies.
The division of the Black Sea Fleet has been a particularly thorny issue. Ukraine claims control of the fleet, which is based in the Crimea. Russia says the fleet is a strategic one that should be kept under commonwealth control.
Shakhrai said Russia would set up a delegation to hold talks with other republics on the status of the troops located on their territories.
The new defense ministry would "work out and implement military policy of the Russian Federation and ... carry out financial, technical, and materiel support to the armed forces of the Russian Federation," he said.