A personnel overhaul in the armed forces, so much touted by Russian military experts recently, has been carried out. General of the Army Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces since 1997, has been dismissed, while Colonel-General Yury Baluyevsky, his first deputy, has been appointed in his place, as was expected. He had also held his post since 1997, although he cannot be described as Kvashnin's successor.
As distinct from an ambitious and outspoken Kvashnin, who has always had his own opinion of armed forces development, and not always an appropriate one, Baluyevsky never made his views public and if he did he always saw that they agreed with the top brass. He can communicate both with superiors and subordinates. He is diplomatic and far-sighted in the good sense of the word. It was no coincidence that the Kremlin often named him a chief negotiator with the US, NATO, EU and other states and organisations on key geopolitical and strategic issues, from cuts in offensive arms to joint struggle against terrorism. Evidently the Kremlin hopes that in his new post Baluyevsky will be a perfect vehicle for the president's ideas and plans to reform and build up the army and navy.
But the personnel overhaul did not end with appointing a new chief of the General Staff and first deputy defence minister. On the same day as Kvashnin was dismissed and Baluyevsky appointed, the president also named another general first deputy defence minister - Colonel-General Alexander Belousov, former deputy commander of the North Caucasian military district.
His appointment came as a kind of surprise for military experts. Not only because men do not leapfrog from such posts as a deputy district commander to that of a first deputy defence minister. There are many intermediate steps to be scaled by the claimant of such a position. For example, one should first command a district, then serve in the General Staff as head of the main directorate or just a plain deputy minister. But here, a gigantic leap has taken place. But even this step taken by President Putin has its logical explanation.
Belousov is no novice in the army, and fighting in the North Caucasus even if as a deputy commander implies the experience and ability that are valued highly. In his new post, the colonel-general will deal with troop training, and tackle tasks that are very important for the army and navy, and his knowledge acquired in the counter-terrorist operations will enable him to start his new duties without any need to learn the ropes. Troop training, as recent events have shown, is indeed the cornerstone of Russian armed forces' combat preparedness. And here Belousov holds all the aces.
It is perhaps these commanding and troop-leading requirements that prevented Colonel-General Nikolai Pankov, head of the main personnel and military education directorate, and Colonel-General Valentin Bobryshev, commander of the Leningrad military district, from being made first deputy defence ministers, as the media had speculated. The latter, although well known to Vladimir Putin, seemed not to fit the bill because of his age - he will be 60 soon, the personable age for generals. Moreover, a lack of combat experience played a role, as Bobryshev has not fought in Chechnya.
Changes will be made not only in the functions of the first deputy defence minister for troop training. Similar alterations are expected in the functions of the chief of the General Staff. Not only because this post is now occupied by General Baluyevsky, rather than by General Kvashnin. According to the new wording of the law "On Defence", adopted this month by the State Duma and approved by the Federation Council, the General Staff remains a body concerned with operational guidance of armed forces, but will focus on the main direction - drawing up strategic and tactical plans for the use of armed forces and on nuclear planning, and strategic forces of deterrence. Its functions will no doubt include also military intelligence (the Main Intelligence Directorate is not being re-subordinated), mobilisation reserves, call-up and other problems that are not discussed openly.
However, the personnel reshuffles and army and navy reforming will not end here. Changes are to be made among commanders-in-chief of the ground forces, the navy, the air force, and air defences. It is assumed they will lose some of their leading functions and will not deal with strategic planning, which will be done entirely by the General Staff, and will concentrate on commander and combat training and better use of forces.
These changes will take place in line with the administrative reform, which has been launched and actively pursued by the Kremlin administration, and under plans to build Russia's new armed forces whose immediate tasks were outlined in last year's report, known as the defence book, by Minister Sergei Ivanov.
The army is concentrating on new functions; it is trying to become more economically minded and stronger, more mobile and precise in wielding its might. And not against an ephemeral enemy against which it has trained for many years, but against a tangible and palpable opponent: international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles, ethnic and religious radicalism, drug trafficking and organised crime. At the same time, it is still responsible for the strategic deterrence of a possible aggression, while it also trains to act within an international coalition force.
This requires not only new perspectives on how to ensure security and defence capability of the country, but also new people ready to translate these ideas into reality. Step by step they are beginning to emerge in the leadership of the armed forces.