Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed out his Defenders’ Day promotion list yesterday with something unexpected.
Putin handed out the four-star rank of army general for the first time in a while. To Ground Troops CINC Oleg Salyukov.
Russian media outlets say Putin gave army general to Rosgvardiya chief Viktor Zolotov and Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Popov in 2015. But we’re not talking about cronies and creatures of Putin or Defense Minister Shoygu.
We’re not talking about Shoygu himself, who got his four-star rank as a politician and bureaucrat.
And we’re not talking about Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, FSB man and associate of former defense minister Sergey Ivanov. (Pankov’s a fascinating and separate story. He’s the longtime éminence grise of the MOD. One might bet he’s always been Putin’s reliable spy in the high command. He’s also been officially retired from military service for some time.)
So here’s the short list of current Russian Armed Forces four-stars:
- Army General Valeriy Gerasimov obviously. He became Chief of the General Staff when Shoygu became Minister of Defense. Gerasimov got his fourth star less than four months later — February 20, 2013.
- Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of Material-Technical Support Dmitriy Bulgakov has been at his post since 2008. He became army general on February 23, 2011.
It’s safe to conclude then that Putin’s been quite parsimonious with the “big star.”
Recall Russia’s gone back and forth on four stars. For some time, army generals actually wore four stars. Now they wear a single “big star” like marshals, but on different epaulets.
The Russian army general rank, however, is equivalent to a full U.S. General (O-10) wearing four stars.
The last Ground Troops, Air Forces, and Navy CINCs to wear four stars were Vladimir Boldyrev in 2010, Vladimir Mikhaylov in 2007, and Vladimir Masorin in 2007.
So why promote Salyukov to four-star? It doesn’t buy him more service time; by law, he still has to retire in 2020. He’ll be 65 on May 21, 2020.
We should note also that Gerasimov will be 65 on September 8, 2020 and old man Bulgakov on October 20, 2019.
But like all Russian laws, the law on military service tenure can be ignored or changed easily if Putin wants.
A little more about Salyukov. He’s a tanker. He served in the old Kiev MD as a junior officer, and then the Moscow MD. He was deputy commander of the 4th Kantemir Tank Division. After the General Staff Academy, he went to the old Far East MD in 1996, serving from division commander to commander of the district in 2010.
When the MD system was reduced to just four MDs, Salyukov returned to Moscow for a four-year stint as deputy chief of the General Staff. In May 2014, he became Ground Troops CINC. His official bio says he’s a combat veteran, but it’s unclear where he was actually under fire.
P.S. Here’s the latest official photo of Salyukov.