A long-swirling rumor that First Deputy Defense Minister, General-Colonel Aleksandr Kolmakov would be forced into retirement became a fact this week. Talk of this dated to March. Defense Minister Serdyukov didn’t want both of his first deputies [Kolmakov and General Staff Chief Makarov] occupied with combat training and readiness, reportedly wanting to end this unnecessary division and competition. More recently, Aleksandr Golts said Kolmakov’s and Makarov’s activities with operational troops intersected, even though nothing was ever heard about tensions between the two generals.
Argumenty nedeli indicates Kolmakov more than once firmly, but tactfully, expressed his disagreement with Serdyukov’s reforms, specifically the elimination of warrant officers and the posting of excess officers in sergeant’s duties.
It’s not precisely clear who will benefit from Kolmakov’s departure. The press largely assumes it’s the Genshtab and the main commands of the armed services and branches, but it’s no longer as easy as that. Golts linked the Kolmakov change with the move to 4 military districts or operational-strategic commands (OSK or ОСК). He argues that putting all ground, air, and naval forces under 4 operational commands would weaken all central supervisory organs, including the Genshtab and main commands. As for Kolmakov’s Main Combat Training Directorate, it might move somewhere else, morph into something else, or simply disband.
Deputy Defense Minister and Armaments Chief Vladimir Popovkin takes his old portfolio and responsibilities to his new post as First Deputy Defense Minister. So as much of the Russian media has noted, rearmament is an entirely new priority and job description for the First Deputy. One wonders if Popovkin will even have a successor in his old position.
All observers seem to agree, however, that the swap of Popovkin for Kolmakov and rearmament for troop training focuses the Defense Ministry on providing the troops what they need and the Genshtab and uniformed commanders on training them. Read Kommersant and Rossiyskaya gazeta for more on this.
Popovkin himself told Rossiyskaya gazeta:
“We decided to divide the Defense Ministry’s administrative and operational functions. A civilian channel is being created which will support the troops. A second channel will conduct combat training, all troop activities connected with the operation and use of armaments and military equipment. It’s been decided to withdraw purchases of armaments and everything else from the duties of the Chief of Rear Services and the Chief of Armaments and to appoint a responsible person who will order and purchase all this.”
This would all seem to connect in the person of Nadezhda Sinikova, whom Medvedev and Serdyukov recently appointed to head and invigorate Rosoboronpostavka. Military men will continue to make their own orders and requests, but Sinikova’s organization will deal directly with suppliers.
Here’s what President Dmitriy Medvedev said to Popovkin on 22 June:
“Naturally I wish you success and hope that the sector you will coordinate, – this is, first of all, the armaments sector and military equipment and the resolution of a series of issues connected with the civilian component in the Defense Ministry, – will develop successfully, and we will be able to realize this state armaments program which we are now coordinating.”
“This is a large-scale program, complex, intense, however, at this time, it is directed at establishing on the current foundation a modern, effective armaments system for our army, to reequip, and fully supply it in the framework of those priorities on which we agreed and which must create the basis for the development of our Armed Forces in the future to 2020 and even to 2030.”
“This is a large, complex task. I hope we have forever gone away from the situation of patching holes in the Armed Forces, which was characteristic in the 1990s and the beginning of this century, and we have set out on a different basis of work.”
“But here methodical, scrupulous work is needed especially with military equipment suppliers because they are sometimes pampered and don’t provide quality, and very unpleasant price increases appear for us. Therefore we have to hold everything taut, but at the same time acquire everything our Armed Forces need to be combat capable and well trained.”
Gazeta.ru asked to Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee Igor Barinov to explain what Medvedev was saying about the Defense Ministry’s suppliers:
“Prices on VPK products are growing out of proportion with the growth of inflation and taxes. For example, the ‘Topol-M’ increased 2.5 times in 3 years, and a sniper rifle cost less than 30 thousand rubles at the beginning of the 2000s, but now the Defense Ministry buys them for 400 thousand.”
“Enterprises don’t want to reduce defects, they place incomprehensible prices on their own products—some places because of corruption, some places because of a lack of restraint. It’s impossible to allocate money if a process of systematizing price formation doesn’t occur.”
In Vremya novostey, Pavel Felgengauer describes Popovkin as one of the drivers of the current military reforms:
“Popovkin was the first to begin publicly saying that the problems of the Russian VPK are connected with a large lag behind the West. And he was first to acknowledge that Russian space system use large amounts of Western components. Before him no one publicly talked about this. And in 2008 Popovkin was first to announce that Russia will buy foreign military equipment, and not just components.”
An informed, anonymous source also told Vremya novostey that Popovkin is an “old acquaintance” of Medvedev and Putin. And he will be the Defense Ministry’s real number two man, pushing Army General Makarov lower in the de facto hierarchy [of course, this overlooks the very good likelihood that Serdyukov maintains his own hierarchy based on his own team of trusties and it probably doesn’t include any ex-generals like Popovkin].
Popovkin’s official bio can be found here.
This is an excellent piece and rightly notes the importance of the “virtual” sacking of Kolmakov. I say, “virtual,” in the sense that though he has been ousted and apparently shown the route into pastures new, rather than shunted sideways towards another desk, they have been careful not to make too much of sacking him.
However, it is also important for three interlinked reasons, and one deeper top brass issue that will be harder to resolve. First, Kolmakov, a career paratrooper, was known to support Serdyukov’s reform. Second, look at the timing of this cadre change: coinciding with the eve of Vostok 2010 [which appears to be a critical test for the new look structures] and finally, the leak that he may have opposed, rightly so, downsizing many officers into NCO posts. Sacking a renowned proponent of the reform is remarkable in itself, and almost implies that the momentum is overwound; any hint of critique against aspects of the reform proves career ending for some [but not others, such as CINC of the ground forces, Postnikov, and his critical remarks about the brigades in February]. If Kolmakov was questioning the soundness of downsizing officers into NCO roles, perhaps his objection should have received an airing, before proceeding any further with a drive to have several types of NCO serving in the armed forces, with little clear guidance for each. Finally, its timing, on the eve of Vostok 2010 may indicate a growing sensitivity on the part of the CGS about the real need to demonstrate to the political authorities that the new look is working at the practical level. Moreover, since Makarov was granted a three year extension to his service last October, after reaching retirment age [in his case, 60], it raises the question as to who might succeed him after the presidentional succession/election also in 2012. It seems increasingly likely that they will still be tinkering with the manning structures after 2012, and consequently whoever replaces Makarov as the CGS will be in a vital post that could easily tip the reform one of two ways.
Now, we await the declaration of success in Vostok, and after some time elapses, let’s see whose heads role.