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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Case of General Distress

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It appears that a powerful information war has been unleashed against Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. Last week, newspapers quoted not only retired General Leonid Ivashov, but also unidentified high-ranking sources in the Kremlin and Defense Ministry as saying that Serdyukov would soon be fired. The articles also mentioned candidates from the military ranks who are supposedly being considered to replace the "incompetent" civilian defense minister. The president's press secretary refuted the reports of Serdyukov's imminent dismissal.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov was appointed chief commander of Russia's elite airborne troops. Unidentified high-ranking sources began interpreting it as a bureaucratic defeat for Serdyukov -- a "revenge of the generals," if you will. The sources claimed that Shamanov had thwarted an attempt to convert the airborne forces from a divisional to a brigade-based structure and had even managed to create new airborne assault units instead of cutting troop numbers as required by Serdyukov's reform plan. These allegations were not true.

Serdyukov has certainly butted heads with a significant number of generals. The simplest explanation for all the bad feelings is that the reforms will deal a serious blow to the vested interests of the privileged class of generals. More than 200 officers wearing multiple stars on their epaulets are slated for dismissal. The plan to drastically reduce the number of military units -- from 1,890 to 172 in the ground forces alone -- would not only reduce the potential number of subordinates from whom bribes could be extorted, but would also greatly limit the opportunity for officers to earn higher rank. The fewer the number of units, the fewer the number of commanders required. By privatizing enterprises that once belonged to the military, such as farms and repair facilities, the Defense Ministry will depriving generals of lucrative cash cows.

In my opinion, however, there is a deeper reason behind the generals' antipathy toward Serdyukov's reforms. The problem is that the proposed reforms destroy the core of the military culture. The success of the armed forces both in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union was based not only on the bravery and ruggedness of the soldiers and the talent of their commanders.

It was also based on the ability of Russians and Soviets to provide their country's leaders with as many soldiers as they wanted. For 300 years, the country's regular army has been built upon the premise of mass mobilization.

Yet current plans call for eliminating the units consisting of officers with no soldiers. The main function of these units was to mobilize reserves on short notice if a war broke out. The result is that the high-ranking officers commanding those "paper divisions" are the very ones facing dismissal.

General Staff chief Nikolai Makarov had these officers in mind when he criticized in December the way the Georgia war had been handled. He said that staff commanders of these shell divisions and regiments were unfit to lead a military campaign. When those commanders were given people and equipment during the Georgia war, they simply became disoriented and some even refused to carry out orders, Makarov said. It is no coincidence that 50 military commanders were found unfit for duty in a recent performance review and will be fired.

But the main reason that the generals are resisting Serdyukov's reforms is that their level of expertise is extremely limited and outdated. They can call up reserves, organize mass mobilization and send hundreds of thousands of soldiers into war knowing that most of the soldiers will die in the first battle. But this primitive military expertise does not require the use of highly accurate weapons or advanced reconnaissance, the very tools needed to fight a 21st-century war.

By implementing reforms, Serdyukov has jolted the inert generals from the hibernation that they have been stuck in for the past 60 years. Serdyukov has encountered stiff resistance from the top brass, and it is unclear exactly how this standoff will end.

Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.