Aug 4, 2008 | 17:31 GMT

4 mins read

Russia: More Than a Routine Military Shuffle

Gen. Alexei Maslov, commander of Russia's ground forces, was removed from his position and made Russia's new head military envoy to NATO. With this move, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has eliminated the last obstacle to his attempts for actual and meaningful military reform. Serdyukov's real work can now begin.
Gen. Alexei Maslov, commander of Russia's ground forces, was shuffled out of his lofty position and into the post of head military envoy to NATO in Brussels, Belgium. This move rounds out Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's plan to neutralize Russia's top four generals — who happened to be the largest roadblocks to real and meaningful reforms in the bloated and decaying Russian military. With this large task accomplished, Serdyukov's real work can begin. Maslov's placement in Brussels will serve to strengthen the expression of Russia's anti-Western sentiment. Maslov is considered old school in that he, like much of the Russian military, longs for the old Soviet days. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin already placed one of the louder and more controversial hardliners, Dmitri Rogozin, in the post of ambassador to NATO; Maslov will be a nice complement to further solidify Russia's stance toward NATO. However, neither Rogozin nor Maslov is in a position to actually take any actions on their own. They are in an area where the Kremlin wants lots of noisy and flashy rhetoric from former top officials but still wants to control the actual decision making. While Maslov certainly can provide the desired rhetoric, this shuffle is more about Russian military reforms. Maslov was one of four heads of the Russian military who were considered die-hard nationalists from the Soviet era. The head of the Russian navy, Vladimir Masorin, and Russia's air force chief, Vladimir Mikhailov, have already been replaced, as has Chief of the General Staff Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky. With Maslov's shuffle to Brussels, Serdyukov has overturned all the commanders that matter in Russia's military. It is more or less a tradition in Russia to purge or move the top brass when a new defense minister takes over, but this purge is not just about personalities. In overturning these generals, Serdyukov has eliminated the main obstacles the Defense Ministry faced in making real and meaningful military reforms. The top generals were great yes-men during the Soviet era, but afterward, they did more than just impede reform — they were actually counterproductive, clinging to outdated measures of strength (like raw numbers of conscripts or tanks) and delusions of rebuilding the Red Army (and all the massive impracticalities and wrong directions that would entail). They simply refused to accept any reform that would modernize the military if it meant the military would not look like its Soviet predecessor. This does not mean that Serdyukov will now have an easy time handling military reforms, for now the real evaluations and changes — a monumental task — have to begin. But at least he will not have the chiefs of the military blocking him at every turn. Purging the military's top brass and reforming the military is just one part of Serdyukov's large battle. The defense minister has yet to address the tumultuous military-industrial sector, which is being haphazardly led by Sergei Chemezov, the head of Russia's industrial defense monopoly Rostekhnologii. Chemezov is a highly powerful figure in Russia. A former air force lieutenant-general, he dabbled with the KGB in the mid-1980s in Dresden alongside Putin and Vice Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and worked with Putin's right-hand man, Igor Sechin. Chemezov has the military training, but his links with the most powerful men in Russia and the security services have given him an ego that has yet to be reined in. Thus far, Chemezov is grabbing whatever companies in Russia he thinks will benefit his power without really reforming the fractured industrial defense sector. Serdyukov sees this (and rightly so) as incredibly harmful to the defense sector in the long run, because Russia is behind on countless projects — everything from fielding new intercontinental ballistic missiles to ship and submarine building. But Serdyukov has been taking the defense reforms one step at a time, and when the military reforms are wrapped up, the accountant-turned-defense minister can turn to his next task: dealing with Chemezov.

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