President Boris N. Yeltsin's decision to create a separate Russian Ministry of Defense is the latest acknowledgment of the transitional nature of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In trying to replace the centralized organs of the Soviet Union, the CIS has proven to be quarrelsome and inefficient. Such weaknesses might not be crucial, except that the main functions of the new grouping were to oversee the former Soviet armed forces and control their vast nuclear arsenal. So far, the CIS has not performed either task convincingly.
The problems started almost immediately. Just five days after the CIS was formed on Dec. 8, Ukraine's President Leonid Kravchuk declared himself the commander in chief of a newly created national army in that important republic. Ever since, many of the 12 CIS members have been setting up their own armies while arguing about the nature of common forces. Gradually, those favoring a loose association of "joint" forces over "unified" troops seem to have won.
The fragmentation of the 3.7-million-strong army is eroding one of the most potent instruments of power the Soviet Union built.
During seven decades of communist rule, the Kremlin had no more loyal servant than the Red Army. It was strictly under the control of the Communist Party, incapable of independent political action. Over the years, KGB chiefs and Communist bosses would get involved in power intrigues, but not the armed forces. It took and fulfilled orders.