The reshuffle atop Russia’s defense hierarchy has continued in recent weeks, as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has removed several more senior officers with close ties to his predecessor, Marshal Igor Sergeev, and replaced them with people more to his own liking. Three of these changes are particularly noteworthy. Two of them remove from the high command well-known hardliners whose public statements had come to symbolize the Defense Ministry’s hawkishness on a host of domestic and foreign security issues. The third change, which has gotten less press attention, may in fact be the most significant. It involves the placement of yet another KGB veteran in a key defense post–in this case at the head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel department. This last move, and possibly the first two as well, suggest an intensification of the Kremlin’s effort to ensure its control over the armed forces at a time when it is pushing manpower reductions and administrative restructurings that are unpopular not only with many Russian officers, but also with some parliamentary officials involved in defense policymaking.
The ousted hardliners are Colonel Generals Valery Manilov and Leonid Ivashov. Manilov had been serving as deputy chief of the General Staff and had over the past several years become one of the military’s chief public spokesmen–and its main pointman in selling the Russian public on the bloody war in Chechnya. Ivashov was probably the better known of the two, however, at least in the West. He had headed the Defense Ministry’s international cooperation directorate since 1996 and had used that post as a pad from which to launch what sometimes seemed like an unending barrage of criticism at the West for everything from NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia to NATO enlargement to U.S. missile defense plans. Russia’s rumor mill had reported since Sergei Ivanov’s appointment to the Defense Ministry post in March that both Manilov’s and Ivashov’s days were numbered. The announcement of Manilov’s dismissal came on June 29; that of Ivashov’s came late last week.
Russian reports have suggested that Manilov’s dismissal may mark the end of his military career. Manilov is 60 years old, the legal retirement age for the armed forces, and there have been no announcements of his likely appointment to another post. The 57-year-old Ivashov’s situation is somewhat different. Initial reports suggested that he had chosen to resign his post–presumably under pressure from the Kremlin–and that he intended to seek opportunities in the civilian sphere. In comments to the press on July 13 announcing Ivashov’s departure, however, Defense Minister Ivanov said that Ivashov would ultimately be offered a new posting “no less important” than the one he left. Some initial Russian reports suggested that he might be moved laterally into the deputy chief of staff post for coordinating military cooperation between the CIS member states.
Indeed, the CIS staff may be turning into something of a graveyard for senior Russian military officials ousted as a result of the Defense Ministry’s current housecleaning. Former Strategic Missile Troops Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Yakovlev, who lost his post this past May during an earlier wave of dismissals (see the Monitor, May 10), has more recently been named chief of the CIS coordinating staff. One Russian report has suggested that other CIS countries may be less than enthusiastic about receiving Ivashov, however. Izvestia suggested on July 15 that the Russian general, not surprisingly, has made some enemies in Georgia and Azerbaijan on the basis of his outspoken opposition to closer relations between CIS countries and NATO. Attempts earlier in Ivashov’s career to maintain Moscow’s control over the emerging military establishments of the then newly independent states may also disincline political leaders in some of these countries to support Ivashov’s possible candidacy for the CIS post.
Ivashov’s participation in these events–and Manilov’s as well for that matter–suggests one thing about the careers of these two men: Until their recent dismissals both had proven, whatever their respective talents, to be survivors in the brutal bureaucratic battles that rent and reshaped the military leadership in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Each managed the transition from the Soviet period, when they served in the Soviet defense apparatus, to the short-lived CIS Joint Armed Forces under Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, to the establishment of an independent Russian Defense Ministry and the tumultuous changes it underwent during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Manilov’s career may be the more remarkable in this respect, and, if some Russian sources are to be believed, say more about the gross politicization and corruption of the military leadership that occurred under Yeltsin. That is because Manilov has the background of a Soviet-era political officer and yet managed through the cultivation of connections and patronage to attend the General Staff Academy and ultimately to make an unprecedented rise–for a political officer–to the number two post on the General Staff. There he is reported to have played a role in the drafting of Russia’s latest military doctrine, though the extent of his participation and the quality of his contribution remain a debatable point among Russian military observers.
SIGNIFICANCE OF LATEST DEFENSE MINISTRY DISMISSALS DIFFICULT TO ASSESS.