Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 48

Against this background, Russian news sources have identified both civilian defense leaders–whose chances to assume the post would presumably improve if the Kremlin chooses the above option–and senior military officers as possible successors to Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. The civilians most frequently named are current Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who currently oversees defense industrial affairs; Sergei Ivanov, the current secretary of the Security Council and Putin’s closest advisor; and Andrei Nikolaev, a retired general who presently chairs the State Duma’s Defense Committee.

A long commentary published by the Kremlin-controlled news site summarizes some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of these candidates. Klebanov, for example, appears to be a frontrunner, one who would bring to the defense minister job long experience in the defense industrial sector and detailed knowledge of Russian defense enterprises. He is also a St. Petersburg native and one of Putin’s team. According to, however, there are rumors that Klebanov would prefer not to be considered for the post.

Sergei Ivanov, in turn, would bring considerable authority to the Defense Ministry post by virtue of his even closer ties to Putin. That quality might be of great value, given that the appointment of a civilian defense minister might generate resentment within an often tradition-bound officer corps. Having overseen Russia’s military reform debate and having had a hand in the preparation of several key foreign and security policy documents, he is also well versed in defense issues. As notes, however, appointment to the Defense Ministry post might actually be a demotion of sorts for Ivanov. As Security Council secretary he already exercises considerable authority over not only the Defense Ministry, but also all of Russia’s security ministries. And there have been rumors that he may be under consideration by Putin for an even higher government post.

Andrei Nikolaev is something of a wild card. As a military officer he had a brilliant career, rising at an unprecedented early age in 1994 to the number two post on the General Staff. suggests, however, that his unlikely promotion may have been at least partly related to the fact that his family had close ties to Boris Yeltsin. At any rate, he was soon shunted off to command Russia’s border forces, a task which removed him from the military mainstream but in the performance of which he again won plaudits. Nikolaev retired from the military and entered politics with hopes of quickly reaching high office. Things did not quite pan out that way, but he does appear over the past year to have become an influential figure in Russian military reform debates by virtue of his expertise and his standing as chairman of the Duma’s Defense Committee. Russian sources suggest that Putin likes him.

The number of officers who have been suggested as possible successors to Sergeev is larger than the number of civilians. The best known is current General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin, a ruthlessly ambitious hardliner who is said to have Putin’s ear. Kvashnin has played a major role in both of Russia’s military campaigns in the Caucasus, and has been a driving force behind a military reform proposal that would shrink Russia’s strategic missile forces while transferring scarce funding to the country’s conventional forces. Already a member of the Russian Security Council, he would presumably be happy to remain in his current post if the authority of the General Staff is in fact strengthened and the Defense Ministry is civilianized. Another reported candidate for the post is Russian navy commander-in-chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov. A proponent of strengthening the Russian navy, he is a favorite of Putin’s who was reported to be a front-runner for the Defense Ministry job–until last August’s loss of the nuclear submarine Kursk. According to some reports, a factor which may still be working in Kuroyedov’s favor is the fact that Russian Defense Ministers over the past decade have been drawn from the Air Force, the Airborne Forces, and the Strategic Missile Troops. The navy may be next in line.

There has also been speculation that, if the General Staff’s authority is indeed elevated and the Defense Ministry is civilianized, Kuroyedov is among those who could wind up as General Staff chief. Because that would then be the Russian army’s senior military post, such a move would presumably signal a Kremlin intention to support Kuroyedov’s calls for increased funding to the Russian navy. A more interesting scenario sees current Russian Strategic Missile Troops commander-in-chief Vladimir Yakovlev installed in a strengthened General Staff chief post. That would be an ironic victory of sorts for Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. The former missile forces commander appears in recent months to have lost a battle with Kvashnin over future funding for the Strategic Missile Troops, and thus to have failed in a long and in some ways unpopular effort to subordinate all of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces operationally to Yakovlev’s missile troop command. The naming of Yakovlev to the General Staff post would seemingly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, because it would put Yakovlev in charge of all of the Russian armed forces’ service branches–not unlike Sergeev’s earlier plan–while permitting him also to protect the interests of the country’s soon-to-be downgraded strategic missile forces (Kommersant, February 22;, February 27; Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 2; Izvestia, February 5; Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 13; Versiya, February 13-19; Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie, No. 8, February).