As RBC Daily reports, the Kremlin has not waited for the presidential inauguration (May 7) to launch some changes in the government’s security and law enforcement bloc. Alexander Chekalin, first deputy interior minister, was dismissed on March 26. Three days earlier the Defense Ministry saw a mass exodus of generals, led by Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky. Experts are predicting the dismissals of Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev (expected to become a deputy prime minister) and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev.
Official Interior Ministry spokesmen have explained that Chekalin was dismissed “due to having reached the service age limit he turned 60 and a transfer to a new post.”
An anonymous source close to the Interior Ministry central staff told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper that Chekalin’s dismissal is probably the first move in an impending series of dismissals and appointments: “I don’t believe that Nurgaliyev could have requested the President to dismiss Chekalin. They have worked together for so long that they understand each other thoroughly.”
The source dismissed the idea that Chekalin’s age prevented him from staying on: “If the Ministry needs such a person, it applies to have his service period extended, and this request is granted readily as long as he passes the physical.” According to the source, Interior Minister Nurgaliyev was probably pressured into filing a request for Chekalin’s dismissal.
Chekalin’s replacement is Mikhail Sukhodolsky, promoted from deputy minister to senior deputy minister.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta source said: “Sukhodolsky has been in charge of the Interior Ministry’s economic affairs – he has never headed any key departments before. To be honest, he is not a strong choice for senior deputy minister. It has long been rumored within the Ministry that Sukhodolsky has very close links to the presidential administration, and this has probably been the decisive factor in his promotion: he came in from the Armed Forces, with no police training or background, but now he has risen to senior deputy minister.”
RBC Daily also mentions the new senior deputy minister’s high-ranking patrons. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky told RBC Daily: “Since the mid-1990s, Mikhail Sukhodolsky has been supported by Yeltsin’s Family and Roman Abramovich.”
Moskovskii Komsomolets takes a different view, describing Sukhodolsky as one of the few true professionals at the Interior Ministry. The newspaper points out that with the exception of Chekalin, Sukhodolsky, and a few other deputies, “the Interior Ministry’s entire command team is made up of outsiders – people who came in from the FSB or even civilian state service. Their insufficiently detailed knowledge of police affairs is what has caused the conflicts.”
Gennadi Gudkov, a member of the Duma’s Security Committee, told the Kommersant newspaper: “A change of generations is under way at the Interior Ministry. I know both Alexander Chekalin and Mikhail Sukhodolsky. The former is an old-school police officer. But Mikhail Sukhodolsky belongs to another generation, with a different upbringing.”
According to Kommersant, sources from Chekalin’s team say he has been offered a choice of appointments in various organizations, including state agencies such as the Security Council and the Federal Migration Service.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta source close to the Interior Ministry central staff mentions rumors to the effect that Chekalin’s dismissal might be followed by that of Nurgaliyev himself, with a subsequent reshuffle for all key offices within the Interior Ministry.
According to the Gazeta newspaper, a likely candidate for interior minister after Nurgaliyev’s departure would be his deputy, Yevgeny Shkolov. Gazeta notes that Shkolov was appointed as deputy interior minister in November 2007; prior to that, he headed the Economic Security Department. Kommersant adds that Shkolov used to work in foreign intelligence alongside Vladimir Putin, but lacks substantial experience at the Interior Ministry.
Stanislav Belkovsky offers a theory of his own. As he told RBC Daily, Sukhodolsky’s appointment as senior deputy minister may be a stepping-stone to the post of minister. Belkovsky maintains that Sukhodolsky will replace Nurgaliyev after Dmitri Medvedev’s inauguration.
RBC Daily reports that some changes await the FSB as well. Alexei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Political Techniques Center: “FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, who bears responsibility for the Beslan school siege and the Nord-Ost theater hostage-taking, will be appointed deputy prime minister for security and law enforceemnt. He will serve as Prime Minister Putin’s liaison with the security and law enforcement agencies (siloviki).” Belkovsky also predicts that Patrushev will be dismissed.
The contenders to replace Patrushev as FSB director are Alexander Bortnikov, currently heading the FSB Economic Security Service, and Viktor Cherkesov, head of the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN). Bortnikov has the support of the Kremlin’s siloviki wing; but Cherkesov has a closer ideological affinity with Dmitri Medvedev, who has already spoken of liberal values as a priority. RBC Daily notes that if Medvedev and Putin decide to work on establishing equilibrium between the rival influence groups within the Kremlin, the FSB appointment would probably go to Bortnikov.
This week’s top newsmaker in the security and law enforcement agencies is the Defense Ministry. Rumors were reported on March 24 that Chief of the General Staff Yuri Baluyevsky had resigned, along with a number of other generals. The press was full of rumors to the effect that these possible resignations might be due to a conflict between Baluyevsky, the top brass, and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
According to media reports, Baluyevsky’s chief causes of complaint were the Defense Ministry’s intention to implement 40% staff cuts at the General Staff’s central office (whereas Baluyevsky argued for 20% cuts at most), and disagreement with the forthcoming relocation of the Navy Command from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta observer Viktor Litovkin reports a different version of events. He says that according to informed sources, Baluyevsky was pressured into submitting his resignation because Defense Minister Serdyukov was very displeased when Baluyevsky publicly disagreed with the Navy Command relocation decision (in response to a question from a Military Sciences Academy member).
The BBC quotes anonymous sources close to the Armed Forces leadership as saying that many generals don’t approve of Serdyukov’s plans to dismiss most of the military’s doctors, journalists, and Rear Services personnel, and to auction off some of the military’s buildings and land.
