Putin Puts KGB Crony in Charge of Cutting Military ; on Wednesday, President Putin Replaced Defense, Interior, and Nuclear Energy Chiefs

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

Putin Puts KGB Crony in Charge of Cutting Military ; on Wednesday, President Putin Replaced Defense, Interior, and Nuclear Energy Chiefs


Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor


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 republic.

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 conscription system.

"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. …

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