To the relief and near jubilation of the Russian officer corps, President Vladimir Putin finally sacked his controversial Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on November 6, replacing him with Sergei Shoigu. However, the initial Russian media frenzy that ensued masked the deeper reasons for Serdyukov’s dismissal and the early efforts to sweep the defense ministry and top brass of the former minister’s loyalists. Putin’s changes to the top brass, including the appointment of a new Chief of the General Staff, indicate that more than a change of furniture is underway in the defense ministry’s leadership (Ekho Moskvy, November 9).
Colorful media speculation on the reasons for dismissing the minister centered exclusively on the corruption scandal surrounding the defense ministry-linked holding company Oboronservis, which is used to outsource a number of support services for the Armed Forces, and rumors linking Serdyukov to an extra-marital affair that provoked the anger of his father-in-law, former Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov. Nonetheless, the commander-in-chief disclosed the critical reasoning underlying the change at the helm of the defense ministry. On November 9, after the rumored resignation two days earlier of the incumbent Chief of the General Staff, Army-General Nikolai Makarov, Putin appointed his replacement: Colonel-General Valery Gerasimov, the former commander of Central Military District (MD). He then addressed Gerasimov: “The situation in the sphere of science and technology is changing; new means of warfare are appearing. We should of course aim to have advanced means, but at the same time certain stability is also required. I very much hope that you, together with the minister, will manage to build stable, good, partnership-like relations with our leading defense industry enterprises” (www.kremlin.ru, November 9).
Ultimately, therefore, the Oboronservis investigation and Army-General (retired) Yury Baluyevskiy’s attack on the financial aspects of the reform of the Armed Forces (see EDM October 30) were merely used as justification to sack the beleaguered minister. The real reason alluded to by Putin was the extent to which both Serdyukov and Makarov pressured the Russian defense industry to procure modern weapons systems for military modernizations; other industry lobbyists argued that the defense ministry should first purchase what is being produced (Ekho Moskvy, November 9). Putin appears to have sided with the defense industry against Serdyukov and Makarov.
Whether Makarov in fact resigned or was pushed, his post was untenable since he was too closely aligned with the former defense minister; on November 9, Putin dismissed him from his post and also discharged Makarov from military service. The safe choice of successor for the post, Gerasimov, was one of the top brass with little to obviously connect his career to Makarov. Interestingly, Gerasimov is known to have strong views on missile defense, presenting a paper on a Russian response to BMD at a Moscow conference in May 2012. However, Putin has continued changes to the top brass amid further speculation that heads will roll in the defense ministry as Shoigu continues the purge of the previous ministerial team.
In Putin’s decree dismissing Makarov, he also sacked the First Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Sukhorov. The latter was also widely regarded as being embroiled in the defense ministry’s dispute with the defense industry. Colonel-General Arkady Bakhin was relieved of his post as the Commander of Western MD and appointed First Deputy Defense Minister. Colonel-General Oleg Ostapenko was moved from the post of Commander of the Aerospace Defense Forces and appointed as Deputy Defense Minister. Additional changes to the top brass are to be expected as the new leadership settles in over the coming months (www.kremlin.ru, November 9).
Moscow-based defense experts now anticipate that Shoigu will sack a number of individuals in the defense ministry, particularly the former colleagues of Serdyukov from the tax ministry. These include: Tatyana Shevtsova, deputy minister for the financial unit; Yelena Kozlova, deputy minister and head of the Financial Monitoring Inspectorate; Olesya Podgornaya, head of the Property Relations Department; Alla Yashina, head of the Military Product Price Formation Department; and Yekaterina Priyezzheva, head of the Department of Education (Izevtiya, November 11). A number of tentative conclusions may be reached concerning the early changes following the removal of Serdyukov and impending sackings within the defense ministry; they all center on removing people too closely associated with the disgraced former defense minister or are linked to the financial elements of the reform of the Armed Forces.
The first meeting between Shoigu and the top brass was described as occurring in a “business-like and dynamic atmosphere.” Shoigu ordered that they report to him on the condition of military commands, military districts and fleets. The new defense minister listened to their responses, hurriedly prepared, and then switched to focus on housing and social issues, ominously requesting “very precise data” on the activities of the property department. Minister Shoigu also raised questions concerning Oboronservis, suggesting possible reform of the structure and duties of this company. Finally, Shoigu requested that deputy defense ministers and the commanders of the MDs and fleets must prepare a “thorough inventory” of the results of Serdyukov’s reforms. Additionally, he ordered his deputies and the commanders of the MDs and fleets to prepare briefings on the state of the units—as the minister intends to conduct a “thorough inventory” of the results of Serdyukov’s military reform and present his ideas with regard to where the army will progress in the future (Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 11).
Komsomolskaya Pravda telephoned the Commander of the Airborne Forces, Colonel-General Vladimir Shamanov to ask his views on the sacking of Serdyukov. Shamanov replied: “That is a very correct decision by the President. The Army is sighing with relief. We are tired of the absurd reforms” (Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 11). What is surprising in Shamanov’s comment is not how easily he dismissed the four years of reform and confirmed the relief among Russian officers. Rather, what is interesting is that he himself had once strongly supported the reforms.
Suggestions that Serdyukov’s removal may pave the way for a halt or reversal to the reform or many of its features seem premature and misplaced. More pointedly, the reform was initiated by Putin, not Serdyukov—the latter was tasked with its management and implementation. It now appears that the reform process will change in tone, but not in substance. However, few members of the top brass were known to actively support the reform. And Shamanov may be a trend setter for those wondering how to position themselves in the days ahead.