Anatoly Serdyukov: the new defense minister and his tasks

President Vladimir Putin’s decision to replace Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov with Federal Taxation Service Director Anatoly Serdyukov came as a surprise to both the Defense Ministry and the general public. President Putin has his reasons for replacing Ivanov at this point in time.

President Vladimir Putin’s decision to replace Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov with Federal Taxation Service Director Anatoly Serdyukov came as a surprise to both the Defense Ministry and the general public. The leadership change in one of the key security and law enforcement agencies has happened just as the Defense Ministry is launching some large-scale transformations. President Putin has his reasons: Ivanov performed his set tasks honorably, and now he is needed on a different front. So let’s take a look at what Serduykov has inherited from Ivanov at the Defense Ministry.

The replacement of such a high-ranking leader is always an event. Russia’s defense minister has become not only the official responsible for the state’s defense capabilities, but a significant political figure. Evidence of that can be found in Sergei Ivanov’s latest appointments. In his six years with the military, Russia’s first civilian defense minister has become the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, the chairman of the government’s Military-Industrial Commission, and the head of the Unified Aviation Corporation. Ivanov has been appointed as the official responsible for civil aviation flight safety, and for GLONASS development.

Against this backdrop, Ivanov had to promote equally substantial transformations within the Defense Ministry itself. Under his leadership, the Defense Ministry announced that permanent combat readiness units would be converted to mostly contract-based recruitment, and conscription terms would be reduced to 12 months. A project was launched to introduce a fundamentally new system for the Defense Ministry to provide housing for military personnel: based on mortgages. Public oversight structures have been established: the Public Chamber and parents’ committees for military units.

In terms of military development, Ivanov managed to implement the idea of establishing a common arms procurement service for all security and law enforcement agencies. He formulated the parameters for state arms procurement to 2015, tying the need to purchase specific types of weaponry to the Armed Forces Development Concept and perceived threats to Russia’s security. All this is set out in the Defense Ministry’s White Book: “Current Objectives for Armed Forces Development.” Moreover, structural changes have begun in the Armed Forces administration system itself. This entails establishing regional commands, which will include not only military units in all strategic directions (North, South, East, West) but subdivisions of all security and law enforcement agencies. The General Staff’s role seems likely to become more significant in the troops administration system and in the structure of state security.

All these changes are highly important. The effects of implementing them will have a direct impact on the state’s defense capabilities. Judging by President Putin’s actions, the direction for the Armed Forces has been set and can no longer be changed. Thus, under the circumstances, it has become possible to appoint a person with entirely different qualities as defense minister. Perhaps this is exactly what the military needs now: a “technical” minister whose tasks will entail overseeing the performance of an established mechanism, rather than carrying out reforms.

According to Sergei Ivanov, a good functional team has been put together at the Defense Ministry over the past three or four years. It comprises deputy defense ministers, heads of directorates, and chief commanders. Anatoly Serdyukov is now becoming the captain of this team. “I know these people, I’ve worked with them, and I’m sure that everything will be normal. He won’t have any problems,” said Senior Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov.

Igor Korotchenko, member of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council:

Those who write off Anatoly Serdyukov as a “technical” defense minister are deeply mistaken. His appointment as head of the Defense Ministry makes him one of the key political figures in Vladimir Putin’s team. After all, he’s in charge of the nuclear button now. Let me remind you that the defense minister, like the supreme commander-in-chief and the chief of the General Staff, is empowered to authorize a preventive or retaliatory nuclear missile strike.

This appointment as defense minister in the lead-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections indicates that Serdyukov has President Putin’s confidence to the highest degree. In the event that any kind of conflicts arise, only the Armed Forces would be capable of ensuring political stability in Russia and guaranteeing the constitutional process of transferring authority to a new president after citizens make their choice in March 2008. And since we know that President Putin takes a very meticulous approach to recruitment and appointments in the security and law enforcement bloc, it is clear that Serdyukov’s appointment is not haphazard – it is a thoroughly considered and verified decision by the Kremlin.

As head of the Federal Taxation Service, Serdyukov proved himself to be a tough, effective manager capable of setting clear objectives for his subordinates and ensuring that they were achieved. And jokes about Serdyukov’s career before he entered state service are entirely inappropriate. Regardless of his background, the main point is that he is a person who can get things done. Since 2000, Serdyukov has been promoted through a series of important stages within the Taxes and Duties Ministry and the Federal Taxation Service, proving his abilities every time. Under the circumstances, it’s safe to say that Serdyukov has every chance of finding his feet rapidly as the full-fledged head of the Russian Defense Ministry.