The significance of Leonid Ivashov’s and Valery Manilov’s dismissals from Russia’s Defense Ministry remains difficult to gauge. One the one hand, they are believed to have been connected to former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and their removal, therefore, is seen simply as part of a broader effort by current Defense Minister Ivanov to move his own people into key defense slots. Whether the removal of the two high-profile hardliners will also result in a diminution of sometimes-provocative statements on key security issues from the Defense Ministry, as some Russian sources have suggested, remains to be seen. In that same context it is also unclear, though it seems reasonable to assume, that the removal of Ivashov and Manilov may also mark a substantive effort by the Kremlin leadership to smooth out and professionalize its relations with the West. That has sometimes been difficult in recent years, and particularly since the end of NATO’s air war against Yugoslavia, when incendiary public comments from military leaders have at times appeared to contradict more conciliatory actions by Russia’s diplomats and political leaders. In the wake of Ivanov’s appointment this past March the Kremlin appeared to make a serious move to muzzle loudmouth generals, and the dismissal of Ivashov and Manilov may represent a continuation of that effort.
Given the Kremlin’s apparent determination both to engage the West (albeit possibly the Europeans over the Americans) and to push military downsizing and reform, there is reason to speculate that it may have some serious concerns over its ability to control the military leadership. In that vein it is worthwhile to remember that Vladimir Putin rode to power on the back of the military leadership and its prosecution of the second war in Chechnya, and that Russian generals appeared in the early months of Putin’s presidency to enjoy unprecedented influence and access to the Kremlin. The Kremlin has therefore had to move with caution in cutting the military leadership down to size while simultaneously reassuring the officer corps as a whole about the seriousness of its intention to rebuild the army and improve military life. Indeed, the Russian publication Stringer has gone so far as to speculate that Putin named Sergei Ivanov–his closest advisor and the man many expected to be named to higher office–to the Defense Ministry post precisely because the Kremlin considers the military leadership to be the “weakest link in the system of state power” Putin is building.
The naming of yet another former KGB official–in this case Nikolai Pankov–to head the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate suggests that the Kremlin is indeed taking special care to control appointments within the armed forces. Pankov replaces Colonel General Ivan Yefremov, whom Ivanov had appointed to the post just this past April. Yefremov appears not to be in disfavor; he was immediately named to the sensitive post of Moscow Military District commander. The appointment of Pankov suggests, therefore, that KGB veterans Putin and Ivanov, who have named others from the intelligence community to key slots in the military and arms export hierarchies and who have reportedly increased oversight of the armed forces by the Federal Security Service, are taking some additional steps to ensure Kremlin control of the armed forces (Moskovsky Komsomolets, February 9; AFP, July 2; Russian agencies, July 3; Moscow Times, July 5; Stringer, No. 6, June; Itogi, July 10; Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Russian agencies, July 13; AVN, July 13, 16; Kommersant, July 14; Izvestia, July 13, 15; AFP, July 16).
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