Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 62

In a long anticipated move which nevertheless managed to catch most observers by surprise, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday began a reshuffle of top government military and security posts many believe is but a harbinger of more far-reaching changes within the country’s defense establishment. From a defense perspective, the key change yesterday was Putin’s decision to dismiss long-time Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev and to replace him with Sergei Ivanov, a close Putin ally and heretofore the secretary of the powerful Russian Security Council. Other important changes included the shifting of Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo to the now vacant Security Council secretary post (Rushailo was replaced by Boris Gryzlov at the Interior Ministry); the unprecedented naming of a woman, Lyubov Kudelina, to a deputy defense minister post; and the naming of a key Ivanov ally, former Security Council deputy secretary Aleksei Moskovsky, to another deputy defense minister post. Putin also named Moscow Military District commander Colonel General Igor Puzanov to yet another deputy defense minister post. And Colonel General Anatoly Perminov, heretofore a senior strategic rocket forces commander, will head Russia’s Space Troops, and Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev the Ground Forces.

In making these changes, Putin appears to be taking aim at several different complexes of problems. His declared reason for replacing Sergeev with Ivanov, and for moving the other new appointees into the Defense Ministry, is to invigorate a recently adopted military restructuring program which many believe is already bogged down in inertia. Ivanov and Moskovsky, who played important roles on the Security Council in drafting the military reform program, will now get the opportunity to implement it directly. Kudelina, until yesterday’s announcements a deputy finance minister with considerable experience in drafting military budgets, will apparently help to ensure that the restructuring program stays within the Kremlin’s tight fiscal restraints. The naming of all three, meanwhile, will permit Putin to claim that he has begun “civilianizing” the Russian Defense Ministry hierarchy. That too is believed to be a part of the Kremlin’s military reform plan.

As Russian commentators observed yesterday, these personnel changes should also strengthen Putin’s personnel control over the armed forces. This is true in the sense that he is putting “his” people into key defense and security slots which until now have largely been occupied by Yeltsin loyalists. Putin is likewise broadening and strengthening the governmental role of men who, like himself, are veterans of the Soviet KGB and Russian security services. Ivanov and Moskovsky are each former intelligence officers, and they will now join another group of former KGB officials who late last year were set in key slots atop Russia’s arms export hierarchy. Indeed, yesterday’s appointments fulfill the predictions of those who saw Putin’s decision last year to transfer authority over arms exports to the Defense Ministry as an indicator that Ivanov–or someone with a similar background–would soon be named to replace Sergeev.

Yesterday’s personnel appointments also suggest that redistributing authority within the defense hierarchy is on the horizon. Many, for example, had speculated that Ivanov would not be named defense minister because that post carried less authority than the Security Council secretary, who was tasked with overseeing reform of the army and all security structures. Now, Ivanov’s shift to the Defense Ministry, together with the appointment of Rushailo to the Security Council secretary post, suggests that the power of the council is about to be sharply curtailed. In fact, in a maneuver not unlike one Yeltsin pulled in the mid-1990s, Putin suggested yesterday that the Council would henceforth occupy itself primarily with problems related to the war in the Caucasus.

Many Russian observers joined Putin yesterday in asserting that the Kremlin’s new appointments would begin the process of “civilianizing” the Defense Ministry (and the so-called “power structures” in general). The suggestion was that Putin is moving Russia’s system of civilian-military relations closer to a standard Western democratic model. Indeed, his moves in this regard may have been intended at least in part as a means of lubricating Russia’s ties with the West, both because Russia’s defense chief will now be able to meet with his Western counterparts “civilian-to-civilian” and, more broadly, because it will permit Putin to speak anew of his commitment to Russian political reform and democratization. That argument is not entirely sustainable, however, given Ivanov’s background as a career intelligence officer. Indeed, the 48-year old St. Petersburg native gave up his Foreign Intelligence Service lieutenant-general rank last fall in what was recognized even then as a preparatory action for an eventual move into the government. For the time being, at least, Ivanov’s naming to the Defense Ministry post may be less a “civilianizing” of the post than a “KGB-atizing.” In that respect, the appointment is consistent with much else which has occurred within the Russian government over the past eighteen months or so (Reuters, AP,, March 28; New York Times News Service, Izvestia, Segodnya, March 29).