The dismissal of the chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, may pave the way for major changes within the ranks of Russia’s military leadership amid financial scandals and conflicts over defense policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sacked Makarov Friday, replacing him with former Central Military District commander Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov.
Gerasimov’s promotion follows Monday's appointment of Sergei Shoigu as Defense Minister, replacing Anatoly Serdyukov, who was dismissed amid an investigation into nearly $100 million in fraudulent transactions involving real estate owned by Oboronservis, a ministry-controlled company.
Shoigu proposed Gerasimov, 57, for chief of the General Staff and Putin approved the appointment Friday. Gerasimov will also serve as first deputy defense minister.
President Putin also dismissed Alexander Sukhorukov from the post of first deputy defense minister Friday, replacing him with Col. Gen. Arkady Bakhin, former commander of the Western Military District.
Putin promoted the Commander of Russia’s Space Forces, 55-year-old Oleg Ostapenko, to the post of deputy defense minister, and relieved several dozen people who had been employed as Serdyukov's advisors of their duties.
This reshuffle may reflect a move away from dramatic military reform to a more stable development trajectory for Russia’s Armed Forces, in which the strict implementation of set goals and efficient allocation of defense spending are prioritized.
Gerasimov, a veteran of the second Chechen war who began his military career as a platoon commander in 1977, has proven himself to be an efficient military commander capable of maintaining a tight grip on his subordinates.
Gerasimov is also known for his profound knowledge of missile defense issues, as he was chosen to present a report on potential scenarios for the interception of Russian ballistic missiles by NATO missile shield in Europe at an international conference on missile defense in Moscow in May.
The new military chief will face the task of optimizing the number of staff officers at the General Staff headquarters in Moscow as his predecessor had been criticized for disproportional and unacceptable reductions that hampered the work of this key military body.
Another negative legacy left by Makarov is the excessive reduction to the number of military colleges and a significant outflow of top scientists from defense-related research projects which are key to making the Russian military a truly advanced and efficient combat force.
Finally, Gerasimov is expected to be instrumental in helping the new defense minister optimize the relationship between the military and the defense industry by providing a clear vision of what types of weaponry the Russian army most needs.
Most likely, both Shoigu and Gerasimov will need to find a sensible balance between the purchase of Russian-made military equipment and foreign weaponry in order to avoid hurting the interests of Russian arms makers whose lobbying influence in policy-making circles is unquestionably strong.