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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Sends a General to Gref

The man in charge of drafting young men into the army will take up a key post at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, military officials said Thursday.

Vladislav Putilin, the head of General Staff's mobilization department, is to oversee top secret plans to keep the country permanently prepared for war, the Defense Ministry said. The plans, among other things, envision civil industries being able to quickly switch over to military production.

"This program has received little attention over the past 10 years," Defense Ministry spokesman Nikolai Deryabin said, according to Strana.ru. "But _ President [Vladimir Putin] has decided that in planning the economy's development, serious consideration should be given to the country's security, the improvement of factories capable of quickly switching to the production of military equipment."

The Defense Ministry announced Thursday morning that Putilin had been appointed a deputy economic development and trade minister. The ministry's head, German Gref, denied the appointment. The Defense Ministry later insisted that Putilin would join the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, but in an as-yet undecided post.

The transfer was suggested by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Strana.ru reported.

The war-readiness plans, a brainchild of Josef Stalin, were once a key part of the Soviet economy and Soviet military doctrine. While details of the plans have always been considered as top secret, the main thrust was to prepare industries for short-term conversion into military plants. That meant farm equipment and car makers might need to be able to roll out tanks and warplanes, while a tobacco factory might need to make bullets.

Although never verified, a popular urban legend in Soviet times had it that factories produced long macaroni and never spaghetti because the equipment needed for the macaroni was suitable for the production of gunpowder.

All heavy industry flagships, including metals and machinery, participated in the program. Many of their plants still operate -- even in private hands -- and the old rules and instructions regarding a quick mobilization in case of war are at least formally still in place.

In reality, however, the program has gaping holes because of the government's failure to maintain funding and the plants' inability to just walk way from their assigned roles, said Yury Korgunyuk, an analyst with the Indem think tank.

"[Under Putilin] the old and messy mobilization plan is likely to be restructured into a better organized system of state arms procurement," Korgunyuk said.

Putilin was probably appointed to deal with the plans as an old hand who has dealt with similar problems in the Defense Ministry, said Yevgeny Gavrilenkov, the chief economist at Troika Dialog.

He no doubt knows exactly what industrial capacity remains and what is needed, he said.

"It is too early to say what is going to happen once the old problems are resolved," he said. "It will take time, and then a political decision will need to be made on what the current needs are and where the threat is coming from. It is not something that can be done quickly."

Gavrilenkov said the non-native presence of the mobilization plans has not affected the Russian economy, but it certainly has been a major headache for each of the enterprises involved, including Norilsk Nickel.

"So it's time to do something about it," he said.

Igor Yurgens, the vice president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said businessmen have complained that some of the facilities that are part of mobilization plans are standing unused and thus cannot contribute to profits.

Yurgens, however, warned that bringing in a military expert with access to top secret information could deliver mixed results, Strana.ru reported.

Colonel-General Putilin was born in 1947. A career officer, he started his service in the Strategic Rocket Forces in 1969 and was appointed the head of its mobilization department in 1992. He was named the head of the General Staff's mobilization department in 1997.

Lieutenant-General Vasily Smirnov was appointed the acting head of the mobilization department on Thursday, the Defense Ministry said.