The dismissal of Anatoly Kvashnin: farewell to the last "Yeltsin-era monster"


“The End of an Era.” This headline, used by Izvestia for its article on the dismissal of Anatoly Kvashnin as chief of the General Staff, quotes Viktor Ozerov, chairman of the Federation Council defense and security committee.

There is no trace of nostalgia in this statement. The passing era, according to Ozerov, was associated with “ill-considered decisions about military reforms, unwarranted changes to types and branches of the Armed Forces, and cuts in troop strength.” And this is by no means the harshest opinion being expressed about the former chief of the General Staff, says Izvestia.

Virtually all the print media have reported the opinion of Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, vice president of the Geopolitical Academy: “Anatoly Kvashnin’s dismissal from the post of chief of the General Staff corrects the mistake made when he was appointed. In terms of his service record, knowledge, and character, Kvashnin was unworthy to head the General Staff. The Armed Forces did not benefit from having Kvashnin in a leadership role – rather the reverse.”

In Ivashov’s opinion, working with the new chief of the General Staff, Yuri Baluyevsky, will be much more comfortable for Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov: “Baluyevsky has been through the school of combat in hot-spots; he has experience in staff work and participation in international military cooperation.” Most importantly, Baluyevsky is not confrontational – unlike his predecessor, who was constantly set to explode.

Viktor Baranets, military observer for Komsomolskaya Pravda, lists eight reasons for Kvashnin’s dismissal.

The first is that Kvashnin’s appointment in May 1997 “got a fairly negative reception” among the top brass in both the Defense Ministry and the General Staff, since Kvashnin “had only limited General Staff experience, as the deputy head of a directorate, and he had only commanded a military district for a short time.”

Next: Kvashnin “initiated a number of major reform decisions which proved to be mistaken and cost the military’s treasury several hundred million dollars.” Among those was the decision to merge the Space Troops with the Strategic Missile Forces, and the subsequent decision to split them up again; and abolishing the main command of the Strategic Missile Forces, then bringing it back; and so on.

The third point may be the most important: it is well known that Kvashnin disagreed with both the former and present defense ministers on reforms to the Army and Navy. “Sometimes this went as far as public quarrels – which have long been considered unacceptable at the Defense Ministry.”

What’s more, the media – opposed to Kvashnin – constantly pointed out the danger of having two centers of authority within the Defense Ministry, which arose from Kvashnin “working behind the backs of defense ministers to give himself a greater role in managing the Armed Forces.”

Baranets also accuses Kvashnin of making “major errors in decisions connected with strengthening Russia’s military positions abroad.” Baranets notes that Russia groundlessly “surrendered” the GRU intelligence center in Cuba and abandoned its naval base at Cam Ranh in Vietnam.

According to Baranets, Kvashnin was to blame for “Russia losing the strategic initiative” in the world’s new geopolitical circumstances and finding itself in an unfavorable position: “With Kvashnin in charge, the Kremlin never did manage to get any coherent reports from the General Staff regarding what Russia should do now that NATO is expanding to the east.”

Overall, during the period when Kvashnin was in charge, the General Staff lost its significance as “a center for developing strategic visions of wars of the future, the highest intellectual school of the military.”

Finally, the military security doctrine made the General Staff responsible for coordinating “the activities of security and law enforcement bodies in areas under threat” – above all, in Chechnya and throughout the North Caucasus. “But the personal role of the chief of the General Staff in this proved to be very small.” This was confirmed by the recent guerrilla raid on Nazran.

The Nazran disaster has led to some major changes among the leadership of the security and law enforcement agencies. Besides Kvashnin, other dismissals include Interior Troops Commander Vyacheslav Tikhomirov; Mikhail Labunets, Interior Troops commander in the North Caucasus military district; and Anatoly Yezhov, deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in charge of the North Caucasus. Vladimir Boldyrev, former commander of the North Caucasus military district, has been transferred to the Volga-Urals military district.

The Novaya Gazeta newspaper notes that Kvashnin has been blamed in the past for triggering the first war in Chechnya and for its vast number of casualties, both military and civilian: “But few recalled that Kvashnin took over command of the troops in the North Caucasus military district in February 1995, when the campaign had already been thoroughly wrecked by his predecessor.”

Moreover, says the Trud newspaper, “this was the general who resolved to take responsibility for the war, with so much in our country depending on the outcome of that war. And he did it in a situation where many officers, well aware of the condition of the Armed Forces at the time, did all they could to avoid the dubious honor of commanding the troops in that conflict.”

Such things are “long remembered,” says Trud; and this does explain a great deal – especially Kvashnin’s record-breaking term of seven years as chief of the General Staff.

Major-General Vladimir Slipchenko (reserve), a defense analyst, told Novye Izvestia: “In Chechnya, politicians assigned the military a role to which it is unsuited: participating in a domestic conflict. The situation in Chechnya should have been handled by the Interior Ministry and the FSB. When more experienced generals, like Gromov and Kondratiev, refused to fight what was essentially a war against their own people, Kvashnin was thrown in to command the North Caucasus military district as a ‘fire-fighter.’ He never made any cardinal, major mistakes.”

