An indication of prospects for current Russian army commanders is the fate of their predecessors. Here’s what’s become of them.
Former army commanders are waiting for (or possibly no longer expecting) assignment to higher posts (usually MD commander), and they fall into three groups.
Wearing three stars is one clear sign of excellent prospects. Most former commanders are two-stars. Those in the general-colonel group include Chayko, Kuralenko, and Kuzovlev.
Chayko reportedly also wears Hero of the Russian Federation (2020). He seems the most accomplished of the bunch, and he’s quite young. He had a stint aslikely remains a deputy chief of the General Staff.
Still don’t have a picture of Chayko as a general-colonel with his Hero of the RF medal.
Though wearing three stars, Kuralenko is already 59. His pedigree is good, but he’s on a detour as chief of Russia’s military police.
General-lieutenants with good chances include Nikiforov, Teplinskiy, and Zavizon. They’re serving as chief of staff, first deputy commander of an MD.
Teplinskiy seemed like a fast-burner having been COS/FDC for two MDs. He has a Hero of the RF (1995) he earned as a JO under fire (not as a general safe at headquarters) in the First Chechen War. But Teplinskiy’s been waiting for his third star seven years and counting.
Prominent service in Syria — commander or chief of staff, deputy commander of the RF MOD contingent — may be a harbinger of future promotions. Chayko did three tours — one as chief of staff and two as commander. Kuzovlev and Nikiforov are past commanders. Zavizon was a deputy commander in Syria.
Teplinskiy doesn’t have Syrian time, but allegedly led Russian militias in the Donbass. Zavizon also reportedly commanded them.
Generals seemingly on course for a chance at a higher post include: Avdeyev, Chebotarev (but where is he?), Kuzmenko (he’s young but now sidetracked at MAGS), Muradov, Nosulev, Peryazev (though he may stay in GUBP), Seritskiy, Sevryukov, and Tsekov (if he escapes VUNTs SV).
Time is working against all of them. The best chances may belong to Avdeyev, Muradov, Nosulev, Seritskiy, and Sevryukov. They are all deputy MD commanders. Muradov might be a good bet; he’s young and just had the high-profile job of peacekeeping in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Former MD commanders who are off course include: Astapov, Kaloyev, Kovalenko, Poplavskiy, Romanchuk, Salmin, and Tsilko. They are off track mostly for age and failure to secure a COS/FDC post in an MD. Some have accepted honorable pre-retirement jobs out of the mainstream like Deputy CINC of the Navy or department chair at MAGS.
It’s Not Scientific
There’s no formula for any of this. Case in point: there was no real reason to see General-Colonel Gennadiy Zhidko coming as the new Eastern MD commander in late 2018. He was chief of staff in Syria and had a year as deputy chief of the General Staff. That alone isn’t much to recommend an officer for MD command. It’s hard to say whom he impressed — possibly General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov. He also served under Western MD commander General-Colonel Zhuravlev in Syria. The personal connections are very, very difficult to track.
Some detail on each of the above-mentioned former army commanders follows:
General-Lieutenant Viktor Astapov…58…former commander, 49th CAA (2012-2013)…deputy commander of the Southern MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Western MD…Deputy CINC of the Navy for Ground and Coastal Troops.
General-Colonel Aleksandr Chayko…50…former commander, 20th CAA (2014), 1st TA (2014-2017)…chief of staff of the Russian group of troops in Syria and two tours as its commander…chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Eastern MD…deputy chief of the General Staff.
General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko…??…former commander, 36th CAA (2015-2017)…deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet for Ground and Coastal Troops.
General-Colonel Sergey Kuralenko…59…former commander, 49th CAA (2011-2012) and 6th CAA (2013-2015)…deputy commander of the Western MD…deputy commander and commander of Russian group of troops in Syria…chief of staff, first deputy commander, Eastern MD…chief of the Main Military Police Directorate, RF MOD.
General-Colonel Sergey Kuzovlev…54…former commander, 20th CAA (2015-2016), 58th CAA (2016-2017), 8th CAA (2017-2019)…chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Southern MD…commander of Russian group of troops in Syria.
Almost three years since the last look. Eight of 12 commanders have been replaced in that span. Four holdovers plus one have been in place for two or three years. The remaining seven were appointed sometime in 2020.
The current rundown of armies, headquarters, MD/OSK, and commanders is:
Army command is a significant milestone. These officers have moved from large tactical formations to the operational level of command. They have (or will receive) pogony with two stars and assignment to at least one higher post.
They are men of the early 1970s. Only three — Sanchik, Sychevoy, and Ryzhkov — were born in the late 1960s. Yershov and Berdnikov are the youngest at 46 and 47 respectively. Sanchik and Ryzhkov the oldest at 55 and 53.
