Russian military reform was again squarely in the headlines yesterday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin summoned both newly named Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and the long-serving chief of the Russian General Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, to the Kremlin for a meeting. Putin’s decision to huddle his two top defense officials, only a day after Ivanov’s appointment, was more than a symbolic action. Their unseemly public row not only greatly embarrassed the Kremlin, but also greatly complicated the Kremlin’s effort to restructure and reform the armed forces. Kvashnin appeared to emerge the victor from that battle but, as some Russian sources have pointed out, the triumph may have been Pyrrhic. In Ivanov he will now be facing a man who is believed to be among Putin’s closest advisers and one who, for that reason, will bring considerably more political clout to the Defense Ministry than his predecessor.
That the Kremlin is looking to ensure that there will be no more outbreaks of public disagreement between top military officials was suggested yesterday when Ivanov announced that he will wield ultimate authority within the armed forces. “Everyone in the armed forces will be under one command,” Ivanov told reporters. He also made it clear that Kvashnin will be reporting to him. The distinction is an important one, both because Kvashnin had managed to gain a direct line to Putin (and a seat on the Security Council) during Sergeev’s stewardship of the Defense Ministry, and because there had been rumors that the General Staff might emerge in a superior position to the Defense Ministry in what many have seen as a looming shakeup of the entire military command system. That shake-up may still be coming, and reports suggested yesterday that it would indeed involve a redrawing of responsibilities between the Defense Ministries and the General Staff. But it appears that Ivanov’s Defense Ministry post will remain preeminent in the defense hierarchy, and that the former Security Council secretary will be the one driving the reform process within the armed forces.
Indeed, that appeared to be the primary topic of yesterday’s Kremlin meeting, and the message Ivanov and Putin conveyed after yesterday’s consultations. Ivanov, who as Security Council secretary was responsible for drafting the Kremlin’s current military reform program, was quoted by news agencies as saying that he would make army restructuring his top priority as defense minister. “The person who worked out the reforms should be not only the one who implements them, but also the one who takes responsibility for them,” Ivanov was quoted as saying. Perhaps to ease concerns within the armed forces, however, Ivanov also said that his approach to reform would be incremental rather than radical. “National security is not an area where revolutions are admissible,” he said. In substantive terms, Ivanov repeated the formula which political and some military leaders alike have long used to describe the goal of military reform: to create a smaller, better equipped, mobile and more modern and capable Russian military machine. But if reports out of Moscow are to be believed, Ivanov also made some more interesting noises yesterday, saying that Russia would gradually transition to an all-volunteer force. If Ivanov’s plan includes ultimately dispensing with Russia’s current system of military conscription, such a move would likely be a popular one with the Russian public. However, Russian political and military leaders have spoken of creating an all-volunteer force for the good part of a decade now, and the country is no closer to that goal than it was in the early 1990s. Ivanov’s own timetable in this area is apparently also a long one: He said to reporters yesterday that it took the United States ten years to build an all-volunteer army.
As Ivanov began yesterday to lay out his plans for the coming months and years, Russian news sources started to describe with some greater precision the duties of the three new deputy defense ministers Putin named on Wednesday. Lyubov Kudelina, the most surprising of those appointments, will oversee the Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate for Budgeting and Finance. As expected, she is to be installed as an outsider, by the Kremlin, to ensure that the Defense Ministry uses government funding allocations wisely and efficiently. Aleksei Moskovsky, meanwhile, will apparently oversee procurement and other issues related to the arming of the Russian military. He may also have a hand in overseeing Russia’s military-technical cooperation with other countries, a duty of some importance given the high priority Putin himself has placed on increasing Russian arms exports. Finally, a third new deputy defense minister will reportedly serve as liaison in the Defense Ministry’s dealings with the Russian parliament, as well as with the government and the president’s administration. Colonel General Igor Puzanov, the former Moscow Military District commander who was named to the post, will actually carry the title of “State Secretary–Deputy Defense Minister” (Reuters, Strana.ru, March 29; Moscow Times, March 30).
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