If Russian commentators are divided on the reasons for–and consequences of–President Vladimir Putin’s reshuffle, they seem to be more unified in their belief that his March 28 appointments were only the first in what is likely to be a much broader shakeup of Russia’s military establishment. And while there is some disagreement over how fast now Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov will move in this regard, there seems to be some consensus over which senior officers who are likely to face dismissal and which are likely to survive in their posts. The former includes a large group of top Defense Ministry and General Staff officers who were reported to be close to former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Interestingly, those said likely to face dismissal also include Colonel General Leonid Ivashov and Colonel General Valery Manilov, two hardliners who often played high profile roles as spokesmen for the Defense Ministry. Russia’s various service chiefs, on the other hand–including Strategic Missile Troops commander Vladimir Yakovlev, Air Force Commander Anatoly Kornukov, Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroyedov, and Airborne Forces Commander Vladimir Shpak–are said to be secure in their posts. In very general terms, Ivanov appears interested in a housecleaning which rids the Defense Ministry of senior officers who have been serving too long in administrative posts in Moscow, and replacing them generals from outside the capital.
The most interesting personnel question of all, however, concerns current General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin. It was the start of his very public battle with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev last summer which divided the armed forces and compelled the Kremlin to give priority consideration to the military reform issue. Kvashnin, long known to have his own designs on the Defense Ministry post, had appeared to emerge victorious from that battle. More recently, though, reports have suggested that Kvashnin’s constant political maneuvering has put him in bad odor with Ivanov, and that his own days may be numbered. These same reports say that Kvashnin is likely to wind up either on the Russian Security Council (which is not expected to wield the authority it did under Ivanov), or in a top CIS defense post. Either move would be a significant setback for the intensely ambitious Kvashnin.
The decision over Kvashnin’s future, finally, will likely be played out against the background of a larger policy debate over a restructuring of the relative roles of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff. In the meantime, Kvashnin has reportedly been named to head a special Defense Ministry commission tasked with formulating proposals on how best to reduce the number of generals in the ministry and replace them with civilians. That could be a thankless job, and one which earns him many more friends than enemies. In the meantime, some commentaries have suggested that the Defense Minister post could prove to be a poisoned chalice of sorts of Ivanov as well. Despite the immense personal authority that he appears to wield, his entry into the Defense Ministry and his position as pointman for the Kremlin’s defense reform efforts will likely earn him the enmity of at least some within Russia’s still largely tradition-bound military leadership. His ability to win the loyalty of younger and more open-minded officers, despite the narrow financial constraints under which he will be operating, may go a long way toward determining whether his stint as defense minister is a successful one (Vremya novostei, March 29; Moskovsky komsomolets, April 5; Tribuna, Kommersant, Military News Agency, April 10; Izvestia, April 11; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 13).
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