Biggest Government Losers

The foreign media were all worked up over the military parade on Red Square during the Victory Day celebrations. Some commentators even interpreted it as a sign that the Kremlin is intent on attaining military parity with the West. But following the personnel changes in President Dmitry Medvedev’s and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s administrations, we can safely conclude that the revival of the armed forces is not one of the country’s priorities.
The experts are still debating whether Medvedev’s chief of staff, Sergei Naryshkin, will be more influential than Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin. Or will Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin lose his influence with Putin? What is the significance of Nikolai Patrushev’s appointment as head of the  Security Council? Even if it is still too early to identify the winners in these backroom power struggles, it is clear who have become the losers.
Without question, the main loser in the shuffle is Sergei Ivanov, who not long ago was considered a top candidate to be named Putin’s successor as president. Now he has been downgraded from first deputy prime minister to deputy prime minister.
In recent days, Ivanov’s stature dropped one more notch when he wasn’t given a spot in the new Security Council. If you believe the official press service, Ivanov will coordinate state policy toward defense manufacturing companies and toward transportation and communications companies. He will also manage state policy for the procurement and development of atomic and space-based missile production and for the defense of the nation’s borders.
If Russia were really planning a mass rearmament program, however, there is no doubt that the person responsible for it would be a member of the Security Council, which has become the modern equivalent of the Soviet Politburo. Back when there really was an arms race with the West, it would have been impossible to imagine the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party without the man who answered for armaments.
The other person who was downgraded in the shake-up was Putin’s confidante and former head of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Cherkesov. His fall from grace began in early October, when the Federal Security Service arrested his first deputy, senior Federal Drug Control Service officer Alexander Bulbov. Cherkesov dug his own grave when he wrote a bold article in Kommersant several days after Bulbov’s arrest claiming that internecine feuding over power and influence between security services was a threat to national stability. He also wrote that much of the intelligence community had sold out to commercial interests. As a result, Cherkesov found himself appointed director of the Federal Agency for the Procurement of Military and Special Equipment. This agency emerged only a few months ago as a desperate attempt to introduce at least a modicum of order to the procurement of weapons.
Over the past few years, Sergei Ivanov has complained about the greed of the top military brass who have demanded an increase in funding while delivering a diminishing number of tanks, aircraft and missiles to the state. But the roots of the crisis are much deeper than the desire of former Soviet factory directors to pocket money on the side. A complete overhaul of the defense industry is required. Instead, leaders took a classic bureaucratic approach by creating yet another agency to oversee the military industrial complex.
In reality, Russia’s military industrial complex has sunk to such lows that anyone attempting to reform or revitalize it is doomed to give up in frustration. The defense sector has become the place where the government sends its outcasts as a form of punishment. This indicates that Putin and Medvedev clearly understand that arms production is in a state of collapse. The Navy’s commander in chief, Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, recently declared that tests of the new Bulava nuclear missile would continue into 2009. The admiral said the Navy would accept delivery of the missile only once it had “become functional.” Don’t forget that Ivanov had earlier affirmed that the Bulava would be deployed by the end of 2007. And a week ago, the chief of the Army’s air defense forces, General Nikolai Frolov, acknowledged that even after modernization, the country’s anti-missile defense system would be unable to withstand an air attack by a Western power. And I think I already know whom to blame for those failures.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.