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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov Can Make the Difference

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The dust is still settling after President Vladimir Putin's unexpected government reshuffling Wednesday, but much of the speculation it engendered has centered on the appointment of former Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov as the new defense minister.

Putin and his supporters have played up Ivanov's appointment as a breakthrough because he is, technically at least, a civilian and, by all appearances, favors streamlining Russia's ineffective military. When the Security Council adopted its preliminary military reform plan last November, Ivanov expressed support for "broad" reform and described the current military as "an excessive burden for our economy."

Ivanov clearly has Putin's ear and he was able to transform the Security Council into a major Kremlin policy-setter by building on that personal confidence. Under Ivanov, the council was the forum for deciding questions ranging from Chechnya to the media to educational policy.

Obviously, the new defense minister will need all the political clout he can muster to get military reform going and keep it on track. Moreover, Ivanov's conservative-patriotic credentials may help stifle the inevitable cries that any change to the military is an assault upon Mother Russia. No doubt, these qualities enabled Ivanov — with support from Putin — to engineer the Security Council's unanimous endorsement for the reforms.

The other big change in the Defense Ministry — the startling appointment of former Deputy Finance Minister Lyubov Kudelina as deputy defense minister — also bodes well for reform. It is a political axiom that the only genuine control is control of the purse strings, so Kudelina's expertise (she oversaw the budgets of the power agencies while at the Finance Ministry) would seem to be the perfect compliment to Ivanov's political muscle.

Ivanov's devotion to Putin is the quality that most recommended him for this appointment. He is as thoroughgoing a loyalist as there is. However, with fundamental reforms at stake, is that really a bad thing?

Putin's personal popularity — although there are some indications that it may be slipping — remains enormously high. If anything, he has been criticized — in this space not least — for lacking vision and definite strategy. The nation seems to be expecting leadership from him rather than conciliation.

Ministerial loyalty to the president should not necessarily frighten us, and it wouldn't if only we had a less ambiguous and more easily endorsable understanding of what exactly Putin himself stands for. In the case of the Defense Ministry, if Putin really stands for the November reform plan then we can only hope that Ivanov is loyal to it as well.