All spent time as chief of staff, first deputy commander of an army before getting an army command of their own. Rezantsev and Ryzhkov are on their second army commands. Rezantsev commanded the 41st and 49th; Ryzhkov the 58th and 41st.
Their experience of war looks like this:
Handicapping the prospects of these generals is difficult except to say that relative youth provides more chances for career advancement.
More enlightening is what happens when they move beyond the army level of command. Next we’ll look at what’s become of their predecessors.
Along with General-Colonel Kartapolov’s retirement to take his seat in the new Duma for United Russia, TASS announced a number of leadership changes in the navy. The news agency cited an as-yet unpublished presidential decree.
Baltic Fleet commander Admiral Aleksandr Nosatov is the new chief of the Navy Main Staff, First Deputy CINC of the Navy. His predecessor Admiral Vitko was retired just after turning 60. 58-year-old Nosatov became Baltic Fleet commander when Putin wiped its leadership slate clean for corruption and providing false status reports in 2016. Nosatov apparently righted the fleet to the president’s satisfaction. He served his early years in the Pacific Fleet’s surface forces.
Vice-Admiral Viktor Liina took Nosatov’s place in the Baltic Fleet.
Other navy changes are in the final paragraph of the TASS report.
MOSCOW, 5 October. /TASS/. Deputy head of the Russian military department Andrey Kartapolov has been dismissed from military service in connection with his election as a deputy of the State Duma, and a number of cadre changes in the Navy were also effected, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has stated.
“By presidential decree, Deputy Defense Minister – Chief of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the RF Armed Forces General-Colonel Kartapolov Andrey Valeryevich was relieved of duty and dismissed from military service in connection with his election as a State Duma deputy,” Shoygu said at a video conference on Tuesday.
He stated that by decree of the head of state “Admiral Vitko Aleksandr Viktorovich, chief of the Main Staff – First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Navy was relieved of duty and dismissed from military service.”
The minister expressed gratitude to both military leaders “for the high professionalism, responsibility and diligence exhibited by them in the fulfillment of their service obligations.”
According to Shoygu’s statement, by this decree of the head of state Admiral Aleksandr Nosatov was appointed chief of the Main Staff – First Deputy CINC of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Viktor Liina replaced him as commander of the Baltic Fleet.
The minister announced that Rear-Admiral Vladimir Vorobyev was appointed deputy chief of the General Staff; Rear-Admiral Konstantin Kabantsov chief of staff – first deputy commander of the Northern Fleet; Vice-Admiral Sergey Pinchuk chief of staff – first deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet; Vice-Admiral Arkadiy Romanov deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet.
Putin signed out promotions on June 11. Twenty-three for MOD officers — three three-stars, eight two-stars, and 12 one-stars.
The president’s praetorians — Rosgvardiya — got four one-star promotions.
For the MOD, Commander of Air and Missile Defense Troops, Deputy CINC of the VKS, Yuriy Grekhov and the commander of Russian troops in Syria, Aleksandr Chayko became general-colonels.
Not yet 50, Chayko commanded the 1st TA and 20th CAA, was chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Eastern MD, and served a stint on the General Staff. He will be competitive for the next military district command that opens up.
Commander of the Black Sea Fleet Igor Osipov made admiral. He might be the next commander of the Pacific Fleet when Avakyants retires.
A surface commander, he’s just 48. Besides his current fleet command, he was commander of the Caspian Flotilla, chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, and served a tour with the General Staff.
The new general-lieutenants include Deputy Commander of the 8th CAA Gennadiy Anashkin, Commander of the 4th Air Forces and Air Defense Army Nikolay Gostev, and Commander of the 58th CAA Mikhail Zusko.
Zusko became a general-major at 41, but waited eight years for his second star. Nevertheless, an officer to watch.
Chief nuclear weapons custodian Igor Kolesnikov of the 12th Main Directorate got a second star. That’s the customary terminal rank for this specialist post.
Long unidentified in a position, Yuriy Zhigarlovskiy took a second star and surfaced as Chief of the 1st Directorate, Main Operations Directorate, General Staff. The 1st is probably has responsibility for strategic assessments and global threat forecasting.
Military Academy of the General Staff Deputy Chief for Scientific Work Aleksandr Serzhantov became a general-lieutenant at age 60 after eight years as a one-star.
Zabit Kheirbekov, chief of MTO for Aerospace Forces, got a second star as did Andrey Tsygankov, first deputy chief of the recently recreated Main Military-Political Directorate.
New one-stars include:
Chief of the helicopter training school at Syzran
Chief of 14th Main Communications Center of the General Staff
Commander of 3rd Air Defense Division
Chief of Air Forces and Air Defense Directorate, Central MD
Deputy chief of Radiological, Chemical, Biological Defense Troops
Chief of staff, first deputy chief of the 49th CAA
Chief of staff, first deputy chief of the VKS 15th Special Designation Army (missile launch warning and space tracking)
Chief of the Eastern MD’s Organization-Mobilization Directorate
Chief of the Southern MD’s armor service
Commander of the Baltic Naval Base
Deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet for MTO
Only one promotee couldn’t be identified in his current post.
