Gerasimov Unveils Russia’s ‘Reformed’ General Staff

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 27

Valeriy Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

On February 5, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff (CGS), Army-General Valeriy Gerasimov, published an article on the role of the General Staff in Voyenno Promyshlennyy Kuryer. The article refers to changes to this role based on a presidential decree issued in 2013. Though the CGS stressed the continuity of the General Staff’s activities he also elaborated a series of shifts in Russian defense policy. Gerasimov not only seems a very different type of CGS compared to his reformist predecessor Nikolai Makarov, but he is also signaling that the General Staff has reasserted its influence within the overall security architecture (
In order to assess these nuanced shifts in Russian defense policy, it is crucial to understand the context of Gerasimov’s article, the nature of the amendments to the role of the General Staff specified in President Vladimir Putin’s July 2013 decree (ukaz), and Gerasimov’s interpretation of these changes. The article is based upon Gerasimov’s address to the Presidium of the Academy of Military Sciences, on January 25, 2014. This year’s conference met to discuss national defense issues and how best Moscow can counter military and non-military threats to the state. The CGS addressed the conference on the theme: “The role of the General Staff in the defense of the country in accordance with the new Regulation on the General Staff, approved by the President of the Russian Federation” (Interfax, January 26).
Putin’s ukaz, issued on July 23, 2013, amends the regulations of the General Staff in accordance with Article 4 of the 1996 Law on Defense and specifies an amendment to one subparagraph. This requires the General Staff to prepare and to submit a defense plan for presidential approval and work on a number of defense-related planning documents, including: the Concept of Development of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, strategic deterrence and prevention of military conflicts, mobilization plans for the Armed Forces, territorial defense, information warfare, plans for operational equipment, defense management, overseeing research in the field of defense, preparing proposals for the structure of the Armed Forces, staffing levels of military and civilian personnel of the Armed Forces, as well as projects related to military regulations, among others (

The content of the ukaz seems quite bland, simply expanding the already known role of the General Staff in strategic defense planning as well as developing the foundations of the military security of the state, the Armed Forces and Russia’s military organization as a whole. However, Gerasimov refers to “additional powers” and an expanded number of tasks for the organization, concluding that these aim to improve the overall coordination of security and defense agencies during future combat operations (
Gerasimov notes that one of the new tasks for the General Staff enshrined in the decree had already been implemented in January 2013 by coordinating the Defense Plan, which is an interrelated set of defense planning documents revised on a five-year basis. In terms of planning strategic deterrence, the General Staff organizes inter-agency cooperation and strictly regulates all joint activities. The relevant planning documents were drawn up by the General Staff, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the interior ministry (MVD) and the emergencies ministry (MChS); these documents regulate the use of multi-agency forces from defense ministry units to troops from the other power ministries. In order to maximize the potential of these agencies, it was decided to create an effective single control system. Gerasimov explains that its result is the National Center for Russian Federation Defense Management. Gerasimov believes that this center represents a “single control system” for the entire military organization of the Russian Federation, allowing real-time access and analysis of information to assist in crisis management situations (

Moreover, on the important issue of underpinning military development and preparations for future war, Gerasimov states that the General Staff now plays the leading role in military science. He alludes to the “unified military-technical policy,” which is developed and implemented by the General Staff. This extends to cover defense research organizations, defense ministry military educational institutes, institutes of the Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Military Science. Gerasimov is in no doubt that the General Staff is the leader and coordinator in this area (
Gerasimov leaves his reader and audience in little doubt that the role of the General Staff has expanded, but he also addresses the underlying drivers of this process. “Expanding the role of the General Staff,” he explains, “is primarily due to ongoing changes in the nature of warfare.” Members of the General Staff note that modern warfare is transient in its nature, and marked by the use of military and “non-military means.” This raises to a critical level the task of inter-agency cooperation and coordination; a task the General Staff feels capable of carrying out. Gerasimov also notes the role of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and private military companies as a hallmark of modern conflict, pointing to Syria, Ukraine and “Greenpeace activities in the Arctic” (

By coincidence—as if to underscore the extent to which Gerasimov is far from the reformer that Makarov proved to be in 2008–2012—also on February 5, the resignation of his deputy Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov was finally accepted. Although the exact reasons for Postnikov’s resignation are not clear, according to Kommersant’s sources it was submitted in late 2013 and stemmed from his disagreements with Gerasimov. Postnikov’s departure is significant, as he was a stalwart supporter of the reforms of Makarov and former defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov and was considered to be a modernizer. His resignation confirms that none of Makarov’s supporters are welcome by the defense leadership (RIA Novosti, Kommersant, February 5).

The departure of Postnikov, a noted reformist general, linked to personal differences with the current CGS contradicts the official line that “all is well” with reform and modernization. But the expanded role of the General Staff in Russian defense policy outlined by Gerasimov is arguably a reaction to internal analyses of foreign conflicts and their implications for Russian security. With continued limited conventional hard power options at Russia’s disposal, its political-military leadership is becoming increasingly interested in soft power as a potential threat to the state—or, more precisely, to the regime. This influences defense and security thinking to protect the regime itself from soft-power mechanisms. If the General Staff has emerged at the top of a defense coordinating superstructure, the National Center for Defense Management, it may well play a crucial role in regime protection during any future domestic crisis.