In the view of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the events in Nazran were clearly just a pretext for dismissing Kvashnin.

“Kvashnin, who headed the General Staff for seven years, had been a political heavyweight ever since the Yeltsin era,” says Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Before Sergei Ivanov became defense minister, Kvashnin was considered the person really in charge of the Russian Armed Forces. It was clear right from the start that two such influential politicians would not be able to work in tandem for long.”

Kvashnin tried to maintain his ambitions, but his failure became obvious back in early June, when the Duma voted to amend the law on defense, reducing the General Staff’s role in managing the Armed Forces. The new version of the law makes no mention of the General Staff as the main body responsible for operations management. From now on, all authority is vested in the defense minister, whose functions are determined by the president himself.

With some pathos, the Vremya Novostei newspaper declares: “Personnel changes at such a level signify a change in Russia’s military policy – a departure from the Soviet military system.”

As for Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the dismissal of Kvashnin has evidently come as a great relief for him. Ivanov has spoken out quite frankly about this, noting that “a difficult phase in the development of the Armed Forces is over – a new and more favorable phase has begun.”

Actually, says Vremya Novostei, many defense analysts are being cautious in their comments on the appointment of Baluyevsky to replace Kvashnin. According to Vremya Novostei, this is due to the nature of Baluyevsky’s service record: “General Baluyevsky has mostly held staff positions, and has no experience of commanding major troop formations.”

On the other hand, given the General Staff’s present functions, someone with a service record like this may be entirely suitable to head it, says Vremya Novostei. Yuri Baluyevsky will have to “reshape the workings of ‘the military’s brain’ in the direction of analytical rather than practical management of the troops” – which is quite in line with his capacities, since he “has an analytical mindset and a thorough knowledge of all potential theaters of operations.” Baluyevsky has taken part in preparatory work on many international agreements on disarmament and arms control, “including the radical Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.”

What’s more – and this is important – Baluyevsky, unlike Kvashnin, is not afraid of journalists.

Moskovskii Komosomolets joyfully informs its readers that in this area, Baluyevsky is just “super” – unfazed even by the devious questions of Western journalists.” Moreover, he is “a creative person who writes poetry. And he’s even promised to let Moskovskii Komsomolets publish some of his poems!”

In this sense, Baluyevsky is a long way from Kvashnin, whose “monstrous image” (as Novye Izvestia puts it) was created by the journalists who suffered at his hands.

Actually, says Moskovskii Komsomolets, there have long been tales of Kvashnin’s diverse talents.

“On the one hand, he is a prominent scholar – in early summer he defended his doctoral dissertation, on the subject of reforming the troops.” And he defended it at the Military Strategic Research Institute of the General Staff – “that is, in front of his own subordinates, which is actually illegal.” But in Russia, as everyone knows, there are loopholes in the law.

On the other hand, Kvashnin has gained renown as “a famous hunter.” The whole Defense Ministry knows that whenever Kvashin flies out somewhere to observe military exercises (which happens rather often), he is bound to make a stopover on the way to go hunting for a few days. “It is even said in the military that Kvashnin flies out to go hunting, and stops to take a brief look at military exercises on the way – that seems closer to the truth.”

What’s more, Kvashnin stood out for his extraordinary energy and efficiency. According to Moskovskii Komsomolets, these qualities were highly valued by the top brass. “His subordinates, however, think he’s run everyone ragged with his energy, since his decisions and actions are often inexplicable from the standpoint of common sense. Yet it’s also impossible to talk him out of anything.”

As an illustration, Moskovskii Komsomolets relates a characteristic incident: “During the first war in Chechnya, Kvashnin, commanding a group, arrived at the base of a detachment that was constantly being attacked by the guerrillas. He looked around at the terrain and realized that the guerrillas were using some nearby hillocks as cover. So he gave orders to level the hillocks. It seemed a simple solution – but nobody else had thought of it. Then again, nobody levelled the hillocks either.”

One way or another, all these anecdotes among journalists and the military paint a portrait of an extremely colorful figure. And this quality may have played a certain role in Kvashnin’s appointment.

In an interview with Moskovskii Komsomolets, Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Center for the Study of Elites at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted that in order to understand the nature of any leader’s personnel policy, it is useful to take an “anthropological approach” to political power. Kryshtanovskaya says: “People tend to like those who are similar to themselves or similar to their parents. For example, Yeltsin – a colorful, tall, loud person – surrounded himself with similar people. So in the Yeltsin era, senior state positions were held by Boris Nemtsov, Oleg Soskovets, Viktor Aksenenko, Alexander Korzhakov, and so on.”

