Stephen J. Blank

August 17, 1995

The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


As recent events demonstrate, Russia's political system has yet to stabilize. This is particularly the case with civil-military relations for, as the course of the Chechnya invasion reveals, control by the government over the military is erratic and the military is all too often politicized. In this vein, legislation on civilian control of the military and on peacemaking operations in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is a particularly important barometer of the course of Russia's democratization and stabilization.

In this study, Dr. Stephen Blank dissects that legislation and finds that it reflects and contributes to the drift away from democratic rule towards a form of presidential power that is unaccountable to either legal or parliamentary institutions. Furthermore, these laws will also politicize the military still further and promote the use of Russian armed forces in so- called peacemaking operations that actually contribute to Moscow's openly proclaimed program to reintegrate the CIS around it. Therefore, these draft laws should arouse considerable concern among those charged with, or interested in, monitoring Russia's troubled evolution to democracy.

                         RICHARD H. WITHERSPOON
                         Colonel, U.S. Army
                         Director, Strategic Studies Institute


Since the Russian Federation is the product of the coups of August 1991 and September- October 1993, control over the military is crucial for its survival. Many analysts have looked at issues of civilian control over the military in Russia primarily from the military's side. For them the main question then becomes the loyalty of the armed forces to the government. This monograph takes a different tack and examines the question from the vantage point of state policy towards the military. Although that policy is evolving over time, recent draft laws on defense and peacemaking indicate the Yeltsin Administration's intention to formalize a particular type of relationship with the various types of armed forces in Russia: army, navy, air forces, Ministry of Interior (MVD) forces (whose function is internal policing and pacification of territories inside the Russian Federation), Border Troops (whose function is to guard the old Soviet borders against military operations, e.g., from Afghanistan into Tadzhikistan), etc.

Therefore this essay analyzes in detail the provisions of these draft laws that seek to regulate and formalize the manner in which the state undertakes different kinds of peace operations and the general structure and hierarchy of the country's defense system. These laws also should provide for the pattern of the separation and distribution of powers between the executive and legislative branches with regard to military issues. The conclusions emerging from the body of these draft laws are disquieting.

Essentially, these laws reserve much, if not all discretion to the President and his personal office and remove both the President and the Ministry of Defense from effective, democratic, parliamentary accountability, scrutiny, and control. The Draft Law on Peacemaking allows Yeltsin to start peace operations at home or abroad without consulting either house of Parliament and to obtain funding and authorization for deployment of troops without Parliament, yet does not require him to obtain the approval of the UN for such actions outside Russia.

At home the war in Chechnya that began without any notification of Parliament (even in violation of Russia's own Federation Law and the existing Law on Defense) similarly betrays an indifference to the rule of law and control over military operations that is very disturbing. Especially in view of the possibility for "mission creep" to affect so-called peace operations that then become protracted campaigns, it is all too likely that Russia could blunder into a long-term war without any parliamentary examination of or control over those events.

The Draft Law on Defense shares the same problems by exempting Yeltsin from active parliamentary scrutiny over defense policy. For instance, there are loopholes in this law that suggest Yeltsin can commit forces to preventive war and even to a launch on warning posture without first consulting with Parliament. Similarly there are references to mobilization and to conscription that evoke the spirit of the old Soviet military economy and military manpower system which held the Soviet Union's economy and manpower in a permanently mobilized readiness for war.

Likewise, this law contemplates a reorganization of the defense establishment that goes a long way towards further politicization of the armed forces under Yeltsin. There are implications in this law and in recently announced reform plans that the Ministry of Defense can or will be led by a civilian and that its functions will be confined to raising, training, and supplying troops. Operational control will then devolve on the General Staff, whose Chief will be directly accountable to Yeltsin and undoubtedly chosen for his loyalty. But this reorganization, if it occurs, will not strengthen parliamentary control over the military, which will be effective only under Yeltsin's control.

As a result, these laws contribute to the broader trend in Russian politics of 1993-95 that effectively places the President and his agents above the law and beyond legal or parliamentary accountability. The draft laws considered here are part of a broader trend towards what scholars call presidentialism, a system denoting a President who is virtually unencumbered by the division of and separation of powers and by a system of checks and balances. Accordingly, Russian legislation has empowered Yeltsin to centralize numerous programs and policies in his own office, not that of the regular government. These decrees allow him to combine executive and legislative power and control all governmental activity, e.g., all state spending, without referring to the Parliament. Recent laws also empower the intelligence services to reunite foreign and domestic intelligence and plant informers in government offices, just as the KGB did.

In short, these draft laws on defense and peacemaking are part of the broader stream of decrees, laws, and legislation that are pushing Russia away from democratic forms of governance and towards a politicized and unaccountable relationship between the President and the armed forces. The main trend in these laws is to establish the politicization and division of the various armed forces so that they cannot constitute a threat to Yeltsin and are personally under his direction. But the politicization of the armed forces and their subordination to an authoritarian leadership is generally a harbinger of antidemocratic, unstable, and even aggressive regimes. Therefore a close study of these laws can only lead one to conclude that in civil-military affairs Russia appears to be regressing from democracy to earlier forms of governance. If so, we face a most uncertain future with regard to Russia's internal constitution and external policies.

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