Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 91

If Russian press reports are to be believed, the functions of a key department within the General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate–the department tasked with the planning, use and development of the ground forces–are to be transferred to the Ground Forces main command. In addition, the Ground Forces will no longer report to the General Staff chief, as had previously been the case, but will instead report directly to the defense minister. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which on April 29 carried a detailed description of the latest Defense Ministry changes, these changes mark a potentially unprecedented reversal for the Russian General Staff. The newspaper suggests that it could transform the General Staff from an important operational organ into a primarily consultative body limited to preparing recommendations and concept papers for the Ministry of Defense.

The Ground Forces command will apparently be strengthened further by having a host of administrative departments currently subordinated to the Defense Ministry itself transferred to its authority. These include military training departments, those overseeing rocket troops and artillery, air defense, army aviation and others. Russian reports suggest that the changes in total could elevate the Ground Forces to the supreme position among Russia’s three services (the other two being the air force and the navy), and make Kormiltsev the most powerful of the service chiefs.

On the other hand, the status of both Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops and their former commander-in-chief, Vladimir Yakovlev, appears to be heading in exactly the opposite direction. Under the reorganization the Kremlin announced earlier this year and reconfirmed with the appointment of Ivanov, it was clear that the rocket forces were destined to lose their independent service status and to wind up eventually as a service branch, possibly subordinated to the air force. But the sudden removal of Yakovlev, who was a powerful figure within the armed forces and who had been rumored at various times to be a candidate for either the defense minister or the General Staff chief post, suggests that the downgrading of the missile troops may come sooner than expected. That conclusion is also supported by the fact that Yakovlev’s successor, Nikolai Solovtsov, was named not a “commander-in-chief,” but merely the strategic missile troops “commander”–a lower designation portending a drop in status.

Developments surrounding the appointments of Kormiltsev and Solovtsov suggest, therefore, that the Kremlin is in fact continuing with a plan first mooted by General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin by which the Russian Strategic Missile Troops would lose their priority status and scarce government funding would be shifted instead to Russia’s general purpose forces, which have suffered the brunt of defense funding cuts over the past decade. If Russian reports are to be believed, however, there is some irony in this outcome. Kvashnin appears to have won an acrimonious and very public battle with former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev (a career rocket forces commander), over the shape of Russia’s military reform program. But Kvashnin’s victory appears to be Pyrrhic, because he succeeded neither in winning appointment to the Defense Ministry post himself, or in augmenting his current status by strengthening the General Staff. Not surprisingly, the Russian rumor mill is now running overtime on the subject of Kvashnin’s future in the armed forces.

Meanwhile, Russian reports suggest that a broader housecleaning is taking place throughout the Defense Ministry’s vast administrative apparatus, one in which droves of rocket forces officers installed by Sergeev are being swept from their posts. Russia’s new defense minister seems therefore to be winning the battle on the personnel front. What is less clear is whether he will be able to implement a military reform plan that in concrete terms will stem the deterioration of Russia’s armed forces and begin to rebuild the country’s military might (, April 26-27; Kommersant, April 28; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestia, April 29; Russia Journal, May 9).