Leadership: The Soviets Win One In Russia


November 30, 2012: President Vladimir Putin recently replaced his handpicked (in 2007) defense minister with another civilian who was known to be opposed to the kinds of reforms the military has been undergoing for the last decade. To make the message unmistakably clear, Putin made the new guy an army general. This was mostly for show because his predecessor was the first civilian to be made defense minister and that one was not made a general.

For a decade Putin has wanted the Russian armed forces to become less corrupt, more efficient, and more like their counterparts in the West. This was resisted by many officers. The opposition sprang from a number of sources. Officers who were corrupt did not want to be prosecuted. Many officers thought that the military doctrine of the defunct (since 1991) Soviet Union still had value and should not be tossed out in favor of what the United States and other NATO nations were doing. Some officers believe turning the Russian military into a Western style force will take a lot longer than reformers had promised. “Pragmatists” in the defense ministry insisted that rooting out the corruption in the defense industries would take a lot longer than demanded. This corruption, it was pointed out, existed during the time of the czars and even the communists were not able to eliminate it.

Putin had apparently gotten tired of all the unrest and bad attitudes among officers and executives at defense industries as they fought the reformers. Putin also realized that the Russian armed forces were an ineffective mess even before the Soviet Union collapsed. At that time, Putin was an officer in the KGB and since 1991, has heard from plenty of other current or former KGB officers about how corrupt and ineffective the Soviet era military was. Putin has also protected himself, and Russia, by concentrating a lot of time and money on the strategic weapons forces (long range missiles equipped with nuclear warheads). These ICBM and SLBM (submarine launched ICBMs) projects got the best people and were subject to the most stringent testing and evaluations. Noting how difficult it was to keep the strategic forces in good shape, Putin appears to have decided that shaping up the rest of the military would be put on hold for a while so that reform plans could be revised.


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