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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making Sense of Manilov

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Last week, General Valery Manilov, the main military spokesman on the war in Chechnya, was sacked. There are thousands of generals in active military service in Russia, but most of them are obscure figures who avoid the public eye and are not known by anyone outside their immediate line of command.

Manilov was different — a general who liked to talk anytime and got lots of media coverage.

Because of Manilov's public stature, his ouster was interpreted as a consequence of some of his contradictory statements on the conduct of the war in Chechnya. In fact, the story is not that simple. Manilov acted as main military spokesman, but his position in the Russian military hierarchy was more prominent. Manilov was first deputy chief of General Staff since 1996. When the chief of General Staff — the No. 2 after the defense minister in the military hierarchy — was out of town on a business trip or on vacation, Manilov was technically in command of Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent.

The Russian military doctrine signed into law in 2000 by President Vladimir Putin was written under Manilov's auspices and personally edited by him. In short, Manilov was an important military-political decision-maker with many important connections in places of power outside the Defense Ministry.

After several disastrous and highly embarrassing public briefings in 1999 on the situation in the Balkans by General Anatoly Kvashnin, the chief of General Staff, the Foreign Ministry insisted that in the future Manilov represent the military in public. When Kvashnin and former Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev began a public dispute in 1999, Manilov sided with Sergeyev and was considered Sergeyev's main instrument of influence inside the General Staff.

Since his appointment last March as defense minister, former KGB general and Kremlin insider Sergei Ivanov has methodically ousted most of Sergeyev's associates. Ivanov has been instead installing a new team of generals in an attempt to do the job that was assigned to him by Putin: to turn around the Russian military and create a fighting force out of a rag-tag army.

Manilov was not ousted because of his public pronouncements on the war in Chechnya. In fact, the Kremlin greatly appreciates Manilov's efforts to whitewash over the conduct of Russian troops.

Manilov was ousted as a Sergeyev associate to give way to younger and more professional officers. Manilov is 62 — two years over the age of retirement for generals — and is not particularly popular within the professional military, who consider him more of a PR executive than a military commander. He was always more popular in the Foreign Ministry and in other civilian government departments than in the military per se.

Manilov's retirement from active service will make Ivanov more popular inside the professional military. But that does not mean Manilov may not soon reappear in the Kremlin, in the Security Council or elsewhere in government.

It is also possible that Manilov will go into business to translate into hard currency his wide-ranging connections in Russia's ruling elite. A month ago in Germany, in one of the best wineries of the Rhine Valley, Manilov for more than half an hour pestered the Germans with persistent questions about the specifics of modern high-tech Rhine wine production, while all the rest of the team (including Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller) just wanted to go down to the cellar to taste the wine. Maybe Manilov is planning to take an executive position in the beverages industry?

Manilov's ouster from the General Staff may create the impression that Kvashnin's standing has been enhanced. But in the tangled world of Russia's bureaucracy, Defense Ministry observers are expecting Kvashnin's speedy ouster to follow.

Last April, Kvashnin attempted to sack General Leonid Ivashov and cleanse Ivashov's department of international military cooperation from the General Staff without consulting Ivanov.

Kvashnin lost the fight with Ivanov, and Ivashov's department was reinstated. Since then, Kvashnin has been noticed to have increased contacts with Russia's business leaders, apparently looking for a retirement position.

Ivanov has consolidated his control of the Defense Ministry. But his reforms have up to now been, in essence, personnel changes. Generals replace other generals, but the system that leads the Russian armed forces to decay and misery is still in place.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent Moscow-based defense analyst.