Kvashnin’s Future Hangs In The Balance Ñagain

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 49

Russia has prepared a new combat regiment for deployment in Ingushetia. The regiment consists of 600 servicemen, who joined under a contract after completing their military training in the North Caucasus Internal Troops District. The 126th Regiment of the Interior Troops (MVD) has been specifically prepared to assist Ingushetia’s law-enforcement agencies in order to prevent militant formations from penetrating the republic’s territory. This development is in direct response to the rebel attacks on Ingush towns during June 21-22 (Channel One TV, July 10). Its success there may help to deflect growing criticism directed against Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff, as many observers believe that President Putin may choose to lay the blame on Kvashnin for the Chechen attacks, which resulted in 98 deaths including 67 officers from the Russian army, MVD, and the Federal Security Service (FSB) Border Guard Service.

Prominent senior figures in the Russian military have been forthright concerning their criticism of Kvashnin, which has led to growing speculation that changes may soon be made by Putin at the top of the military structures, moving Kvashnin away from the General Staff. Viktor Ilyukhin, the deputy chairman of the State Duma Security Committee has expressed his view that the events in Ingushetia were possible only as a result of poor coordination of the work of the federal and regional special services. Since the General Staff has an important coordinating role to play in the conflict, it was clearly an indirect attack on Kvashnin. Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, was much more overt and to the point: “Kvashnin to a large extent is responsible for what here is today happening in the North Caucasus. It is the General Staff that coordinates the activity of all the security structures operating in the region.” Other figures from the MVD and FSB have attempted to deflect criticism from their own departments by joining the ranks of those seeking to blame Kvashnin (Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 30).

However, former defense minister Igor Rodionov believes that the scheming over Kvashnin, sparked in part by the events in Ingushetia and by the declining role of the General Staff in favor of the Ministry of Defense, is an attempt to conceal the wider malaise affecting the Russian armed forces and personalize the failures of the security forces in Chechnya. This was highlighted in his opinion, by the anti-terrorist exercises in Russia’s Far East, Mobility 2004. “They airlifted a company and then blew these exercises up to a strategic scale,” said Rodionov. “And they found some mock terrorists among the volcanoes which, for training purposes, were successfully destroyed, and all this was happening at a time when in the south of the country companies of real terrorists had taken over an entire Russian region…. All this simply makes me feel sick to my stomach” (Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, July 2).

The Russian military press has recently reported rumors of Kvashnin’s imminent departure, going as far as to suggest that Putin already has the post of deputy secretary of the Security Council in mind for him. Whether these reports are substantiated by future events, the resurfacing of “Kvashnin scheming” calls into question the deeper issues of the condition of the Russian armed forces, its capabilities, planning, and coordination of operations. The in fighting suggests that military reform is currently held captive to the stalemate produced by bureaucratic inertia, as the various power ministries and leading security players seek to advance or defend their own corners. As difficult as these issues are to face, there are equally tough lessons for the Kremlin to grasp if it is to achieve any genuine progress in Russia’s failing military structures. Kvashnin was never content simply to serve as Chief of the General Staff, and harbored ambitions beyond his official role in the military, which brought him inevitably into conflict with his boss in the Ministry of Defense — Sergei Ivanov. Kvashnin could have been and probably ought to have been sacked several years ago when this became clear, but Putin chose to maintain his position. If he is now removed, over the attacks in Ingushetia, it will be for all the wrong reasons. Nonetheless, the personalization of the problems afflicting the Russian armed forces, of which the Kvashnin factor is one prominent element, serves to confuse the root structural, personnel, and other problems confronting the armed forces.

Kvashnin will no doubt attempt to resist his departure, but whether he goes or stays in his present post, the whole saga confirms the wider and more dangerous context for Russia’s own “war on terror” in the North Caucasus, complicated and beset by internal conflict, sometimes subtle and at other times openly, within Russia’s security structures. In this area Putin will find familiar problems, though more difficult to cope with than any mere sacking might suggest.