Putin signed out an amendment to the law “On Defense” [subpoint 10.1] in early April allowing the RF President to appoint any citizen, nonmilitary ones included, to military duties requiring a higher officer (general or flag officer) under the established TO&E.
In keeping with the RF legal understanding of military service and servicemen, this means not just the RF Armed Forces but “other troops, military formations and organs . . . .” Any militarized ministry or service from MChS to FSO to FSIN to MVD.
The measure could aim to let Putin put civilian loyalists in charge of his private army Rosgvardiya. These latter-day MVD Internal Troops are the first-responders in case of regime-threatening domestic disturbances.
But the amendment is also a potential blow to the professionalism and autonomy of the armed forces. High-ranking civilians have been confined to the MOD’s administrative side to this point. We’ll see if or when Putin injects a civilian into the military chain of command.
There are interesting questions associated with this development, but the Defenders’ Day promotions — made in the normal fashion — remain to be plumbed.
The February list included one three-star, seven two-star, and fourteen one-star officers. There were five promotions in RF National Guard (a two-star, four one-stars) by comparison.
Sergey Kuzovlev, now commanding the Russian contingent in Syria, made general-colonel and looks like a contender for future MD commander. He’s commanded three different armies (albeit briefly), and he reportedly led the insurgent DNR 1st Army Corps in Ukraine during 2014-2015.
New two-stars included Yakov Rezantsev and Vladislav Yershov commanding the 49th and 6th CAAs respectively.
Another two-star is Dmitriy Kasperovich. At 44, he’s young not just for his rank but also his position as First Deputy Chief of GOMU. He fought in the Second Chechen War and was wounded twice by “bandits” while commanding the 17th MRB. He received his Hero of the Russian Federation in 2014 or 2015, making it fairly obvious he fought with Russian militias in eastern Ukraine.
The commander of the Caspian Flotilla got a second star as did the deputy chief of the corruption-plagued Main Directorate of Communications and the director of the MOD’s State Defense Order Support Department.
One new general-lieutenant, probably an aviator, could not be identified in a post.
Most interesting among one-star promotees is 51-year-old General-Major Vladimir Belyavskiy, first deputy commander of the Eastern MD’s 68th Army Corps on Sakhalin and the Kurils. He’s commanded naval infantry brigades in the Pacific and Black Sea Fleets. He received his Hero of Russian Federation in 2006 for action with the Caspian Flotilla’s 77th NIB during the Second Chechen War.
The commander of the 4th Kantemir Tank Division, 43-year-old Vladimir Zavadskiy, made general-major.
Ildar Akhmerov became a one-star admiral. He’s chief of staff for the Northern Fleet’s Kola Mixed Forces Flotilla. Akhmerov is a surface warrior with extensive experience in the Pacific Fleet and Caspian Flotilla.
Commanders of the 25th and 26th Air Defense Divisions became general-majors.
A deputy commander of the Caspian Flotilla was promoted to rear-admiral.
Air defense logistics officer Konstantin Miruk got his first star. His father was First Deputy CINC of Air Defense in the 1990s, and commander of the Leningrad-based 6th Air Defense Army in late Soviet times.
Other new one-stars include the probable deputy chief of staff for communications in the Southern MD, one fuel service officer, and the chief of Railroad Troops in the Western MD. The chief of the Pacific Fleet’s Technical Directorate (nuclear power) also made admiral.
Three new general-majors couldn’t be connected with a billet presently.
The Russia Day promotion list should appear in less than two months.
Russian military men born in the 1950s have just about disappeared from active service. A couple who remain are General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov and Ground Troops CINC Oleg Salyukov. But they aren’t likely to stay much longer.
The recent announcement that 65-year-old Army General Gerasimov has been elected president of the quasi-governmental Academy of Military Sciences makes his retirement seem imminent. Also 65, Salyukov’s circumstances can’t be much different.
Some thinking about changing faces and generations is in order.
The men of the ’60s — generals between the ages of 50 and 60 — are now firmly ensconced in most top Russian military posts except a couple of the most important ones — those Gerasimov and Salyukov still occupy.
Who will be the next General Staff Chief and Ground Troops CINC?
No special insight here. High-level military personnel decisions are made by Putin, his closest advisers, and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and are closely held until made public.
It is possible, however, to identify several generals who are conceivable candidates. One critical factor could be their perceived willingness to use military force against Putin’s opponents or at least keep the army on the sidelines in a political showdown.
Army General Aleksandr Dvornikov…Commander of the Southern MD. Soon to be 60, Dvornikov is the oldest of the likely candidates.
