Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 214

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s and General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin’s latest remarks suggest that the Russian military establishment is anxious to maintain the loud, jingoist atmosphere which pervades Russian political discourse today. This atmosphere, after all, has won the Defense Ministry the unqualified support of the government–and, apparently, the population–in the conduct of its brutal war in Chechnya. It appears likewise to have helped arrest the long, precipitous decline in the public’s esteem for the armed forces and, not coincidentally, to have won pledges of increased military spending in the year to come. Growing anti-Western sentiment in Russia has been a boon to the military establishment, which has argued all along that the NATO countries remained a military threat to Moscow.

What is less clear is to what extent Sergeev’s and Kvashnin’s recent outbursts reflect the political mood within the military high command. Russian commentators have spoken for several years of tensions between Sergeev and Kvashnin who, despite their own recent efforts to squelch such rumors, are still believed to have an adversarial relationship. The first is a cerebral former Strategic Rocket Forces commander and Yeltsin-loyalist whose military reform efforts–and emphasis on maintaining the country’s nuclear forces–have alienated many others in the high command. His latest public comments notwithstanding, he has generally been low-key in public and is reported to be more favorably disposed toward friendly relations with the West than many at the top in the Russian military.

Kvashnin, in turn, is a notorious hardliner who played a major command role in Russia’s disastrous first war in Chechnya. Some observers have suggested that his greatest talent lies in backroom politicking, and many have conjectured that he has long been after Sergeev’s job (see the Monitor, September 28). Kvashnin allegedly masterminded (if that is the correct word) the surprise dash of Russian paratroopers to the Pristina airport this past spring and he has been a hardline opponent of renewing cooperative relations with NATO. His political star rose considerably with the Pristina episode, and he is now undoubtedly one of the generals driving Russia’s harsh military policy in the Caucasus. With elections coming in Russia, however, all bets are off. But if the Chechen conflict does not blow up in his face, Kvashnin could emerge in the weeks and months to come as one of Russia’s most politically influential military men.