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YELTSIN CREATES A DEFENSE MINISTRY, TAKES HELM

Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree Monday creating a new Russian Defense Ministry and named himself acting defense minister, a senior official said.

Vice Premier Sergei Shakhrai said Russian soldiers would stay under the control of the Commonwealth of Independent States for the time being.He said Yeltsin had assumed "the temporary functions of minister of defense" to calm the debate between generals and politicians over candidates for the post. He stressed the ministry would be run by civilians.

Shakhrai said the decree does not mean that Russian armed forces have been created, "although they do de facto exist."

The creation of a separate Russian army would deal a further blow to the unity of the newly formed commonwealth that replaced the Soviet Union in December. Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Moldova already have said that they will form armies.

Yeltsin said earlier this year that Russia would form its own army if other former Soviet republics did.

On Saturday, Yeltsin is to meet in Kiev with other commonwealth leaders. Military issues are expected to be discussed.

Military matters have deeply divided Russia and Ukraine, which both claim control over the Black Sea fleet, based on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk also wants troops now based in Ukraine to swear an oath of allegiance to his republic, a demand many Russians stationed there oppose.

Under an agreement reached earlier by the commonwealth, the 3.7 million members of the former Soviet armed forces remained unified under the command of Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov.

Yeltsin's decree said an official delegation would be formed to negotiate with other commonwealth states on the status of troops deployed in other republics, Shakhrai said.

Yeltsin will have control over the Russian military's budget, structure and personnel, as well as be responsible for the troops' social protection, Shakhrai said.

The once-proud military faces a crisis over housing, salaries, pensions and other social issues as the Russian economy has worsened.