Experts welcome Putin’s appointment of new defence minister

Sergei Shoigu file photo

(Interfax – November 6, 2012) Russian political experts have disagreed whether President Putin’s decision to sack Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and appoint Sergey Shoygu, governor of Moscow Region and former emergencies minister, in his place will lead to changes in military reform and major reshuffles in the top brass of the Russian Armed Forces. At the same time, most experts agreed that Putin’s decision had come as a total surprise.

Chief of General Staff, deputy ministers likely to lose jobs – expert

Konstantin Sivkov, vice-president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, has said he expects major reshuffles at the Defence Ministry.

“I think Sergey Shoygu’s appointment as defence minister will be followed by major reshuffles in the Russian army’s top brass. I cannot rule out that the chief of the General Staff, Army General Nikolay Makarov, and several other deputy defence ministers will follow in his footsteps,” Sivkov said.

“I also hope that the finance boys in the top administration of the Ministry of Defence will go and that in their place real military professional will come,” Sivkov said.

According to Sivkov, the resignation of Anatoliy Serdyukov is an “event that the Armed Forces have been awaiting for a long time”.

“I believe that, by his moral and business qualities, Sergey Shoygu is much better suited to the post of defence minister than his predecessor,” the expert said.

According to him, under the former defence minister, several commercial organizations, including Oboronservis, were set up that turned out to be “involved in criminal affairs”.

“As an officer who served in the army for decades, I can say that major decisions such as selling property assets could not be implemented without the defence minister’s involvement. Otherwise, he would have been avoiding his direct responsibilities,” Sivkov said.

According to him, many military experts, including himself, are ready for cooperation with the new defence minister “to rebuild the Armed Forces”.

Pro-Kremlin expert welcomes Serdyukov’s dismissal

In the opinion of pro-Kremlin political expert Vyacheslav Nikonov, “in the circumstances, Serdyukov’s resignation is justified”.

“Of course, Serdyukov is an experienced man who could have made himself useful to the Defence Ministry.

“But when in one of the most important state institutions, when there is an unhealthy situation whereby the top brass of the Defence Ministry are openly accused of being involved in alleged corrupt activity, to keep the man in this post is not very practical from both the political and economic points of view,” Nikonov told state-controlled Channel One TV.

Military commentator welcomes Shoygu’s appointment

According to military commentator Viktor Litovkin, Serdyukov’s resignation was directly linked to alleged large-scale fraud in Oboronservis, a commercial company under Defence Ministry control.

At the end of October the Russian Investigations Committee opened five criminal case into alleged fraud at Oboronservis involving Defence Ministry property assets, with an estimated damage to the federal budget of R3bn.

At the same time, the expert told editorially independent Ekho Moskvy radio that he had not expected that Serdyukov would be sacked and that the president’s decision to sack Serdyukov had come as a surprise to him.

Litovkin welcomed Shoygu’s appointment. According to him, Shoygu is a “businesslike and no-nonsense person who has distinguished himself and proved that he can be in charge of a department such as the Defence Ministry”.

“Absolutely anything can happen now” says military pundit

For his part, Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, said that it was very difficult to predict the new defence minister’s next moves but that there may be major changes.

“Absolutely anything can happen now. The very candidature of the new minister shows that anything can happen,” Khramchikhin told Interfax.

According to him, only a “charlatan who wants to elevate himself in the eyes of others” would give accurate predictions now.

No changes in military reform, no reshuffles – Pavlovskiy

For his part, Gleb Pavlovskiy, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, has told Interfax that he does not foresee any major changes in military reform or major reshuffles at the Defence Ministry in the wake of Shoygu’s appointment as the new defence minister.

“Nothing radical will happen,” Pavlovskiy said.

“Shoygu is one of the eternal cadres whom Putin can appoint anywhere. In any case Putin will be confident of how Shoygu will behave. It seems that Putin still has no new cadres with whom he can take a risk and move them into some political future,” Pavlovskiy added.

“The absence of new people is the dark side of Putin’s model. On the one hand, he desperately needs new figures since he does not entirely trust the old ones. And the country is tired of the old figures.

“On the other hand, Putin cannot get through to new figures through the circle of the old ones. All new figures are proposed to him by the old ones,” Pavlovskiy told Interfax.

According to him, following searches at Oboronservis, Serdyukov’s resignation can be seen as a planned event.

“On the one hand, this is a response to the anticorruption purges of cadres and, on the other, this is a weakening of (Dmitriy) Medvedev’s cabinet,” the expert said.

“It is unlikely that in the post of defence minister Shoygu will be able to do anything else but continue Serdyukov’s reform,” Pavlovskiy said.

“Shoygu is known for the fact that, when he was in the Emergencies Ministry, he organized the economic management of the ministry well. And in the Defence Ministry he will be an infrastructure minister,” Pavlovskiy said.

“Shoygu’s appointment is unlikely to calm the army, which emotionally for a long time could not accept Minister Serdyukov. But Shoygu enjoys much authority as the former emergencies minister and a decent man,” the expert said.

“Serdyukov has done the main work of reorganizing the Defence Ministry economic management infrastructure. It is not surprising that there are new corruption schemes. But to Putin the Armed Forces today are a more manageable, more transparent and more combat ready mechanism,” the expert concluded.

Putin makes “clever Machiavellian move” – political pundit

According to Igor Bunin, head of the Centre for Political Technology, Sergey Shoygu has been appointed defence minister in order to restore the authorities’ popularity among the military.

“Ex-Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov, of course, has partly himself to blame (for his dismissal). But the main thing is that he was the necessary scapegoat. It was necessary to restore the authorities’ popularity in the army,” Bunin told Interfax.

According to Bunin, for that the authorities needed to find the most popular person.

“Sergey Shoygu is the most popular man here after Vladimir Putin. Dmitriy Medvedev may be slightly ahead, though I doubt it,” the pundit said.

According to Bunin, “military reform is almost over, there is little left to do there, and this was precisely the purpose of Serdyukov’s appointment”.

“On the other hand, a normal attitude to Putin is being restored,” he added.

According to Bunin, Serdyukov “has let himself down by corruption affairs”. “Most of our senior officials are in the same situation,” Bunin stressed.

By his decision, “Putin has raised his popularity in the army and raised his popularity in general”, according to the pundit.

“Incidentally, he needed that because his popularity was falling and there were rumours that he was ill. Here he demonstrated that he can take tough measures and no illness will prevent him from being in charge of the country. This is a very clever Machiavellian move,” the expert said.

Political expert Konstantin Kalachev agreed. “It is a strong move. The unpopular minister has been replaced by one of the most popular politicians in Russia. The military are quite likely to welcome him and the population feels unequivocally positive about him,” he told internet and satellite broadcaster Dozhd TV.

Expert calls decision to sack Serdyukov “sensational”

In the opinion of another political commentator, Mikhail Vinogradov, the decision to sack Serdyukov is “sensational”. “Vladimir Putin tries not to get rid of tried and tested cadres, so the implementation of some major scheme must be under way here,” Vinogradov told Dozhd TV.

“I don’t think that it was just a political decision in order to raise the authorities’ popularity rating by sacking the now unpopular minister, though this might become a side effect,” he added.