WHO WILL BE NEW DEFENSE MINISTER

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In a conversation with the authors of this article, a top-raking military official denied rumors, which had recently appeared in the mass media alleging that the Defense Ministry had not yet devised a detailed program for the reform of the Armed Forces. The source added that the Defense Ministry has a few versions of the program. These versions have been corrected taking into account proposals about further military build-up, which were put forward at a meeting of the Defense Ministry’s commission on July 15 and at a meeting of Defense Ministry and General Staff officers with President Putin at his Bocharov Ruchey residence on July 16. During this meeting, Putin proposed limiting the number of considered options for the reform of the Armed Forces. Officers of the Defense Ministry reported that there are no fundamental differences about this issue between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff anymore, and “some mass media cover the situation in a prejudiced way.”

It was added that the Security Council was considering an entire array of measures for the reform of the Armed Forces for the period until 2005-2011. The documents are based on the analysis of the military-political situation in the world, the country’s financial and economic capabilities, real threats and dangers and other factors, including Russia’s obligations under international treaties and agreements. The “optimal scheme of balance between the nuclear deterrence forces and combined arms forces” was presented, “which also dwells on the optimization of the internal structure of the Strategic Missile Forces and other components of strategic nuclear forces.”

Defense Ministry officers reported that it is up to the President to decide whether the Strategic Missile Forces remain an independent branch of the Armed Forces. Details of the main schemes for the reform of the Armed Forces, which were offered to the Security Council, have not been revealed. Meanwhile, a source in the Kremlin has confirmed that the differences between the schemes to reform the Armed Forces have been minimized. There are two such schemes. They are outlined in one of the paragraphs of proposals and were signed both by the Defense Minister and General Staff Chief.

The approved scheme offers the following steps:

1. To increase assignments for defense needs by 40% (to at least 3.5% of the GDP).

2. To create a legal basis and to invest in the development of both strategic nuclear forces and combined arms forces (Sergeev advocates retention of the four-branch structure of the Armed Forces and improvement of the strategic nuclear forces command; Kvashnin advocates retention of the old scheme of strategic nuclear forces command and abolishment of Strategic Missile Forces as an independent branch and their transformation into a section, which would probably be included in the Air Force, as well as the development of the naval component of the strategic nuclear forces.

3. To reduce the quantity of nuclear warheads to 1,500 (this has been proposed in the START-3 treaty).

4. To increase the Ground Forces by 50,000 servicemen by 2003 (they will be stationed in the southern and southeastern directions), to 380,000 servicemen.

Sources in the Defense Ministry refused to comment on the rumors about the possible dismissal of the Defense Minister and General Staff Chief. Meanwhile, the fact that during his visit to Baltiysk, the President was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin, and Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroedov, indirectly confirms that the Supreme Commander-in-Chief intends to support the military reform scheme, which was proposed by the General Staff (Both Klebanov and Kuroedov support Kvashnin.) Hence, the Defense Minister has fallen out of grace. At least the president criticized Igor Sergeev in public twice over the last month. For the first time, it happened in Mozdok, after explosions took place near residential buildings in Chechnya and over 80 servicemen were killed. For the second time, this happened in Nizhny Tagil, when Sergeev declared that “any attempt to destroy the Strategic Missile Forces is a crime against Russia and is simply insanity.” Then Sergeev said that should this “psychological attack” on the Strategic Missile Forces succeed, these forces would be destroyed already without him.

The President reacted to the words of the Defense Minister instantaneously. In Nizhny Tagil, he said that the decision about reforming the forces “should not be made by a narrow circle of people, but should also not be offered for public discussion.” A little later, Sergeev announced in an interview to the mass media that it had been a slip of the tongue and he had been “misunderstood.” Public debates between military structures has been stopped. Sergeev has moved into the shadows.

So far, sources in the Kremlin have neither confirmed nor denied the reports of the mass media that either Strategic Missile Forces Commander Vladimir Yakovlev or Navy Commander Vladimir Kuroedov might be appointed as the new Defense Minister. Officers of the General Staff say that the current General Staff Chief, General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin, is the most realistic candidate for the minister’s post, and Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, the Director of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff, or a commander of a military district (Baluevsky has never commanded a military district) are mentioned as his possible successors.

Meanwhile, there are different versions regarding a possible candidate for the post of the Defense Minister. In Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Vadim Solovyev wrote on August 1, that a civilian might be appointed the defense minister. In his view, one of the most realistic candidates is Deputy Security Council Secretary Alexei Moskovsky. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, this professional general is well aware of the problems of reforming the Armed Forces. He had been the Deputy Director of Armament Department of the Armed Forces and then he was a member of the Main Military Inspectorate of the Presidential Administration.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta also does not rule out the possibility of the appointment of Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, Deputy Security Council Secretary Mikhail Fradkov (formerly he worked for the Trade Ministry), former Defense Council Secretary Yury Baturin, former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin, and some others.

At any rate, rumors about possible appointment of a civilian Defense Minister published by Nezavisimaya Gazeta can be considered unfounded for several reasons.

First, in an interview given while he was acting President, Putin said that, although a democratic society should have a civilian defense minister, in Russia, a democratic society is still under construction and there are real threats of terrorism, ethnic and political conflicts. Under these circumstances, it would be unwise to appoint a civilian as the Defense Minister. Armed Forces are conducting combat operations in the North Caucasus. The minister should know the situation, should understand the organization and service of the Armed Forces very well, should be able to plan and command the combat training process. Only a person, who has served in the Armed Forces for many years, and who knows the military problems from the inside, can do all this.

Second, the Armed Forces are to be reformed. The General Staff has prepared an outline for these reforms. To undertake the reforming process, not only strong military knowledge is necessary, but also skills in management of such a specific body as the military organization. Only the people, who have served in the Armed Forces, have such knowledge and expertise.

Third, at present, there are simply no such civilians who can head the Defense Ministry (the politicians listed by Nezavisimaya Gazeta are not suitable for the defense minister’s post and Klebanov already has much more functions than any minister, because he is in charge of the work of the military industrial complex, in charge of military supplies and so on, and his appointment as the defense minister would constitute an obvious demotion). Officers will also simply reject civilians.

Fourth, radical transformation of power agencies is underway in the country. It is too risky to transform the defense Ministry radically, that is, to turn it into a really civil agency as is typical in democratic countries, because when a governing body is replaced, the object of governing always suffers. This is not acceptable under the current circumstances in Russia.

Thus, the appointment of a military official as the new defense minister is most likely. This will evidently be a representative of the combined arms forces who possesses strategic thinking. Under these circumstances, the candidacy of incumbent General Staff Chief Anatoly Kvashnin is the most realistic.

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