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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Paper: Defense Minister Faces Ax in Army Shuffle

A major reshuffle is looming at the Defense Ministry that will likely cost Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov his job, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Friday.

Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, a supplement to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, carried front- and back-page analyses declaring that Ivanov, Russia's first civilian defense minister, "does not fully justify his job" and could be sent back to head the president's consultative Security Council or appointed to an as-yet unformed organization to oversee the country's power structures.

Analysts said the reports in the Boris Berezovsky-owned newspaper -- which is known for its in-depth coverage of the army -- could be a trial balloon by the Kremlin to gauge public and military sentiment.

A year ago this month, Ivanov was named defense minister and tasked with the reform of the 1.2 million-strong army. His appointment ended a spat between former Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and the chief of the General Staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, who had locked horns over the status of the Strategic Missile Force.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, however, said in its front-page analysis that Ivanov had failed to digest the reams of information thrown at him about the state of the army and that his political line had been "contradictory and largely ineffective." As an example, the newspaper cited Ivanov's decisions to shut down military bases in Cuba and Vietnam while largely turning a blind eye to the deployment of U.S. troops in Central Asia.

The newspaper said much-publicized power cuts to army units in the Far East this year were a direct result of Ivanov's problems in familiarizing himself with the military.

"According to experts, the situation in the armed forces is hardly favorable but, most important, there is no tendency toward improvement," the newspaper said.

The analysis concluded that a solution would be to put a general back at the helm and that Kvashnin was the "sole candidate."

The back-page analysis, however, stated that Kvashnin was far from ideal for the job, saying he had handed the real decision-making powers to the General Staff in 1999 and, as such, was himself responsible for the army's sad state.

The newspaper alleged that Kvashnin has made contradictory decisions that have cost the army some 6 billion rubles ($207 million).

Kvashnin's first deputy, Yury Baluyevsky, refused to comment on the report Friday. Other Defense Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment.

Nikita Tyukov, an expert with the Center for Political Information, said Ivanov was like a fish out of water at the ministry.

"Ivanov is alien to the army, which is an inert structure, and it is difficult for him to overcome the resistance of a dozen stubborn generals at the General Staff," he said.

He said the newspaper reports could be a sign that President Vladimir Putin is testing the waters in a bid to save Ivanov's political career. "If he burns out on this reform, it will be difficult to rescue him," Tyukov said.