Rokirovka (рокировка) appears often in the Russian press. Borrowed from chess, it means castling in the strictest sense. In political and administrative terms, it’s when people shift places in an organization or hierarchy.
The Russian military seems poised for a command rokirovka.
The rokirovka might have begun with General-Colonel Viktor Bondarev’s abrupt departure from the Aerospace Forces (VKS) to accept an appointment to the Federation Council. With over five years as the CINC of Russia’s air forces (and its air defense, missile defense, and space forces now as well), Bondarev is just shy of 58. A three-star, he could have served to age 65.
It’s interesting that he would leave just now. But entering the upper chamber of Russia’s national legislature provides immunity from prosecution.
Observers were confronted then with the surprising prospect that General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin — an army general — might be the leading candidate to replace Bondarev. Others seem like distant challengers at best. But we’re still waiting for the shoe to drop on Surovikin. Bondarev joined the FC on September 19, yet his picture remains on Mil.ru as CINC of VKS.
The complicating factor is that Surovikin’s been away from his permanent post as commander of Russia’s Eastern MD while commanding the Group of Russian Forces in Syria since early summer.
To give the VKS to Surovikin, the Russian MOD will have to settle on new commanders for both posts.
Syria is toughest. Although winding down, Moscow can’t send just anyone. It might send General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev back. He commanded the group for the last part of 2016. Perhaps the original commander — General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov — might return from his post in the Southern MD. Commander of the Central MD General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy could go.
We can’t say who’ll be picked, but the choice is complicated by Defense Minister Shoygu’s announcement that the endgame has begun. The Kremlin won’t jeopardize its final push there.
A new Eastern MD commander is easier. Here are some possibilities:
General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev…only 52…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander, then briefly commander of the Russian Group of Forces in Syria…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD…deputy chief of the General Staff.
General-Lieutenant Viktor Astapov…55…VDV officer…commanded a division, then an army…deputy commander of Southern MD…now chief of staff, first deputy commander of Western MD.
General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Chayko…46…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of resurrected 1st Tank Army…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD.
General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin…53…commander of 20th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Russian Group of Forces in Syria.
General-Lieutenant Mikhail Teplinskiy…48…VDV officer…Hero of Russian Federation in First Chechen War…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of 36th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD.
General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Ustinov…57…VDV officer…combat veteran of Afghanistan…deputy commander of former Leningrad MD…commander of 6th CAA…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff and first deputy commander of Central MD.
No matter who gets the Eastern MD, these generals are worthy of notice. They’ve punched the right tickets, and if they don’t advance now, they will later. But Zhuravlev seems most ready and he has the third star customary for MD commanders. But inside-trackers have a way of getting side-tracked in the Russian military. It could happen to Zhuravlev.
A wild card scenario might be built around 59-year-old General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin. He’s serving as assistant to Shoygu after a long tenure as commander of the Southern MD. It might not be safe to rule him out appearing in Syria or the Eastern MD.
Some generational change could be coming to the top Russian MOD posts typically occupied by army generals. The Chief of the General Staff — Army General Valeriy Gerasimov — has been in place since late 2012. He’s 62. Ground Troops CINC — General-Colonel Oleg Salyukov — is also 62 this year.
The current MD commanders might really hope for Gerasimov’s job. General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov in the Western MD and General-Colonel Dvornikov in the Southern MD would seem to have the best shot, with the runner-up becoming Ground Troops CINC instead. A little older, General-Colonel Zarudnitskiy in the Central MD could be the odd man out.
Moves by the MD commanders would open spaces for the rising group of mostly two-stars introduced earlier.
The future of the commander of Airborne Troops — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — is a bit uncertain after his car crash last month, even though he’s only 55. If available, his post might be attractive to the three youngish generals with VDV backgrounds highlighted above.
But this entire rokirovka might unravel if General-Colonel Surovikin doesn’t move to the VKS for some reason. Still major command and leadership changes, driven inexorably by the passage of time and aging of the incumbents, are coming to Russia’s military.