President Vladimir Putin has begun sweeping Boris Yeltsin-era
relics from his government in what experts say is a carefully
planned campaign to consolidate the supreme power he theoretically
won in elections a year ago.
It is often said that power in Russia flows from the bureaucracy,
not the people. Each new leader must painstakingly enforce his
personal authority by placing loyalists in all the top jobs, a
process that can take years, before accumulating enough real power
enact his political program.
"Putin has spent a year studying the apparatus and lining up his
candidates," says Alexei Zudin, deputy director of the Center for
Political Techniques, an independent Moscow think tank. "This is
just the beginning. He will be removing the old Yeltsin appointees,
bite by bite, for some time to come."
Not by accident, Wednesday's cabinet purge focused on the
security forces, vaulting Putin cronies into control of the defense
and interior ministries - which between them bear responsibility
for the faltering war in Chechnya. After 18 months of fighting,
Russian troops have managed to occupy but not pacify the breakaway
A string of car bombings in Russian towns near the Chechen border
last weekend killed 25 people and demonstrated that the separatist
rebellion may be rapidly mutating into a classic terrorist
struggle, recognizing no territorial or social limits.
"The Chechen war has shown the urgent need for military reform,"
says Franz Sheregi, director of the independent Center for Social
Forecasting in Moscow. "To begin this process, Putin needed to
appoint a defense minister who is unconnected with the military
hierarchy and completely loyal to the Kremlin."
Mr. Yeltsin's defense minister, the career officer Igor Sergeyev,
was replaced by Sergei Ivanov, an old friend of Mr. Putin's and an
18-year veteran of the Soviet KGB's external intelligence service.
A fluent English speaker and former head of the Kremlin's security
council, Mr. Ivanov is regarded as a tough-minded security hawk who
won't flinch from the herculean task of modernizing Russia's
bankrupt, demoralized, and incompetent military.
A year of bureaucratic infighting has stalled plans to slash the
armed forces from 1.2 million to 850,000, restructure them in favor
of combat units, and gradually phase out the highly unpopular
"Basically, a lot of generals have to be fired," says Irina
Kobrynskaya, an analyst with the independent National Project
Institute in Moscow. "Sergeyev was part of the military old-boy
network, and couldn't do it. …