Soviet Major Rankles Top Brass Boris Yeltsin Protege Urges Dramatic New Marching Orders, and Says He's Winning Converts. INTERVIEW: MILITARY IDEALIST

Article excerpt

VLADIMIR LOPATIN is only 30 years old and holds only the rank of major, but he has managed to make life rather uncomfortable for the top brass of the Soviet military.

Since his election to the new Soviet parliament last year, Navy Major Lopatin has led the charge of like-minded mid-level-officers-turned-politicians who favor a reform of the military that goes further and faster than anything the four-stars seem to have in mind.

He takes the podium regularly at Supreme Soviet sessions, and his pen is mighty - more than 50 articles published in the Soviet press this year alone. When his military superiors tried to have him expelled from the Communist Party last April, he fought and won. In July, he turned in his party card of his own accord.

Now Lopatin, a dour, stiff boy-man who turns on a toothy politician's grin at the sight of a camera, has turned in his epaulettes and joined an army of a different sort: the Yeltsin Brigade, a growing body of idealists - many of them about half the age of the Russian Republic's president - set to change the Soviet Union from the republic level. Quit the military

In September, Boris Yeltsin tapped Lopatin to become deputy chairman of Russia's new Committee for National Security and Interaction with the USSR Ministry of Defense and KGB. Lopatin says the position is tantamount to the rank of minister. And so, in keeping with his view that a defense minister should be a civilian, he quit the military.

But his agenda remains the same: a smaller, volunteer Army, removal of party organizations from the military, cuts in military spending, conversion of military production to civilian, and greater say on military issues at the republic level.

Lopatin visited Washington recently on a tour sponsored by Global Outlook, a California-based research institute that focuses on the security aspects of US-Soviet relations. The purpose of his trip, his first to the United States, was to educate and to be educated. Global Outlook also hoped that, by forging international connections, he would be strengthened back home, says research analyst Jennifer Lee.

In interviews, it was not difficult to see how Lopatin could make fast enemies among the power elite of the Soviet defense establishment.

"He is preaching reform with the same vehemence that he taught Marxism-Leninism," says Ms. Lee, referring to his stint as director of the Marxism-Leninism institute in the city of Vologda.

Top Soviet military leaders complain that the likes of Lopatin aren't running the show and therefore can't speak knowledgeably about how to do it better. But regardless, Lopatin claims his point of view is gaining currency among the military's officer corps - even its notoriously conservative upper echelons.

"If, in the beginning of this year, our conception of military reform was supported by a considerable part of the younger officer corps, a part of the middle-level ranks, and only a few in the upper levels," said Lopatin in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor and Radio Liberty, "then now we are supported by an absolute majority in the younger and middle ranks of the officers' corps, and a part of the upper-level - more than just a few." Why?

"I think it's, on the one hand, a result of the growing understanding of the inevitability of these processes, and on the other hand, a result of the formation of a new Russian government," he says.

The first task of Lopatin's committee (it has no chairman) was to assess the current security situation of the Soviet Union. The group concluded that the operative concept equated security only with military aspects, to be provided by three ministries - Defense, KGB, and Interior. …