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Controversial Russian Minister Weathers Another Political Storm But Insiders Say He’s Being Saved Now To Sacrifice Later

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has weathered yet another battle, the only security minister to keep his job in the latest clash between President Boris Yeltsin and parliament.

But his days may be numbered.

“Grachev is doomed,” lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov said Saturday after parliament failed to approve a no-confidence motion in Yeltsin’s government.

“He’s being saved as a big sacrifice for the whole Chechen crisis, and the sacrifice will be made as the presidential elections come closer,” Nikonov predicted.

Grachev, along with Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, Federal Security Service chief Sergei Stepashin and Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Yegorov, tendered his resignation Thursday. A day later, Yeltsin accepted all the resignations except Grachev’s.

Grachev, 48, has clung to his post despite repeated calls for his ouster from all sides of the political spectrum.

Reformists blame him for the prolonged war in Chechnya, for his failure to streamline the military and combat widespread corruption, and for his taste in luxury sedans, leading to his nickname “Pasha Mercedes.”

Communists and nationalists have not forgiven Grachev for ordering the attack on Russia’s White House in the October 1993 hard-line uprising in Moscow.

But Yeltsin so far has stood by his embattled defense minister, an Afghan War veteran who supported the president in the August 1991 Soviet coup attempt and during the 1993 confrontation with the former parliament.

Gennady Burbulis, once among Yeltsin’s closest aides, said Saturday that Grachev was one of the few generals personally loyal to the president.

Yeltsin may have to sacrifice him eventually, he said, “but only at a strategic moment prior to the 1996 presidential election.”

Last year, Grachev boasted that a single parachute regiment could “solve all questions” in Chechnya within two hours. He also fended off charges of corruption and an newspaper’s accusation that he was involved in the murder of an investigative reporter looking into army wrongdoing.

Many army officers have been appalled by Grachev’s taste for luxury while their families live in overcrowded barracks.

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