Kvashnin may have been another of that number – although he did have some problems with being “loud,” or the ability to engage in public politics. But that only applied to the press and external structures. As Moskovskii Komsomolets notes, while refusing to cooperate with journalists, Kvashnin was delighted to speak at Defense Ministry meetings and collegiums, “and here he spoke for hours, not at all worried about ‘formulating’ what he said.” According to witnesses, some of his expressions were extraordinary; some of those present at his speeches even noted down the most unusual Kvashnin quotes, and Moskovskii Komsomolets hopes these may be published at some point in future.

Kryshtanovskaya goes on to say that times have changed under Putin: “So the tall, handsome people started being replaced by people of average height, people of few words, with a collectivist mindset… The time of the bureaucracy has come.”

Then again, Yuri Baluyevsky cannot be considered “a person of few words,” and everyone is aware of his talents as “an experienced administrator.”

It should also be noted that the chief of the General Staff is undoubtedly a first-rank figure – and Kryshtanovskaya points out that being in the foreground is dangerous under the current regime: the primary figure is only a facade, a figurehead, and vulnerable. Those who really control the situation are more important. Kryshtanovskaya explains: “Now is the time of second-rank or third-rank people. This principle holds true not only for the bureaucracy, but for the chekists as well.” Consequently, the overall principle these days is the following: “Who is more important: a military commander, or the commissar assigned to the commander?”

In this context, it is interesting to note the Kommersant newspaper’s comments on the appointment of Colonel-General Alexander Belousov, little-known until now, as first deputy defense minister.

Belousov was formerly the deputy commander for emergency situations in the North Caucasus military district; now, as Kommersant reports, he will be in charge of combat preparation for the troops, personnel safety in military service, and combat readiness of troops taking part in anti-terrorism operations.

Thus, Colonel-General Belousov becomes the defense minister’s right-hand man for managing the troops. “In other words,” says Kommersant, “he is the one who will get a significant part of the functions taken away from the General Staff.”

According to the Russkii Kurier newspaper, the defense minister “really liked Alexander Belousov’s report on the condition of the troops in the Caucasus, and his ‘prescriptions’ for dealing with the crisis that has gripped the security and law enforcement agencies since the fiasco in Ingushetia.” Russkii Kurier says there can be no other explanation for a lieutenant-general’s sudden promotion, bypassing several rungs on the career ladder, to the second most senior post in the Defense Ministry.

Actually, it should be noted that appointing a hitherto-unknown “dark horse” to a key post in the Armed Forces is fully in keeping with the style of Putin’s personnel policy.

To return to the dismissal of Anatoly Kvashnin, it is necessary to note another substantial difference between this and the personnel-related innovations of President Putin’s first term.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya has calculated that during his first four years in office, Putin replaced 24% of the elite – “quietly, imperceptibly, without any stormy scandals.” As a rule, most of those dismissed at the time found good jobs elsewhere.

Kryshtanovskaya notes: “Yeltsin generated an army of resentful bureaucrats. Putin, on the other hand, frequently let even those who had made mistakes keep their jobs – so they ended up grateful to him, and loyal.” The ability to create supporters is a special talent: “it is a key leadership skill.”

This principle was violated for the first time by the highly-publicized dismissal of Mikhail Kasianov; and his position is still uncertain, since the Finance Ministry has not expressed support, so far, for his idea of starting up an international investment bank to fund construction of new oil and gas pipelines.

And Kvashnin behaved even more drastically as he left his post – “like an officer,” as the Novye Izvestia newspaper puts it. Kvashnin flatly rejected all the “tasty” jobs offered to him (presidential adviser for military affairs, or first deputy secretary of the Security Council). In other words, as the press sees it, he fully admitted defeat.

In the opinion of Novye Izvestia, Kvashnin’s chief mistake was that in attempting to defeat “Sergei Ivanov, the president’s friend” in a behind-the-scenes power struggle, Kvashnin “failed to take into account the internal solidarity of the St. Petersburg clan.” That is why the end of his military career has proved to be so disappointing – despite the consolation of a For Services to the Fatherland order, third class, awarded to him by the president “for his great contributions to strengthening the nation’s defense capacities and many years of honorable service.”

Vremya Novostei reports that the same order was recently awarded to “famous rock singer Boris Grebenshchikov.”

In the end, says Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Sergei Ivanov “spoke very warmly of his now-erstwhile colleague,” expressing his confidence that “General Kvashnin’s capabilities will be used in the interests of the state.”

It is worth remembering, however, that Kvashnin has always had his own views on the interests of the state.

As an illustration, we might recall, among other things, the famous “dash to Pristina” on June 11, 1999 – carried out on Kvashnin’s personal orders – when 206 paratroopers, not coordinating their actions with the NATO command, rushed over from Bosnia to seize the strategically-important Pristina Airport! Afterwards, it became apparent that World War III was avoided that day purely by chance – due to the British good sense of the “potential opponents,” which led them to disregard a direct order from their own commanders to dislodge the Russians from their positions.

To all appearances, that was Anatoly Kvashnin’s shining hour.