Following the ouster of Anatoli Serdyukov as Russian defense minister and his replacement by Gen. Sergei Shoygu, who had headed the Emergencies Ministry for two decades, President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced changes in the upper echelons of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff and other Ministry of Defense positions. Chief of the General Staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov stepped down after four years in the post, being replaced by Gen. Valeri Gerasimov. The latter, most recently, has been commander of the Central Military District; before that he was first deputy chief of staff for 18 months in 2010-2012.
Makarov and Gerasimov have been equally vocal on crucial strategic matters, such as the unacceptability of the U.S./NATO European ballistic missile defense (BMD) system. At the Moscow conference on BMD last May, it was Gerasimov who presented detailed video animations to demonstrate how the U.S. global BMD program threatens Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent forces.
Putin also named Gen. Arkadi Bakhin, until yesterday commander of the Western Military District, as the new first deputy minister of defense and elevated Gen. Oleg Ostapenko from the job of commander of the Aerospace Forces to the status of deputy minister of defense. Bakhin replaces Alexander Sukhorukhov, a former KGB and Finance Ministry official who had held the first deputy ministerial chair for only one year, having been brought in by Serdyukov to handle defense procurement. Russian commentators expect that others whom Serdyukov brought to Defense to help reform the sector, will also be gone soon. Recently, out of eight deputy defense ministers only two were career military, while four have been former tax officials hired by Serdyukov.
Upon being presented to Putin by Shoygu in a televised meeting yesterday, Gen. Gerasimov said, "I think the General Staff's efforts should focus entirely on the main goal of guaranteeing that our Armed Forces are combat ready and able to carry out all missions given them." Putin replied by pointing to the defense industry sector as crucial at the present time. "The General Staff has a big say in deciding what kinds of arms we supply to the different Armed Forces branches and troops," said Putin, adding, "The problem is that of late we have often run up against the Defense Ministry changing the demands it places on the defense industry. This is natural of course, because changing circumstances constantly require us to make adjustments. Science and technology in this sector develop fast, and new means of warfare are emerging all the time. Of course we need to make the latest advances our point of reference, but at the same time, a degree of stability is also essential. I hope very much that you and the minister will succeed in building a good and stable partnership with the defense industry companies."
An RIA Novosti commentary on the changes highlighted these and related points, saying that Gerasimov "will face the task of optimizing the number of staff officers at the General Staff headquarters in Moscow, as his predecessor had been criticized for disproportional and unacceptable reductions that hampered the work of this key military body. Another negative legacy left by Makarov is the excessive reduction in the number of military colleges and a significant outflow of top scientists from defense-related research projects.... Finally, Gerasimov is expected to be instrumental in helping the new defense minister optimize the relationship between the military and the defense industry by providing a clear vision of what types of weaponry the Russian army most needs. Most likely, both Shoygu and Gerasimov will need to find a sensible balance between the purchase of Russian-made military equipment and foreign weaponry in order to avoid hurting the interests of Russian arms makers whose lobbying influence in policy-making circles is unquestionably strong."
Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, meanwhile, was among those who hastened to say publicly that Defense Minister Shoygu will continue the reform process begun under Serdyukov. This has involved early retirement for many officers, as the units they commanded, even entire Soviet-era divisions that had not been fully staffed in recent years, were disbanded. Serdyukov incurred the anger of many in the officer corps for his role in implementing this reorganization. Meanwhile, several British sources expressed dismay at Shoygu's appointment. Nicholas de Larrinaga of Jane's Defence Weekly sent out an e-mail saying, "Shoygu comes with a reputation as a strong administrator, but his position on reform is less clear." The always anti-Putin London Economist headlined, "Russian Defence - Reform and Be Sacked: The firing of Russia's defence minister may be a setback for military reform."
Turmoil related to major corruption cases also increased in other Russian institutions this week. Yesterday the lead item on national TV news was 6.5 billion-ruble embezzlement charges levelled against the company Russian Space Systems, which builds GLONASS (the Russian GPS system) and other satellites for Roscosmos. Today former Deputy Minister of Regional Development Roman Panov, who just last week became head of government in the Perm Region, was arrested and is being held without bail on charges of embezzling 178 million rubles of government funding earmarked for the recent APEC summit in Vladivostok.