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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Makes Sweeping Cabinet Changes

Defense Goes to Ivanov, Interior to Gryzlov

By Simon Saradzhyan
Staff Writer

President Vladimir Putin ordered a dramatic reshuffle of his Cabinet on Wednesday, installing his close allies as defense and interior ministers and ousting the controversial nuclear power minister.

Putin chose to personally announce the appointment of his closest adviser, Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov, to the Defense Ministry post, reassigning Marshal Igor Sergeyev to become a presidential aide on "global stability."

Putin removed Colonel General Vladimir Rushailo from the Interior Ministry post and installed another civilian, Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov, as Russia's top policeman. He also named a new head of the tax police.

In remarks televised Wednesday afternoon, Putin said the appointment of Ivanov and the others should become a "step toward demilitarization of public life in Russia."

Ivanov, who recently retired from active service in foreign intelligence with the rank of lieutenant general, is the second civilian in post-Soviet Russia to head the Defense Ministry.

As his deputy he got Lyubov Kudelina, a deputy finance minister and the first woman in the history of Russia to occupy such a high military post. She has spent the past few years in the Finance Ministry commanding the allocation of funds for the so-called power agencies.

Gryzlov will have a police veteran and former chief of staff of the Interior Ministry, Vladimir Vasilyev, serving as his first deputy, Putin said. Experts predict the appointment of Gryzlov, who on the Kremlin's orders has readily reversed his stance on issues, will lead to a weakening of the Interior Ministry in its rivalry with the Federal Security Service, which Putin used to head.

As in the case of Sergeyev, Putin immediately gave the outgoing interior minister a new job. Rushailo will fill Ivanov's seat as secretary of the Security Council in what the president said he hopes will boost efforts to tackle the hotbeds of tensions in the North Caucasus.

The appointment of Rushailo signals an inevitable weakening of the Security Council, which Ivanov had managed to turn into the second most powerful body after Putin's own administration, experts said. "The Security Council will shrink to the advisory structure that it was before Ivanov," said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Two deputy secretaries on the council, both Ivanov allies, also were given new jobs by Putin. Alexander Moskovsky was appointed deputy defense minister in charge of armaments and procurement, and Mikhail Fradkov was chosen to become the new tax police chief instead of Colonel General Vyacheslav Soltaganov.

Like Rushailo, Soltaganov was immediately re-assigned to the Security Council to serve as one of its deputy secretaries.

Yevgeny Adamov was the only one of the ministers to be sent into oblivion. Putin installed the head of the Kurchatov Institute, Alexander Rumyantsev, as Russia's new nuclear power minister, but gave no post to Adamov, who has been accused of corruption.

Putin, however, didn't mention these allegations, but instead praised Adamov and also Sergeyev and Rushailo for their work. Moreover, the president decorated the outgoing defense minister with a "Service to the Fatherland" award in what was seen as a "civilized way of bidding farewell" to top bureaucrats, who often learned of their dismissals from the television news under Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin.

Putin installed his closest ally as defense minister in an effort to overwhelm silent opposition from the top brass to his plans to radically restructure Russia's depressed war machine into a slim but efficient fighting force.

Unlike his predecessor Sergeyev, who hails from the Strategic Missile Force, Ivanov is not linked to any of the existing military clans. Thus he will enforce those reforms that he finds appropriate for improving Russia's defense capabilities as a whole and not just those that help one element of the armed forces as his predecessors did, according to independent military expert Vitaly Shlykov.

This independence is more important for the future of the national armed forces than the fact that Ivanov is a civilian like his counterparts in Western governments, said both Shlykov and Ruslan Pukhov of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

Also, in his capacity as secretary of the Security Council, Ivanov has spent the past year and a half analyzing how the armed forces should be restructured and cut from 1.2 million servicemen to 850,000 servicemen and thus is qualified to run the Defense Ministry, Shlykov and Pukhov said.

There was great speculation earlier this year that Putin would replace Sergeyev with Ivanov, but most of the other appointments Putin made Wednesday came as a surprise. Putin and Ivanov, two veterans of the secret services, even managed to keep the political elite in the dark about most of the reshuffles they have been planning for several months, according to Pukhov.

For instance, Putin on Wednesday replaced ground forces chief Yury Bukreyev with the commander of the Siberian military district, Nikolai Kormiltsev.

But as recently as two weeks ago, Sergeyev showed he was unaware of Kormiltsev's pending promotion when he publicly chastised him for failing to clear a trip to Moscow from his Siberian command post, Pukhov said. Kormiltsev was apparently summoned to Moscow to discuss the appointment with Putin's aides.

Officials at the Interior Ministry also said the appointment of Gryzlov came as a complete surprise to them.

Hours after his appointment, Ivanov said on RTR television that he will focus on cutting back logistical units while keeping most of the combat units intact.

Ivanov said one of his immediate priorities will be to boost funding for combat training and pinned his hopes on Kudelina as "one of the best financiers" who can ensure tight control over expenditures. The Defense Ministry's previous finance chief, Colo-nel General Boris Oleinik, has been charged with embezzlement.

The new defense minister said the chief of the General Staff Anatoly Kvashin will remain subordinate to him. This shows that Ivanov has dropped an earlier Security Council plan for a division of powers between the Defense Ministry and General Staff, according to Shlykov.

Ivanov said among other things he will focus on development of the Military Space Force, which branched out from the Strategic Missile Force earlier this year. This space force, he said, should provide reliable satellite communications on a tactical level, which the military has badly lacked during operations in Chechnya. Putin appointed Colonel General Anatoly Perminov from the missile force to run the space force, which experts said could play a vital role in future warfare.

Putin also appointed commander of the Moscow military district Igor Puzanov state secretary of the Defense Ministry. Puzanov commanded a regiment during the Afghan war and has spent his entire career commanding units, in contrast to many generals in the Defense Ministry's central staff, whom Putin blasted a few months ago for lacking combat experience.

Puzanov met with Putin for three hours behind closed doors in Yaroslavl last December to discuss reforming the ground forces. Ivanov and Gryzlov chose not to discuss on Wednesday whether they will replace any of their agencies' top officials with their own people, as newly appointed ministers traditionally have done. According to one Defense Ministry officer, however, his colleagues expect some of Sergeyev's allies to leave. One of the most outspoken generals — first deputy chief of General Staff Valery Manilov — may also go, although his boss, Kvashnin, is likely to stay, the officer said.