The leadership of institutions can often reveal a great deal about these organizations’ changing place in the state and society. The General Staff has traditionally been the brains of the military and Russia’s “unblinking eye” on the future of war. Graduates of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces form the elite of the elite. The Military Academy’s gold medal graduates are expected to go on to senior positions of command and to occupy the heights of the General Staff itself. The molding of that military elite is left in the hands of the chief of the Military Academy of the General Staff. Only four men have held the position since 2007. All were themselves graduates of the Academy of the General Staff. Some were combined arms commanders. One was a technocrat and missileer. Two were veterans of the 58th Army and had fought in the Second Chechen War and the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008.
In this short period, the curriculum of the Academy has undergone profound changes. And it has been a battleground between those promoting the “New Look” transformation of the Russian Armed Forces and the reforms’ opponents. The professional sketches of the careers of these four officers are based on their official biographies as published in the Encyclopedia of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Stat.encyclopedia.mil.ru, accessed May 15) and supplemented by other biographical materials and their own professional publications.
Aleksandr Vasilevich Belousov (born September 8, 1952) held the post from September 2007 to November 2009. His background is in commanding motorized rifle troops. Belousov graduated from Frunze Academy in 1984, and the Academy of the General Staff in 1995. After Frunze, he commanded a motorized rifle regiment in Leningrad Military District from 1984 to 1989. After studying at the General Staff Academy, he was assigned to the Far East Military District as deputy chief of training for the 35th Army and then as a deputy commander of the 35th Army. A veteran of the Second Chechen War, he was assigned as deputy commander of the Moscow Military District in 1999–2003, but he made frequent trips to the North Caucasus “on business.” In 2003–2004, he served as a deputy commander of the North Caucasus Military District for counter-terrorism operations. Then, in 2004, he was appointed first deputy minister of defense for training and held that post until 2007, when he was appointed chief of the General Staff Academy. As an army trainer, Belousov made no claims to being a military intellectual. His single noteworthy publication was a short article entitled, “The Sergeant Is the Teacher of the Soldier,” in the Siberian military newspaper Na Boevom Postu, in 2007 (Na Boevom Postu, May 26, 2007). And while serving as chief of the Academy of the General Staff, he wrote a piece on the traditional role of that institution as the “School of Russia’s Generals” (Oruzhie Rossii, February 17, 2008). In 2009, he was dismissed from that post.
Vladimir Nikolaevich Yakovlev, (born August 17, 1954), was named chief of the General Staff Academy in November 2009, where he served until May 2012. He differed from him predecessor in that he was from the Strategic Rocket Forces and wanted to reshape the Military Academy’s curriculum away from operational art toward strategy. His connection with the Strategic Rocket Forces began in 1971, when he entered the Kharkov Higher Military Command Engineering School of Missile Forces, named in honor of Marshal of the Soviet Union Nikolai Ivanovich Krylov. This link to the Russian strategic missile forces continued for the rest of his career. In 1985, he graduated from the Military Engineering Academy of Artillery and Missiles, named in honor of Felix Dzerzhinsky. He held various command and staff appointments in the Strategic Rocket Forces, serving as their commander from 1997 to 2001. In June 2000, President Vladimir Putin promoted him to the rank of General of the Army. A year later, he left the Strategic Rocket Forces when they were shifted from a service branch to a combat arm. Also in 2001, he was reassigned as chief of staff for coordination of military cooperation with members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He worked in that post until 2004, when he retired. In 2006, he joined the Russian state export arm, Rosoboroneksport, as an advisor to its general director.
Three years later, in 2009, in conjunction with the Russian Armed Forces’ “New Look” military transformation, he was named chief of the Military Academy of the General Staff. Yakovlev had the reputation of being a military intellectual and a technical expert. Yakovlev has published 18 scientific-technical reports in his area of specialization and over 50 journal articles in such publications as Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, Krasnaia Zvezda, Rossiiskaia Gazeta, Voennaia Mysl, Armeiskii Sbornik, Voenno-Istoricheskii Zhurnal, and Voenno-Meditsinskii Zhurnal, among others. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, one of Russia’s leading think tanks for defense and foreign policy (Svop.ru, accessed May 15). This author had extensive conversations with Yakovlev in Rome at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Defense College, in November 2010, and concluded that he was a serious champion of reform and wanted to prepare the Russian General Staff’s Military Academy for information warfare; modernized command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR); precision-strike warfare; and network-centric warfare. He had reduced the size of the academy’s staff and focused on strategic issues. However, Yakovlev left under the cloud associated with perceived shortcoming of then–Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov’s reforms and the failure of the “New Look” effort, which brought Sergei Shoigu to the Ministry of Defense and Valery Garasimov to the General Staff.
Part Two of this article will focus on the backgrounds of Yakovlev’s successors, Andrei Tretyak and Sergei Makarov, and provide some conclusions regarding the four men’s legacies heading the General Staff’s elite Military Academy.