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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Sacks 6 of Sergeyev's Generals

President Vladimir Putin has fired six of Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev's senior generals, seriously undermining Sergeyev in his efforts to preserve the most powerful element of Russia's strategic nuclear triad.

Sergeyev strongly opposes proposals by General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the General Staff, to downsize and downgrade the Strategic Missile Force, which is the only element of Russia's depressed armed forces that still remains on par with its U.S. counterpart.

Putin signed a decree unseating the six senior commanders, including Colonel General Anatoly Sitnov, chief of procurement and armament, a presidential spokeswoman said Monday.

Putin also fired chief of the Defense Ministry's radiation, chemical and biological defense, Colonel General Stanislav Petrov; head of the army's air defense force, Colonel General Boris Dukhov; chief of the Defense Ministry's main rocket and artillery directorate, Colonel General Nikolai Karaulov; chief of the Defense Ministry's central directorate of material resources and foreign economic relations, Lieutenant General Alexander Zobnin; and chief of the ministry's press service, General Anatoly Shatalov. The Kremlin spokeswoman, speaking by telephone, would not say when Putin penned the decree.

All of the fired generals, except for Shatalov, are either prot?g?s or allies of Sitnov, who also opposes Kvashnin's proposals.

The removal of Sitnov leaves Marshal Sergeyev in a much weaker position ahead of the Aug. 11 meeting of Putin's Security Council, which is to decide whether to dramatically cut the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles operated by the Strategic Missile Force, or RVSN, said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Such cuts are being advocated by Kvashnin, who told a closed-door meeting of the Defense Ministry's top brass earlier in July that he believes that 400 out of RVSN's some 780 land-based ICBMs should be decommissioned.

Kvashnin insisted that downsizing RVSN would spare more cash to reinforce the struggling conventional forces, which must be able to fight two local conflicts simultaneously.

Under his proposal, RVSN would be downgraded from an independent branch of service to an arm by 2003, but would continue to report directly to the defense minister.

Both Makiyenko and other independent experts said they believe Kvashnin is pushing ahead with his plan merely to weaken Sergeyev, who used to command RVSN, even though any drastic cuts in this force will leave Russia unable to maintain even the remnants of strategic nuclear parity with the United States.

And maintaining this parity is one of the few, if not only, reasons that the West still treats Russia as an equal.

Putin has so far dropped no hints on whether he will support Kvashnin's plans at the pending Security Council meeting. Instead, the president chose to blast both Sergeyev and Kvashnin for publicizing their rift.

Both Kvashnin and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov could have played a role in the removal of Sitnov and his team, Makiyenko said. Sitnov and Klebanov, who oversees arms production in Russia, have repeatedly clashed over their vision of defense industry reforms.

The departure of Sitnov, who was installed in his post by then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev in 1994, leaves the Defense Ministry with no top-notch professionals capable of outlining and pursing a long-term strategy of arms procurement and armament, Makiyenko said.

One of Sitnov's achievements was providing financing for the Russian defense electronics industry's efforts to catch up with the West, Makiyenko said. Sitnov also used his office's meager financial resources to fund development of promising weaponry systems rather than massive procurement of arms designed back in Soviet times. This strategy will enable the armed forces to procure up-to-date systems if the national economy ever recovers to allow for higher defense expenditures, analysts said.

It remains unclear who will replace Sitnov. One candidate is chief of the Defense Ministry's main armor directorate, Colonel General Sergei Mayev.

All senior commanders, including Sergeyev and Kvashnin, submitted their resignations in May along with federal ministers when Putin was inaugurated.

Most of the generals have been reinstalled in their posts, but not Sitnov and his team.

Two of the fired generals f Dukhov and Petrov f are now to retire because they have surpassed the mandatory retirement age for senior commanders of 60. As for the rest, they will remain in active military service and may assume other posts if nominated by Sergeyev, the Kremlin spokeswoman said.