Big army reshuffle: Head of the General Staff replaced
Makarov handed in his resignation after the Defense Minister Anatoly Seryukov was sacked earlier this week over a property scandal involving the ministry.
Russia's newly-appointed Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu nominated 57-year old Colonel General Gerasimov who has been commander of the Central Military District to take over the top post.
“He is a military man from head to toe, a man who has served for a long time in the Armed Forces and is respected there. He has enormous experience of work both in the General Staff and on the battlefield," Shoigu said at a meeting with President and Commander-in-Chief Putin.
Under the decree signed by the President, from now on Gerasimov is also Russia’s First deputy Defense Minister.
Straight to business, Putin outlined tasks for the new head of the General Staff: to build stable partnership with leading defense industry plants, to continue rearmament of the Army and Fleet and to improve the structure and command of troops.
Gerasimov is known to be a critic of the reforms pushed through by Serdyukov which were unpopular among the Russian military.
Colonel General Valery Gerasimov (left), commander of the Moscow Military District's troops, and parade commander, at the final rehearsal for Victory Parade, Red Square (RIA Novosti / Iliya Pitalev)
‘Women battalion’ vs Soviet-school generals
The appointment of former business manager and tax official Serdyukov in 2007 as Defense Minister became the first step in an effort to give the Russian Army a new look: modernized, efficient, mobile and professional. The 2008 war in the Caucasus gave the reform real impetus.
The way Serdyukov – together with Nikolay Makarov – put ideas into life caused a mixed reaction. Some slammed him for gutting the great Soviet military machine that was victorious in WWII. Others, however, credited him with starting the only real reform in the army in several decades: perhaps, with mistakes but he got things moving.
His thankless task was to reduce the number of troops, which became the most painful phase of the reform with thousands of officers either being fired or forced into early retirement. The remaining officers had their salaries increased significantly.
Serdyukov’s personnel policy often outraged his critics as he replaced many military officers in top posts in the Defense Ministry with civilians. The so-called “women battalion” was like a red rag to a bull for Serduykov’s opponents, who were infuriated about the appointment of women to head key departments in the ministry – including education, finance, and legal. The majority had no military-related education or experience.
The introduction of a new military uniform – developed with the help of a Russian fashion designer – also came under fire. It appeared to be non-practical and not warm enough for the winter.
On top of that, Serdyukov started purchasing arms abroad instead of spending the enormous sum (over $700 billion) allocated by the state on the re-equipment of the army to support Russian military industries. Many senior military and state officials saw the move as unpatriotic. Besides that, the Defense Ministry was periodically failing to fulfill the state arms order in time.
Vladimir Putin stressed on Friday that decisions regarding the equipment for Russian troops largely depend on the Chief of the General Staff.
Currently, he said, the problem is that the Defense Ministry often changes its requirements. It is natural that thanks to science and technology development new weaponry appears and Russia should certainly look at advanced arms, Putin observed.
“But still, there must be some sort of stability here,” he noted. The President expressed hope that Gerasimov will manage to build up a good and stable partnership with Russia’s leading defense contractors.
Rescuing the reform
The new Defense Minister Shoigu – who used to head the Emergencies Ministry and enjoys popularity both among the civilians and the military – faces an uneasy task to complete the reform and correct mistakes made by his predecessor. One of the primary challenges is to restore the Ministry’s image.
For a start, the Defense chief is building a new team by bringing some old professionals back to the game.
Appointing experienced and intelligent military man Gerasimov as the Chief of the General Staff has been praised by experts, who believe he will help to make the work of the Army think-tank more organized and efficient.
The idea of returning officers and generals fired in Serdyukov’s time is also welcomed. Basically, those were the people who were not afraid of openly voicing their opinion about the military reform, Public Chamber member Aleksandr Kanshin told Interfax.