ROAR: Defense Ministry “to get younger top commanders”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
A major reshuffle of top officials in the Defense Ministry is aimed at perfecting the effectiveness of a new system of command, analysts say.

President Dmitry Medvedev has appointed Col. Gen. Aleksandr Postnikov as commander of the Russian Ground Forces. The previous commander, Gen. of the Army Vladimir Boldyrev, who reached retirement age, has been discharged from the Armed Forces.

Lt. Gen. Vladimir Chirkin replaced Postnikov as the commander of the Siberian Military District and Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Galkin will head the North Caucasus Military District instead of Col. Gen. Sergey Makarov.

The president also appointed Lt. Gen. Andrey Tretyak as Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff. Maj. Gen. Sergey Surovikin, who earlier occupied this position, has become Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Volga-Urals Military District. Tretyak, in turn, has been replaced by Maj. Gen. Ivan Buvaltsev as Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Leningrad Military District.

The Chief of the 58th Army in the North Caucasus Military District Anatoly Khrulyov may also be dismissed in June, observers say. The Army took part in the August 2008 events in the North Caucasus. Boldyrev and Makarov were also key participants of the operation aimed at forcing Georgia to peace and were awarded the main military Order of Saint George.

Analysts link the major reshuffle in the Defense Ministry to the current military reform. They also note that the operation to force Georgia to peace in August 2008 revealed problems that existed in the armed forces.

The results of the investigation into the armed forces by the Defense Ministry and the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office also influenced the decision, analysts say. Investigators revealed the facts of corruption in the Ground Forces, the Air Force, the Airborne Forces and the Railroad Forces.

The state lost more than 2.5 billion rubles ($84.7 million) as a result of corruption in the armed forces last year, Aleksandr Nikitin, head of a department in the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, has been quoted in the media as saying. The investigation will last till March.

However, the Defense Ministry “explained yesterday’s reshuffle by the need to rotate commanders and chiefs of staffs in the conditions of establishing a new image of the armed forces,” Kommersant daily said. “According to orders of the Defense Minister, such a rotation should be conducted every three years.”

Boldyrev, 61, was dismissed “only on the grounds of reaching retirement age,” sources in the Defense Ministry told the paper. It noted that the president can prolong by his order the term of a top military official till 65.

Meanwhile, there have been no comments from the Defense Ministry about the dismissal of the head of the North Caucasus Military District Sergey Makarov, who will only be 58 this year, the paper said.

A source in the Defense Ministry told the daily that the new appointments could be connected with the policy of Chief of General Staff Nikolay Makarov “who is gathering his former subordinates, whom he trusts.”

Makarov headed the Siberian Military District in 2002-2007. Postnikov, Galkin and Tretyak worked with him for a long time, the paper said. But for Surovikin, the new appointment in the Volga-Urals Military District may be a demotion because he previously headed the directorate responsible for planning major operations and military exercises in all the districts, it added.

Rotation of top military officials will help commanders “to get experience in working in the central office” and they will be able to use it later in their work, Col. Aleksey Kuznetsov, Head of the Defense Ministry’s press service, told Gazeta daily.

Analysts also mention the discontent of some top military officials with the reform in the armed forces as another reason behind the reshuffle. More dismissals may follow, Gazeta said, adding that Col. Gen. Anatoly Nagovitsyn also left his position as Deputy Chief of General Staff recently.

But Vitaly Shlykov, a member of the Defense Ministry’s public council, welcomed the new appointments, noting that they will help the armed forces. All positions that the new commanders have occupied are “very hard and it will take time to organize their work,” he told the paper. Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov will have to explain much to them, but “he has sacrificed his convenience for the sake of the common cause,” Shlykov said.

“Since Anatoly Serdyukov became Defense Minister in 2007, practically all the key figures in the armed forces have been changed,” Interfax news agency said. “It seems that the history of the armed forces of modern Russia has not seen such major reshuffles over a relatively short period of time,” it added.

Serdyukov’s personnel policy “has been tough, but logical and predictable,” the agency said, citing its sources. “Now Serdyukov is surrounded by people who share his views on the military reform and are ready to share responsibility for the results of huge changes in the Russian armed forces,” the agency added.

Some analysts doubt that the new figures will be more effective than their predecessors. The new appointments have been made as part of the reform, observer Viktor Litovkin said. “The leadership of the armed forces wants quick results,” he told Finam.fm radio. “Unfortunately, the army is a slow and complex structure,” he added.

“The people who have been appointed have a wide experience, they deserve to occupy these positions,” he said. “But I doubt that they will be better than their predecessors because they are all from the Soviet military school,” the analyst added. “They are not accustomed to working under changes that have been going in the country over the last 20 years,” he added.

Anatoly Tsyganok, Head of the Military Forecast Center, believes that the trend towards appointing younger top military officials is clear. “Now old generals who served in the Soviet army are leaving,” he told BaltInfo news agency. “The Defense Minister is under 50, and I think all commanders of military districts will be of the same age soon,” he noted.

“A part of the generals that have been recently dismissed probably disagreed with Serdyukov’s military reform,” Tsyganok said. However, he stressed that one should not “exaggerate the opposition” from top military officials. Those generals who resisted “were fired long ago,” he said, adding that Chief of General Staff Yury Baluevsky was dismissed in 2008.

The Russian president said earlier that the outdated organization of the armed forces was one of the most important problems and stressed that it should be reformed.

Younger commanders “will be better prepared to work in the new conditions,” military analyst Dmitry Litovkin told Vzglyad online newspaper. “The first stage of the reform is ending, and it is aimed at reducing the number of troops,” he said.

The main stage of the military reform is beginning this year, Litovkin stressed. It concerns the creation of a new system of command in the armed forces. The Defense Ministry will announce at the end of the next year “if the armed forces have learned to wage wars in new ways, if the new system of combat control has been created and if it is effective,” he added.

Recent exercises of newly created brigades of constant readiness have revealed problems, Litovkin said. He noted that Postnikov and other new commanders have now been promoted to “perfect the new system of command.”

Sergey Borisov, RT