Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 178

Igor Sergeev could very well be made a scapegoat for developments in Chechnya. But the defense minister’s ouster, if it comes to pass, could in reality be the result of another division within the High Command that has been boiling under the surface for more than a year. It involves not the decision so much to prioritize funding for Russia’s strategic deterrent, but a parallel effort by Sergeev to concentrate operational control over all the country’s strategic forces in the hands of his protege and successor, Strategic Rocket Forces commander Vladimir Yakovlev.

That move has been opposed, however, by the Russian military’s second most powerful officer, Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff. Kvashnin’s objections are reportedly two-fold. On the one hand, the changes proposed by Sergeev would strip the General Staff of its traditional operational control over the country’s strategic forces. On this count, Kvashnin reportedly has the support of other service chiefs, who also see no good reason to turn over their assets–and their funding–to Yakovlev’s missile command. But Kvashnin’s opposition is said to be personal as well. He reportedly has long sought to supplant Sergeev, and fears Yakovlev as a potential competitor for the defense minister post.

Kvashnin bears watching. He reportedly has good relations with both Yeltsin and Putin, and is seen more generally as a keen political operator who has moved adroitly to solidify his own position while weakening that of Sergeev. He is said to be in particularly good graces with the Kremlin right now because of his leading role in planning the June 12 dash of Russian paratroopers to Pristina.

But Kvashnin’s competence as a commander and military administrator is reputed to be a good deal less impressive than his prowess as a Kremlin intriguer. By most accounts he was responsible for some of the worst debacles that befell Russian troops during the Kremlin’s first war in Chechnya. Indeed, one account has described Kvashnin’s professional career as one long string of disasters and missteps, and marveled at his extraordinary ability to turn the worst failures into opportunities for self-promotion. However true that description might be, he is also said to be a “hawk” with regard to events in Chechnya today and a man who is eager to fight. That could make him a more desirable choice for defense minister than the more restrained and cerebral Sergeev, despite the latter’s steady loyalty to Yeltsin and his–by Russian standards–relatively uncomplaining stewardship of the Defense Ministry (Itogi, July 6; Moskovsky komsomolets, July 22; Izvestia, September 8; Segodnya, September 23).