Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 189

Speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be facing increasing resistance from military commanders on the thorny issue of military reform appeared to get some corroboration last week when a Russian defense news agency said that senior officers had dug in their heels on the issue of military manpower reductions. According to the usually reliable military news agency AVN, the Kremlin’s plans to cut some 350,000 troops from the regular armed forces–and another 250,000 or so from the armed units of Russia’s various other power ministries–has provoked a barrage of criticism from military leaders. Indeed, the AVN report suggested that the Kremlin’s defense reduction plan might have had the unintended effect of uniting the country’s usually fractious defense and security chiefs. One Russian defense expert was quoted as saying that “the commanders were furious” over the planned cuts, and “that they phoned around each other and spoke with the Security Council, saying they would never go through with it.” The same expert was quoted as saying that “it is the first time Putin has seen the military present a united front like that” (Reuters, October 6).

The same report appeared also to confirm that it was this disgruntlement among military commanders which had forced leaders of Russia’s Security Council–the increasingly powerful body which advises Putin and is overseeing the military reform program–to postpone a number of key decisions regarding defense restructuring at a council meeting on September 27 (see the Monitor, September 29). Some decisions on those issues are now scheduled to be discussed at a Security Council meeting scheduled for next month. However, the man who runs AVN cautioned against placing too much stock in reports that Russia’s Strategic Missile Troops are to be the big loser in the military restructuring plan. According to reserve Major General Vladimir Kosarev, that could still happen, but at this point it is no done deal (Reuters, October 6).

Another, more recent AVN report, moreover, quotes a secret Kremlin document which says that the defense reform plan approved by Putin calls for all future Russian defense ministers to be picked from the civilian sector. That idea has been broached a number of times over the past decade, but the Kremlin has shied away on the basis of opposition among military leaders. According to AVN, however, the new defense plan calls not only for a civilian defense minister, but also for a restructuring of the Defense Ministry hierarchy to include the creation of another top civilian post–that of deputy defense minister.

The same report also said that current Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s days appear to be numbered, and that among those being considered as his successor are current Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov (who oversees defense industrial issues), former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin, Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrei Nikolaev and several others. Indeed, the report quotes unnamed sources in the presidential administration as saying that Putin would have sacked Sergeev some time ago but for the fact that former President Boris Yeltsin had asked Putin to keep Sergeev around for a while. Observers had noted that Sergeev did not even attend the last Security Council meeting, and AVN reported that his inactivity has been matched by a broader sense of confusion and drift among leading Defense Ministry and General Staff officials (AVN, October 9; AFP, October 10).

Izvestia, meanwhile, chimed in with a report of its own over the weekend which also suggested some of the ongoing confusion surrounding the Kremlin’s military reform plans. The Russian daily looked at a recent hearing by Russian Duma members at which military leaders answered questions about the looming manpower reductions. Among other things, defense officials apparently signaled their belief that key decisions in this area will take a good deal longer than a month or six weeks to reach. Lawmakers, meanwhile, took a look at the question of providing apartments for those Russian officers who are to be released from service. There are reportedly between 120,000 and 150,000 demobilized servicemen who currently lack housing and, given the planned reductions, that number could as much as double over the next several years. Lawmakers apparently expressed concerns over the Kremlin’s lack of preparedness to deal with this problem in connection with the upcoming defense cuts, and noted that next year’s projected military budget does not deal with the problem (Izvestia, October 7).