WESTERN intelligence experts believe President Boris Yeltsin has struck a bargain with leaders of the Russian armed forces that will diminish his authority and multiply the problems he faces in the wake of Sunday's failed coup.
The experts' concerns are backed up by leading British analysts of Russian affairs who fear that a series of deals Yeltsin cut with Army leaders shortly before the attack on the Moscow White House will handicap him in attempts to push through economic reforms and curb Russia's military-industrial complex.
In another sign of the military's growing authority, a few days before the attempted coup, Russian generals persuaded Yeltsin to send letters to Central European governments warning them not to join NATO, after Yeltsin had indicated willingness for them to do so during a recent trip to Poland.
Visiting Moscow during the attempted coup, Archie Brown, a Russian affairs analyst at Oxford University, met with senior officers who helped to negotiate with the president the terms of the Army's assault on the parliament building.
Professor Brown says the officers indicated that Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Gravchev extracted an agreement from Yeltsin that he would listen to demands for an easing up of planned cutbacks in the armed forces and a more cautious approach to Russia's strategic needs. John Erickson, professor of defense studies at Edinburgh University and a world authority on the armed forces of the former Soviet Union, agrees.
Defense intelligence sources in London say Yeltsin was able to persuade General Grachev to order an attack on parliament only after he promised that the armed forces would not be further marginalized by the economic reform program. Brown believes two specific promises Yeltsin gave wereto modify plans to switch defense equipment factories to civil use and to cancel plans to demobilize several Army units. Erickson notes that a week before the attempted coup, Yeltsin wrote to defense ministers of Hungary, Poland, and other former Warsaw Pact nations warning them not to seek NATO membership.
``My understanding is that the letters were personally conveyed to the defense ministers by Grachev on Yeltsin's behalf,'' Erickson says. ``I am in no doubt that a deal was cut and that the armed forces persuaded the president to pay more heed to their role in post-communist Russia. In return they agreed to support Yeltsin in the conflict with his parliamentary enemies.''
The belief that Grachev and other senior military figures achieved significant leverage over Yeltsin is supported by Brian Moynahan, a London-based Russian affairs specialist and author of ``The Claws of the Bear,'' which deals in detail with the military-industrial complex. ``It is clear to me that one of the results of the way the attempted coup was put down will be a slowing down of economic reform,'' Mr. Moynahan says. ``Yeltsin's hopes that arms equipment factories can be switched to civil production are likely to be severely dented.''
Moynahan forecasts that manufacture of military aircraft and equipment will continue, even though the need has diminished. Plans to close down large barracks and other defense installations are also likely to be modified. Brown is convinced that resources that would have been diverted from the military-industrial complex will no longer be available to civil industry. ``Yeltsin ... will have to accept a larger Army than the economy can really do with. I can see no way around that now.''
Brown notes that shortly before Yeltsin dissolved parliament on Sept. 21, he yielded to military pressure to increase armed forces' pay. He also backs the view that Grachev and other senior military figures are worried about the security of Russia.
``The Russian military are concerned that the buffer zone that used to be provided by the Warsaw Pact has disappeared. They are prepared to see ex-members of the pact remain neutral, but they oppose their membership of the western alliance.''