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
"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,"
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. …