Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 3

Perhaps not coincidentally, the apparent struggle between Russian hardliners and pragmatists that surrounded the planning for Robertson’s Moscow visit came amid reports of an impending shake-up atop the Russian military leadership. Rumors were rife that Putin would move soon after his expected election in March to replace Defense Minister Igor Sergeev–a loyalist of former President Boris Yeltsin who is already beyond the mandatory military retirement age–and that a chain of other personnel changes would likely follow. Among those identified as leading contenders for the Defense Ministry post were the current General Staff chief, General Anatoly Kvashnin, and Andrei Nikolaev, a fifty-year-old retired Russian general who was recently named to head the State Duma’s Defense Committee. A promotion for Kvashnin would be interpreted as a victory for the hardline clique of military leaders who are believed to have been behind Russia’s savage war in Chechnya–and Putin’s own unexpected political rise. The selection of Nikolaev–or perhaps anyone not from the Kvashnin group–would likely be seen as an attempt by Putin to bring “fresh blood” into the military leadership and, simultaneously, to distance himself from the generals to whom he is now politically beholden.