President Putin’s July 19 appointment of Colonel-General Yuri Baluyevsky as Chief of the General Staff, after sacking General Anatoly Kvashnin the previous day, has been met with widespread support in Moscow. Not only do many colleagues and military analysts alike consider Baluyevsky as a safe pair of hands to lead the General Staff in the aftermath of its long-running institutional conflict with the Ministry of Defense, but also he brings less controversial baggage, distinguishing him from Kvashnin. His appointment equally has implications for the course of Russian military reform, evidently negatively affected in recent years to some extent by Kvashnin’s personal ambitions.
Colonel-General Arkady Baskayev, a member of the Duma’s Security Committee, illustrated these hopes for a brighter future for the beleaguered Russian armed forces, claiming that Baluyevsky will more actively pursue serious military reform (Ekho Moskvy Radio, July 19). In Baskayev’s opinion, the new Chief of the General Staff is a sound general who may well bring “something new” to the post, particularly in reforming the military. This may simply reflect the widespread impatience and frustration with the cyclical and protracted discussions of military reform without real progress, though in Baluyevsky’s case there may be reasonable grounds upon which this hope could be based.
According to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the General Staff must now concentrate on developing the armed forces and on preparing for the wars of the future; they should not spend as much time dealing with the daily running of the armed forces. Ivanov firmly believes that Baluyevsky has both the desire and the determination to carry this out in practical terms — without the familiar, persistent efforts to raise the profile of the General Staff and pursue hidden agendas that denoted Kvashnin’s tenure. (Itar-Tass, July 19).
There are few inspirational or outstanding events in Baluyevsky’s background. Born in Truskavets on January 9, 1947, he graduated from the Higher General Military Command Establishment in 1970, and from the Frunze Military Academy in 1980. The various posts he held in the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff between 1982 and 1997, did not single him out as a future Chief of the General Staff (Channel One TV, July 19). What he does possess, among a decreasing number of Russian generals, are organizational and strategic planning skills, which the current vision for the General Staff, firmly subordinated by law to the Ministry of Defense, seems to demand. The General Staff will be tasked with planning and drafting operational details and reporting to the MoD. It therefore requires an individual to provide leadership not only in a new style, but also in the attributes necessary to support Putin’s desire for the two bodies to cooperate more closely. Planning was certainly not Kvashnin’s strength.
Despite Baluyevsky’s opposition to the U.S. Missile Defense program, he comes with excellent credentials in seeking to deepen Russia’s security cooperation with the West. He played a significant part in recent arms reduction negotiations and was involved in setting up the Russia-NATO Council. Other Russian officers consider Baluyevsky to be well equipped for the post, possessing a highly analytical mind and having experience in the control of troops combined with good knowledge of theaters of operations. Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, former Commander of the Northern Fleet places Baluyevsky among the finest minds in the present General Staff (Interfax, July 19). Baluyevsky evidently inspires respect across the services.
He does, however, face undoubted challenges inherited from Kvashnin, requiring the utmost skill and managerial confidence and professionalism. Streamlining the organization and enhancing its efficiency will be key tasks, while moving away from his predecessor’s tendency to indulge in frequent personnel reshuffles will be important. His main task will be clearly delineating the functions of the General Staff and Defense Ministry, thus avoiding many of the reasons for the infighting that has so beset these structures in recent years. Moreover, he may have to delicately reverse some his predecessor’s “reforms” and learn to work in closer harmony with the Minister of Defense.
Yet the lengthy process of healing the General Staff-Ministry of Defense divisions is complex and requires constant monitoring as well as political astuteness on the part of Ivanov. His first efforts in this sphere appear promising. Emphasizing that Baluyevsky is the right man for the job, since his task will be to focus primarily on the “development” of the armed forces, and carefully avoiding the use of the word “reform” that is a red flag to the General Staff, Ivanov implied that Kvashnin’s removal could defuse tensions on both sides. One thing is evident: Baluyevsky’s task ahead will be arduous if he is to succeed.