Russian History


The Security Council

The function of the Russian Security Council is somewhat similar to that of the Defense Council that Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) created. Khrushchev's successor, Leonid I. Brezhnev (in office 1964-82), had retained the Defense Council as a consultative body on foreign policy and defense security, and this role was codified in the 1977 Soviet constitution. Gorbachev replaced the Defense Council in 1990, first by the Presidential Council and then by the Security Council.

After its statutory establishment in mid-1992, the Russian Security Council became part of Yeltsin's presidential apparatus. To distinguish his Security Council from earlier councils, Yeltsin presented the new body as an open organization that would obey the constitution and other laws and would work closely with executive and legislative bodies. He said the new council was based partly on that of the United States National Security Council. By statute, the Security Council is a consultative rather than decision-making body. It has the authority to prepare decisions for the president on military policy, protection of civil rights, internal and external security, and foreign policy issues, and it has the power to conduct basic research, long-range planning, and coordination of other executive-branch efforts in the foreign policy realm.

The Security Council's founding statute stipulates that voting members include the president, the vice president, the prime minister, the first deputy chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and the secretary of the council. It also includes nonvoting members from the Government (Russia's cabinet), including the ministers or chiefs of defense, internal affairs, foreign affairs, security, foreign intelligence, justice, and others. Other officials and foreign policy experts, including the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, also are invited to participate in council sessions. By statute the Security Council is to meet at least once a month. The 1993 constitution makes formation of the council the prerogative of the president, who is to be its chairman. In February 1994, Yeltsin reapportioned the membership of the council, giving additional influence to defense, internal affairs, justice, civil defense, security, foreign intelligence, and foreign affairs bureaucracies. Another adjustment in mid-1994 included the heads of both chambers of the new Federal Assembly and the head of the Federal Border Service. In 1995 Yeltsin added the minister of atomic energy to the council. After the election of a heavily antireformist parliament in December 1995, Yeltsin announced that the speakers of the two chambers of the Federal Assembly would be excluded from membership in the Security Council.

Some Russian commentators complained that the methods of the Security Council under its first secretary, Yuriy Skokov, were authoritarian, secretive, and antireformist. In early 1993, a major rift occurred between the Security Council and Yeltsin. Skokov led the council in opposing Yeltsin's attempt to declare a so-called special rule for the executive branch as a means of circumventing an executive-legislative deadlock and forcing legislative elections. After Yeltsin won this power struggle against the parliament, he felt strong enough to replace Skokov as secretary of the council. He named Oleg Lobov as secretary in September 1993, and Lobov served until Aleksandr Lebed' replaced him in June 1996.

The Security Council reportedly has played an important role in several vital foreign policy decisions. In September 1992, after an outcry from the Security Council over possible concessions to Japan on the issue of possession of the Kuril Islands, Yeltsin canceled a planned visit to Japan (see Japan, this ch.). In 1993 the Security Council's Interdepartmental Foreign Policy Commission (IFPC) reworked Foreign Minister Kozyrev's foreign policy concept to make it more conservative. The IFPC also appeared to be influential in Russian troop withdrawal policy in the Baltic states, which concluded in mid-1994. The Security Council's agenda also reportedly included deliberations on United States-Russian relations, nuclear arms reduction, ethnic relations within Russia, crime fighting, and relations with the former Soviet republics. On many issues, however, the council apparently failed to conciliate opposing positions of the ministries of defense and foreign affairs, and the council's overall influence appeared to wane after Skokov's dismissal. In December 1994, the council rubber-stamped Yeltsin's decision to send Russian security forces into Chechnya, and it invariably approved his policies there during 1995 and early 1996. Major questions remained about the quality of debate in the council because military and police authorities may not have furnished Yeltsin with complete information on operations in Chechnya during this period. The council likely had become moribund as a consultative body before Lebed' attempted to revitalize its role in 1996.

The Security Council contains various subdepartments and committees. Most significant to foreign policy formation is the IFPC, which was created in December 1992. The IFPC analyzes and forecasts information on foreign policy for the president. Creation of the IFPC coincided with increased opposition to Kozyrev's conduct of foreign policy and to Yeltsin's pro-Western policies. In 1993 the IFPC attempted to block Kozyrev's pro-Western foreign policies and urged a more "imperial" foreign policy toward the near abroad. After 1993, however, the IFPC appeared more amenable to the foreign ministry's policies.