He’s served more than four years in the key Southern MD. He commanded Russian forces in Syria and has long experience as deputy commander of the Central and Eastern MDs.
Dvornikov commanded combat troops during the First and Second Chechen Wars.
He lacks General Staff experience and his age might be against him.
He could be a suitable Ground Troops CINC. That would free up the Southern MD for a young, fast-burner.
General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov…Deputy Defense Minister and Chief, Main Military-Political Directorate.
Turning 58 this year, Kartapolov also commanded troops in Syria.
He served briefly as Commander of the Western MD, Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Chief of the Main Operations Directorate (GOU), and deputy commander of the Southern MD.
His appointment to the resurrected GlavPUR seemed to sidetrack a career already deficient in some respects. Unlike the other contenders, he doesn’t have a Hero of the Russian Federation medal.
But Kartapolov can’t be entirely dismissed. Putin and Shoygu have reemphasized political indoctrination in recent years. He might fit the job of Ground Troops CINC, if not General Staff Chief.
General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev (zhu-rav-LYOV)…Commander of the Western MD.
Zhuravlev turns 56 in December.
Twice he commanded Russian forces in Syria.
He served very briefly as Commander of the Eastern MD.
Zhuravlev also had short stints as Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Southern MD, and Deputy Commander of the Central MD.
General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin…CINC of Aerospace Forces. Currently 54, Surovikin has an interesting array of experience.
In an unprecedented move, Putin appointed this career army officer to head Russia’s air and space forces in 2017.
He commanded Russian troops in Syria.
Surovikin commanded the Eastern MD for four years. He was Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Central MD and served almost two years as Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Chief of the GOU.
He commanded the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division during the Second Chechen War.
Controversies have dogged Surovikin throughout his career but haven’t stopped his advancement so far.
If Surovikin were to become General Staff Chief (or Ground Troops CINC), a new CINC of Aerospace Forces would be needed. It’s unclear whether the MOD would return to a career air forces officer.
No one outside the Kremlin can say who will get these jobs when they become available. But these are clearly top candidates.
A senior officer probably can’t become General Staff Chief without command in Syria, command in one or two MDs, and some time in the General Staff at a minimum. Combat experience in the Chechen wars might help.
For Ground Troops CINC, there could be other candidates. One is Airborne Troops Commander General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov. Nearly 59, Serdyukov had command in Syria and was Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Southern MD. He participated in Russia’s “dash to Pristina” as well as the Chechen wars.
Does it matter who’s Russia’s General Staff Chief?
In the case of Gerasimov, he’s served in a professional, low-key manner. He managed the armed forces smoothly in a period of intensive rearmament, increased training, and significant real-world operations. Although events make us feel otherwise, he’s likely been the source of dispassionate military advice. He surely influenced and advanced the careers of like-minded younger officers. And Gerasimov served Putin and Shoygu without appearing overly close to them.
Another man of the ’50s below the radar is Deputy Defense Minister, Chief of Rear Services Army General Dmitriy Bulgakov. He’ll be 67 (!!) this year. Logistics boss since 2008, he’ll have to be replaced soon.
Similarly, Deputy General Staff Chief, Chief of the GOU General-Colonel Sergey Rudskoy turns 61 this year. His replacement can’t be more than a year or two off.
It’s official. At least it will be on January 1, 2021.
On December 21, RF President Vladimir Putin signed out an ukaz “On the Northern Fleet” recognizing it as “an inter-service strategic territorial large formation [obyedineniye / обьединение]” carrying out the missions of a military district. Russia’s most important fleet will be guided by the Regulation on the Military District (itself confirmed by presidential ukaz in 2017).
This has been done “for purposes of effecting measures to defend the integrity and inviolability of Russian Federation territory,” according to the verbiage.
Break out your map of Russia’s Far North.
Recall the stage was set in June when Putin signed an ukaz “On the Military-Administrative Division of the Russian Federation.” That decree put the Northern Fleet in charge of the Republic of Komi, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk oblasts, and Nenets autonomous district (all previously part of the Western MD).
We have to wonder a couple things.
1) If or when Russia’s Pacific Fleet might also gain the status of a military district. With all the Kremlin’s attention to the northern latitudes, can the Pacific Fleet with Yakutia and Chukotka not merit the same regard? And this even without pointing to the rest of the fleet’s immense AOR.
2) What about Krasnoyarsk kray and Yamalo-Nenets autonomous district currently under the administration of the Central MD? Which Russian military strategic entity should control planning and operations for the Kara Sea and this part of the Arctic? It seems the Northern Fleet does, though not officially its AOR.
This military-administrative reorganization probably isn’t over.
It’s worth reminding that this represents some unwinding of the 2010 reform that reduced the number of MDs to four and put the fleets under the control of those army-dominated MDs.