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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov Gets His Kremlin Mission

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Vladimir Putin invited his new defense minister and old confidant Sergei Ivanov to the Kremlin on Thursday to discuss military reforms, which are now expected to pick up speed.

The president met with Ivanov and Chief of General Staff Anatoly Kvashnin behind closed doors to "discuss the priorities and a timetable for carrying out military reforms," the Kremlin press service said.

Ivanov on Thursday received the most important paraphernalia of a defense minister — the nuclear suitcase — from his predecessor Igor Sergeyev. Two other nuclear suitcases are held by the president and chief of General Staff.

Putin transferred Ivanov to the Defense Ministry from the Security Council on Wednesday as part of a sweeping reshuffle of the so-called power agencies.

Both 48, they are old friends, dating back to the days when they served in the foreign intelligence service of the KGB. In more recent years, as Putin's power rose, he promoted Ivanov along with him.

Ivanov, who in recent months has personally led the drafting of a still-evolving military reform plan, is well armed to take on the job of downsizing and restructuring the armed forces.

The new defense minister "is the only official, with the exception of Vladimir Putin, whose political weight allows him to overcome resistance during the pending reductions of personnel," Kommersant said Thursday.

Ivanov's plan provides for the armed forces to be cut down from 1.2 million servicemen to 850,000. The plan, which Putin has yet to officially endorse, also calls for reforming the armed forces to leave three branches — army, navy and air force, with the latter to engulf the strategic missile force.

Ivanov has the advantage of being outside the rival clans of military commanders that have hindered reforms in the past by waging under-the-carpet wars against each other.

One of these clans has been led by Sergeyev, who fought against another group led by Kvashnin over whether to develop conventional forces at the expense of the strategic nuclear triad, whose land-based component Sergeyev put above all.

And, though Kvashnin appeared to have defeated Sergeyev, it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the chief of staff, who reportedly had lobbied to have Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov replace Sergeyev.

Ivanov, who hours after his appointment vowed to strengthen the chain of command in the military and said the chief of staff will remain subordinate to the defense minister, may have little patience for Kvashnin, who publicly quarreled with his then-superior Sergeyev.

"Everybody in the armed forces will be under one command," Ivanov said on television.

Kvashnin has been pushing for a division of powers between the Defense Ministry and General Staff to concentrate both strategic planning and command of the troops in his hands.

At one point, Ivanov and his aides at the Security Council seriously looked into this option when drafting the military reforms for 2001-2010, but it remained unclear whether the new defense minister would now want to cut into his own powers by implementing such a division.

Ivanov is expected to replace some of Sergeyev's people in the ministry, and the three new deputy defense ministers that were appointed by Putin on Wednesday also may reshuffle those at the top of their directorates.

One of these three deputies is former Deputy Finance Minister Lyubov Kudelina, who became the first woman to occupy such a high defense post in Russia. Her appointment, described as "sensational," was covered almost as extensively in the Russian press as Ivanov's.

Kudelina, who will head the Defense Ministry's finance directorate, was given the task of ensuring tight control over expenditures and preventing corruption.

Ivanov only became involved in military affairs after taking over the Security Council a year and a half ago.

He earned his bachelor's degree in the translation department of Leningrad State University in 1975, but chose to join the KGB rather than pursue the career of an interpreter.

He subsequently went through two KGB academies in Minsk and Moscow, in 1976 and 1981, while climbing the ladder in the KGB's First Main Directorate, which also listed the future president among its ranks.

Ivanov and Putin, who became friends while serving in the foreign intelligence directorate, both served abroad and worked in the directorate's central staff.

After the breakup of the KGB in the early 1990s, Ivanov continued his career in the Federal Security Service. He rose to head of the FSB analysis and planning department and then was promoted by then-FSB chief Putin to serve as deputy head of the FSB in 1998.

After Putin became prime minister in August 1999, he plucked Ivanov out of the FSB and lobbied then-President Boris Yeltsin to appoint his friend secretary of the Security Council. Ivanov gradually expanded the influence of this advisory body until it came to participate in virtually all spheres of Kremlin policy. His power has long been seen as second only to the president's.