Armed Forces Chief Shown the Door

APMedvedev shaking hands with Nikolai Makarov, the new chief of the General Staff, as Serdyukov looks on.
President Dmitry Medvedev fired General Staff chief Yury Baluyevsky on Tuesday in a much-anticipated move after regular reports of disagreements with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov over the direction and implementation of military reforms.

Medvedev met in the Kremlin with Serdyukov, Baluyevsky and Ground Forces General Nikolai Makarov, whose appointment as Baluyevsky's replacement was announced immediately.

The commander in chief thanked the outgoing chief of staff for his service and announced that the four-star general was being transferred to a job as deputy secretary of the Security Council.

"Much has been accomplished and this experience will be needed at this new post," the president told the trio in televised comments.

Medvedev then made a point of explaining that the choice of Makarov, the Defense Ministry's chief of procurement, had come at Serdyukov's behest.

"I received a proposal from the defense minister to appoint his new first deputy as head of the General Staff," Medvedev said. "I've studied these proposals and I support them."

It was Serdyukov who plucked Makarov from his post as commander of the Siberian Military District and made him deputy defense minister in charge of procurement not long after he himself was appointed February 2007.

Federal legislators were quick to hail the new appointee.

State Duma's Defense Committee Chairman Viktor Zavarzin described Makarov as a "highly educated general who has contributed significantly to the development of the armed forces," Interfax reported.

Zavarzin's deputy, Mikhail Babich, said he is aware of Makarov's "proposals for the modernization of the armed forces" and wished him luck in implementing the reforms. He did not refer to any specific reforms.

Alexander Drobyshevsky, head of the Defense Ministry's press service, declined to comment on the changes when reached by phone on Tuesday. Calls to Serdyukov spokesman Ilshat Baichurin went unanswered.

Serdyukov has been at loggerheads with Baluyevsky for months, and the general had offered his resignation on at least two occasions.

The last time came in March, when Defense Ministry officials told the press that Baluyevsky had submitted his resignation to-then President Vladimir Putin, not long after Putin had extended his term of service until 2011.

A number of other senior generals also tendered their resignations following the suicide of Viktor Vlasov, the head of the Defense Ministry department responsible for allocating billions of dollars worth of apartments and rent subsidies, after Vlasov had been chastised by Serdyukov, according to reports in the national press citing ministry sources.

Baluyevsky had served as chief of the General Staff and first deputy defense minister since 2004. Serdyukov had been working as the government's top tax official before being tapped for the defense post, and tensions did not take long to develop between the two.

One source of friction was the appointment of a number of Serdyukov's proteges from civilian branches of the government to implement reforms. The reforms were largely aimed at stripping the armed forces of noncore functions and assets, such as unused properties and the military press corps, but also included more controversial measures, including the shift of the Naval Command from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

Baluyevsky objected to the proposed move, saying it would cost billions of rubles and make coordination with commands of other elements of the armed forces more difficult.

Serdyukov's decision to establish a special directorate for signaling, communications encryption and safeguarding classified information also riled Baluyevsky, 60, who considered it a needless duplication of an already existing General Staff directorate, said Alexander Tsyganok, head of the Center for Military Prognosis.

Baluyevsky also opposed the scale of cuts proposed by Serdyukov in the number of officers in the 1 million-strong military by hiring civilians to work as journalists, doctors, judges and other professions within the military.

Being close to Serdyukov, Makarov, 58, might be expected to adhere more closely to the minister's line. But both Tsyganok and Alexander Khramchikhin, senior analyst with the Institute for Political and Military Analysis, said overlapping responsibilities and authority between the Defense Ministry and the General Staff would most likely continue to generate friction.

"In a classical scheme, the General Staff should be a working body within the Defense Ministry, but in our case it is not. It is too independent," Khramchikhin said. "Therefore this problem could be recurrent because it is rooted in the organization rather than personalities."

Baluyevsky was made chief of the General Staff in 2004 after the firing of his predecessor, Anatoly Kvashnin, who had clashed with Sergei Ivanov, then the defense minister, over authority for making military policy.

Unlike Baluyevsky, who has been a staff officer for most of his career, Makarov has climbed the rungs of the military hierarchy through a string of field commands since graduating from the Moscow Interbranch Military Command Academy in 1971. That could be a disadvantage, as he lacks some of the relevant staff work experience, but his biggest challenge will come from issues beyond his authority, such as the lack of an adequate military doctrine, Tsyganok said Tuesday.

Khramchikhin agreed.

"We have so many challenges in the armed forces, but the resolution of the biggest does not depend on the chief of the General Staff, but on the political leadership, which needs to decide what kind of armed forces it wants and what they should focus on," Khramchikhin said.