Svpressa.ru asked yesterday if it’s possible Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov might be dismissed in the runup to the presidential election.
It asked political analyst Aleksey Makarkin if any ministers might be dismissed to appease angry voters. Svpressa noted the Kremlin has something of a tradition of firing some high-ranking officials to garner the electorate’s good will. The media outlet asked him which current ministers might be sacrificed.
“Society is pretty calmly inclined toward the current ministers. But the people and the elite have different irritants. If, let’s say, in the elite, great attention is given the role of Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, then the populace is poorly informed about what he’s doing. It happens that there’s what they write in the business press, and there’s what they show on television. And the public, on the whole, watches television.”
“I think if ministerial dismissals happen, they will be connected not with an allegeric reaction among the people. There are ministers that have complicated relations with the bureaucratic structures they direct. These relations have formed in the course not of decades, but of centuries. Now problems are notable in two such bureaucracies.”
“The first is the Defense Ministry which from the very beginning was very critical of Anatoliy Serdyukov — a strictly civilian person without a general’s rank. The second is the Ministry of Health and Social Development. It’s true the situation there is somewhat different. It wasn’t initially negative for Tatyana Golikova. But she isn’t a doctor, and she’s running up against a sufficiently cohesive medical community.”
“The difference [between Serdyukov’s and Golikova’s situations] is that Serdyukov has military men as his subordinates. They aren’t inclined toward opposition demonstrations, and military retirees don’t have real influence on army processes. There was the situation when Serdyukov had a conflict with the VDV Academy in Ryazan. But General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov, a well-known army figure, thought it best not to exacerbate the affair — the brakes were quickly put on the conflict.”
“Of course, internal dissatisfaction with Serdyukov is strong in the military. Whereas at first this was dissatisfaction with the minister’s persona itself, the details of his biography (Serdyukov was once in the furniture business), but later with his activity in seriously reforming the army (that is the work to which they assigned Serdyukov).”
“Yes, it’s possible to recall the army reform under Aleksandr II — one of the greatest reforms of that time, together with freeing the serfs. Then Milyutin’s military reform was also met very critically by a significant part of the military corporation. They accused him of being a professor who didn’t have sufficient military experience. And his accusers were famous combat generals . . .”
“Serdyukov’s situation is more complex, because he’s an outsider. Naturally, the reforms he’s conducting — cutting the army as a whole, cutting generals, restructuring the military district system, taking the shoulderboards off some representatives of the military corporation, whose duties civilians can fulfill — are causing serious disapproval.”
It’s interesting to hear a purely political perspective on where Serdyukov and the Defense Ministry stand. But it seems unlikely the Defense Minister would be cut loose when this would be a more public admission of failure than the recent reversal of several of his policies. Serdyukov is more likely to be moved aside under cover of an ostensible elevation.
Makarkin’s right when he points out that army problems almost exclusively concern and affect the military caste. They are routinely low on the list of worries of average Russians.
But Makarkin shouldn’t dismiss the significance of unhappiness among military veterans and retirees. True, they don’t necessarily have influence. Their attitudes toward defense policymaking roughly mirror the moods of active duty military men who can’t attend political demonstrations or speak out in public. Most Moscow commentators, like Makarkin, have probably gotten used to not pausing long to ponder what Russian military men think about politics.