Ilshat Baichurin, acting manager of the Defense Ministry’s Media and Public Relations Directorate, told the Vedomosti newspaper that the decision to dismiss military doctors, journalists, and Rear Services personnel is still under development and has not been finalized. According to Baichurin, Serdyukov has only requested his subordinates to submit proposals regarding where civilian personnel should remain, and this has not caused any friction. But an anonymous source told Vedomosti that the document in question did indeed contain some specific “staff limits.” Even Baichurin admits that the process may have affected the interests of certain officials, who may have initiated media articles about the conflict in an attempt to preempt events.
Most analysts maintain that the conflict in the Defense Ministry really is due to internal reasons.
Novaya Gazeta observer Pavel Felgenhauer says that Putin appointed Serdyukov as defense minister for a very specific purpose: to bring the military’s financial affairs into order and stamp out systemic corruption within the Defense Ministry. The Putin era has seen defense spending rise from 146 billion rubles in 2000 to almost 1 trillion rubles this year – but the Armed Forces have received less new hardware than they did in the 1990s. The majority of officers and contract soldiers earn miserly salaries, lower than average civilian pay rates in most Russian regions. Vast sums of state funding keep disappearing, and nobody knows where they go.
Alexander Golts, defense analyst and deputy chief editor of Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal, said in a BBC interview: “Serdyukov wasn’t appointed to make strategy decisions. He doesn’t get involved in strategy. He and the civilian manages – whom he has brought into the Defense Ministry, and whose presence annoys the generals – have started working out ways to rationalize spending. Naturally, this has led to differences with the top brass.”
Political analyst Alexei Mukhin told Gazeta.ru: “The generals are unhappy because Serdyukov is steadily cutting off the streams of money that goes into military pockets. Clearly, corruption in the Defense Ministery can’t be beaten unless spending is optimized. Money grows on trees in the military, and the generals pick the fruit. The military is a state within a state, and the pretext of military secrecy can be used to cover up major fraud.”
Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Military Forecasting Center, says that the Defense Ministry itself is the source of corruption. Tsyganok told Gazeta.ru: “Serdyukov is determined to pursue his own interests, no matter what. Essentially, he is seeking to privatize the military – and this is outrageous. All the defense minister can see is money. His ministry is now selling arms abroad, bypassing Rosoboronexport. He can sell a $15 million plane for $10 million – and guess who profits from that.”
In discussing Yuri Baluyevsky’s personal qualities, Pavel Felgenhauer notes his remarkable flexibility, which has helped him maintain and advance his status under all kinds of leaders. But there have always been plenty of flexible generals in the Russian military, says Felgenhauer, and such people are unlikely to make good leaders of an opposition within the military. When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to Moscow last week for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Serdyukov, Balyuevsky did not attend the meeting; in contrast to previous meetings, this one was attended by Baluyevsky’s senior deputy, Lieutenant General Alexander Burutin, who used to be Putin’s advisor on military technology cooperation. And it’s Burutin who is now tipped to replace Baluyevsky.
Indeed, media reports are almost unanimous in naming Burutin as the most likely replacement. As Kommersant reports, the 51-year-old Burutin was Putin’s advisor from April 2003 to October 2007. He served in East Germany in the 1980s, but didn’t meet Putin until 2002. Kommersant makes note of Burutin’s “natural intelligence, communication skills, and good organizational skills.” Moreover, like Baluyevsky, he has spent most of his military career in various staff positions; he has never commanded so much as a battalion.
Komsomolskaya Pravda says: “The Kremlin appears to be considering another candidate as well – the commander of a military district, with a solid service record.” According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, Medvedev prefers this option.
Anatoly Tsyganok suggest another reason for Baluyevsky’s possible resignation. He told RBC Daily that Serdyukov’s “personal and career qualities don’t entirely suit the St. Petersburg management team.”
Alexander Golts told the BBC that there is a more systemic and fundamental reason behind this conflict: “Russia has a somewhat unusual system of military administration – similar to that of Imperial Germany – with a large General Staff that handles both strategic planning and operational troop management. This duplication inevitably leads to dissent grouping around the General Staff whenever the Defense Ministry attempts to change anything – since changes always leave some people dissatisfied.”
On March 26, the Defense Ministry decided to reply to the numerous rumors of Baluyevsky’s resignation. RIA Novosti quotes from the press release: “The Defense Ministry has denied media rumors of alleged diffeences within the Defense Ministry leadership.”
The press release quoted by RIA Novosti goes on to say: “Citing ‘high-ranking Defense Ministry sources’ and ‘independent experts,’ media outlets are pushing the topic of alleged differences within the Defense Ministry leadership – and citing examples of resignations in response to the Defense Minister’s decisions. The Defense Ministry’s Media and Public Relations Directorate regards such articles as extremely irresponsible, and wishes to state that all the ‘facts’ and reports listed therein are inaccurate. No decisions have been made on the questions mentioned there, which are still at the stage of detailed and scrupulous planning. Neither have any resignation letters been submitted.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta observer Viktor Litovkin notes that the Defense Ministry press release doesn’t actually deny that Baluyevsky has written a letter of resignation; otherwise, it would have stated directly that no such letter exists. Neither does it deny an obvious fact, observed by both Russian and American witnesses: the absence of the Chief of the General Staff at the latest Russian-American summit.
On the other hand, a Vedomosti source in the presidential administration says that the Kremlin is pleased with Serdyukov’s performance: he is doing a great deal to restore order in military finances, and this inevitably generates grudges; and Baluyevsky has not submitted his resignation, according to this source.