Top brass resigning in protest againts Defense Ministry’s innovations

A groundswell of opposition is forming within the Defense Ministry to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. This opposition is headed by some prominent generals and officers. Among them is Army General Yuri Baluyevsky, who has just resigned as chief of the General Staff.

A groundswell of opposition is forming within the Defense Ministry to Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. This opposition is headed by some prominent generals and officers.

The form of protest is quiet enough for the time being: many of these officers and generals have requested to resign and move into the reserve, or intend to do so. Among them is Army General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff and senior deputy defense minister. Rumor has it that several directorate chiefs at the Defense Ministry and the General Staff have submitted their resignations. Among the names being mentioned is Baluyevsky’s deputy Colonel General Vasili Smirnov, head of the Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate: the official responsible for conscription. Note that the late Colonel General Viktor Vlasov, acting head of the Quartering and Amenities Service, also submitted his resignation before taking his own life.

Baluyevsky has submitted his resignation three times in the past five months. The first time was in November 2007, when a new deputy defense minister was appointed by presidential decree: Serdyukov’s advisor and old acquaintance Oleg Eskin, a major-general in the FSB reserve. Eskin is regarded as belonging to the St. Petersburg team.

Eskin is now in charge of developing automated control systems, information technology, and communications. These matters has previously been handled by the General Staff, via its direct subordinates: the Communications Troops Directorate and the 8th Directorate, specializing in encrypted communications and protecting military secrets. This is the first time in the Defense Ministry’s 200-year history that it has had a deputy minister responsible for communications. According to the General Staff, this disrupts the overall troops management system.

Baluyevsky also objected to certain functions being taken away from the General Staff. Like many other military professionals, he objected to the hasty privatization of military buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg. On several occasions, Baluyevsky appealed for assistance and support to the presidential administration, the Cabinet, and Senior Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov; but Baluyevsky realized that he couldn’t prove he was right.

Baluyevsky submitted his second resignation just before his birthday, apparently hoping to attract the attention of the leadership and the president. But the Kremlin didn’t react at all. The media reported that Baluyevsky, who turned 61 on January 9, had his military service period extended to 2010 by presidential decree. The president’s tacit affirmation of confidence seemed to inspire Baluyevsky: on January 19, he delivered a report on contemporary national security issues at a Military Sciences Academy conference. This included his first public statement of disagreement with the relocation of the Navy Command from Moscow to St. Petersburg; according to specialists, this project has been promoted by Serdyukov’s team.

Baluyevsky’s emphatic efforts to counter Serdyukov’s innovations failed to have any noticeable effect. In late February, Baluyevsky submitted his resignation for the third time. Sources note that Vlasov’s suicide was the last straw – along with Serdyukov’s “unjustifiably extensive” restructuring plans for the Defense Ministry and the General Staff. Colonel General Alexander Rukshin, head of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate, proposed staff cuts of 20% – but Serdyukov amended this to 40%.

According to some reports, Baluyevsky got a phone call from the Kremlin, advising him not to be too hasty. The Kremlin is well aware that the change of political leadership needs to be smooth and predictable from the general public’s point of view.

Most of the Defense Ministry’s current leaders have never held high rank in the field or seen action in any hot-spots. Rumor has it that the Kremlin wants to replace Baluyevsky with Alexander Burutin, a former presidential advisor who has never commanded so much as a battalion. He is a general’s son who has worked at Defense Ministry headquarters in Moscow for the past 20 years. Other contenders for the chief of General Staff appointment are military district commanders who have served in Afghanistan and Chechnya – but their chances appear to be negligible.