Ivanov’s Victory Over Kvashinin May Open Pandora’s Box

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 40

Major-General Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff, has issued a stinging critique of next year’s preliminary defense budget, going so far as to state that the Russian army is underpaid. His attack on the budget is less connected with an honorable defense of the army’s interests and more a product of Kvashnin’s frustration with his latest setback in his long-running struggle with the office of Defense Minister. Though observers may consider his assertion as a mere statement of fact, he has perennially attacked the Russian defense budget as inadequate and even suggested that the Russian military is descending into a severe crisis. What is different about his most recent pointed remarks is the Russian Duma’s response: the legislature decided to adopt amendments to the Defense Law that effectively reduce the role of the General Staff. Kvashnin’s outburst is revealing, pointing to open tensions with the current Minister of Defense, Sergei Ivanov, and raising more far-reaching questions regarding the long-term role of the General Staff (Vremya Novostei, June 18).

Sources in the Russian MoD advocated the amendments to the Defense Law as a way to free the “army’s brain” from excessive administrative duties, allowing it to analyze security threats and draft appropriate plans for the use of troops in operational tasks. President Vladimir Putin’s priorities for military reform have been hampered by the infighting between the MoD and General Staff, having set the task of reforming the army, its structure, size, and modernizing and maintaining its equipment to meet threats to national security. Kvashnin personally — and the General Staff institutionally — proved incapable of responding to these challenges.

According to the Russian Law “On Defense,” the MoD and the General Staff should exercise command and control of the armed forces, with the latter as the “main organ for operational control of the armed forces.” Essentially both structures had equal status and could therefore compete for decision-making power. In practice, the General Staff stood closer to the army in command and control issues (inspections, commissions, examinations). The Duma amendments to the Defense Law subordinate the General Staff to the Minister of Defense in administrative and operational command-and-control of the army (Izvestiya, June 10).

In theory this should now leave the General Staff in charge of planning and allow the tendency towards infighting between the General Staff and MoD to dissipate. Kvashnin has never been happy simply to carry out his role as Chief of the General Staff, harboring greater ambitions. To avoid the fallout of firing the general, Putin has preferred to keep Kvashnin relatively controlled within the military establishment. This is now in danger of blowing apart.

The demoted role of the General Staff also raises questions that are more important for the future of the Russian army than Kvashnin’s future. How can a new, revitalized and forward-thinking General Staff be created to replace the traditional one that endlessly inspected and checked the armed forces? Who will assume this task? (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 15). Such questions may be masked, at least in the short term, by any rearguard action Kvashnin undertakes to reassert himself at Ivanov’s expense.

These deeper questions, perhaps of greater long-term significance in military reform, will be the first casualty of the internal conflict between the institutions and personally and bitterly fought between Ivanov and Kvashnin. Ivanov has fired his first shot, publicly questioning the need for large-scale antiterrorist exercises in Russia, such as the current Mobility 2004 in the Russian Far East, comparing the strategy on offer as attempting to rehearse hitting a mosquito with a hammer. It is no coincidence that these exercises are under the overall command of Kvashnin, who will be equally keen to disprove the accusations of his rival (Interfax, June 25).

Kvashnin will not take the legal demotion of the General Staff’s status lightly, and he will no doubt continue trying to frustrate Ivanov, attacking him either by stealth or more overtly over the MoD’s plans for reform. Ivanov’s most vulnerable point, in Kvashnin’s estimation, lies in the nature of the defense budget, and here more attacks will follow as the running game between the two becomes more entrenched. All this cannot be good news for the ordinary Russian soldier or for advocates of genuine military reform, which has been derailed by the lack of agreement on fundamentals between these two powerful bodies and individual figures. Putin must now be calculating where the greatest risk is to be found: continuing the infighting by keeping Kvashnin in place, or removing him and risking the specter of a vehement voice of opposition to his policies on military reform, which could do more damage from outside.