It seems that the epic linked with the change of the functions of the General Staff is close to its end. This issue was submitted to the Duma on the eve of May holidays. The media also discussed this plan. However, the lower house of the parliament determined the destiny of the General Staff without disputes. No fundamental amendments were made to the bill, and 382 deputies voted for the new edition of the law on defense in the third reading on June 11. The defense and security committee of the Federation Council informed WPS that senators also intend to support the Duma’s decision. It’s no doubt that President Vladimir Putin will approve the new legislative initiatives because the amendments were initiated by the Presidential Administration.

What will change?

Firstly, the Presidential Administration made amendments to six articles of the law on defense: 10th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, and 19th. The General Staff will not be the main operational control body of the Russian Armed Forces. All control functions will be passed over to the defense minister. Rossiiskaya Gazeta says that “before the General Staff was equal to the Defense Ministry”. Analysts of the newspaper state that this contravenes presidential decree No. 314, which launched the administrative reform. It should be noted that the presidential decree stipulates only three subordination levels: federal ministries, federal services and federal agencies. The decree makes no mention about other executive bodies, including in the defense sector.

Secondly, the functions of the General Staff will change. The point is that article 15 of the law on defense, which determined the functions of the General Staff, has been invalidated. In addition, the leadership will invalidate provisions on the General Staff signed by Boris Yeltsin in 1998. The functions of the General Staff will be determined by the defense minister.

The defense minister states that these changes are needed for strengthening the principle of undivided authority in the Army. Ivanov said: “The Armed Forces remains strong while this principle works.” According to him, “the current situation necessitates strengthening the role of the General Staff but this process must boil down to a precise distribution of functions and tasks of military control bodies. One of the main tasks of the General Staff is to determine military threats and prepare proposals aimed at neutralizing them. Specialists of the General Staff must focus on strategic and operational issues. The function of strategic planning is very important.”

The defense minister noted: “The General Staff must not carry out functions, which are not characteristic to it.”

In the meantime, there are contradictions in Sergei Ivanov’s statements. For instance, if the General Staff must focus on strategic planning instead of controlling troops, why does General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin, Chief of the General Staff, commands the Mobility-2004 military exercise?

The new structure of control over the Armed Forces does not solve the problem of civil oversight over the Army. As is known, President Vladimir Putin outlined the conception of the reform of the Armed Forces in his address to the Federal Assembly on May 26.

The president stated: “Amounts spent on defense interests and important social parameters of the reform necessitate establishing civil oversight over reforms in the Army.”

The Defense Ministry remains a military institution as before despite the fact that the defense minister is a civil person. The presence of civil defense ministries in civilized countries makes it possible to control the activities of the military. The new law on defense and moves of the administrative reform linked with passing over the functions of special construction, military-technical cooperation and defense order turn the defense ministry into one of the biggest control structures in the system of government.

In the meantime, Russia has not established efficient control mechanisms. Before the Military Inspectorate was part of the Security Council; at present it works as a structural unit of the Defense Ministry.

The State Auditing Chamber is the only structure, which can control the Defense Ministry. However, it uncovers only minor violations in the economic sector of the Army’s activities. Military prosecutors sometimes start criminal cases against violators. At the same time, Russia does not have mechanisms of political control over the Army. Organizations in charge of social and legal protection of servicemen do not work.

In other words, changing the functions and role of the General Staff and creating a new system of military control do not solve the main task: organization of civil oversight over the military, which testifies to the middle-of-the-road character of military reforms.