It took a couple of weeks for the story to leak out, but it did, largely thanks to Russian bloggers.
Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov reportedly insulted Colonel Andrey Krasov, chief of the VDV’s Ryazan Higher Command School (now officially a filial of the Combined Arms Academy). Monday’s Kommersant summed it up well. Serdyukov flew to Ryazan on 30 September and visited the school’s Seltsy training center. Getting off his helicopter, he reportedly launched into an obscene and humiliating public tirade against Krasov (who also happens to be a Hero of the Russian Federation) over the small wooden Church of the Prophet Elijah located on the grounds.
Serdyukov ordered the church dismantled, and Colonel Krasov dismissed. The latter tried to explain that the church was built with money from sponsors, and that it will be used for training chaplains starting next year. But, according to a retired VDV general’s account, Serdyukov wouldn’t have any of it, saying or telling his minions:
“Don’t give money to this VDV center. We generally need to cut this school back. Remove this impudent colonel.”
So Serdyukov comes off badly, and Colonel Krasov sounds as mild as a choir boy. Who knows if we’ll ever know exactly how it happened.
In any case, the VDV was apparently already seething about the bureaucratic downgrading of its alma mater, and the Union of Russian Airborne Troops has asked President Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill to intercede on behalf of Colonel Krasov. The Union’s chairman, former VDV Commander and failed putschist, Vladimir Achalov wrote the appeal:
“Anatoliy Serdyukov insulted Colonel Andrey Krasov with unprintable language, degrading his professional and personal worth in front of his subordinates. The religious senses of the airborne were also insulted for building the church with their own resources. And this is the fourth military church Anatoliy Serdyukov has ordered dismantled.”
“The insult to Hero of Russia Andrey Krasov is an insult to all defenders of our Motherland. We reserve the right to act in defense of the honor and dignity of servicemen.”
There’s been no official reaction to all this from the Defense Ministry, but it’s become quite a storm. Most major print and Internet media have covered it.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov met with Airborne Union representatives on Monday to smooth the whole thing over, according to Kommersant.
A Ryazan church official gave the paper the church’s view that the military has no relationship to the Church of the Prophet Elijah, and said Patriarch Kirill has already met with Medvedev on this, and decided the church won’t come down.
This situation is reminiscent of Serdyukov’s first foray as Defense Minister inspecting the St. Petersburg Nakhimov School in March 2007. Appalled by its condition, he sacked its chief — respected former submariner Aleksandr Bukin — on the spot, and was criticized later for mistreating a decorated admiral whose duty post suffered from a chronic lack of resources. But Serdyukov seemed to learn from the PR, both good and bad, and we haven’t seen anything similar in public since.
At Seltsy, maybe Serdyukov just lost his self-control. Maybe there’s sub-text or details here we don’t know. The whole thing could be overblown to make Serdyukov look bad. But who’d benefit from that? The VDV? The Defense Minister’s really handled that branch of service with kid gloves in the process of his reforms. Maybe, at its root, it’s a traditional civil-military dust-up — maybe this civilian Defense Minister and uniformed military men don’t understand or respect each other very much.