Friday, February 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Thinning the Ranks of Russian Generals

Paul Goble

Baku, February 8 – The ranks of Russian generals are likely to be reduced in the coming weeks not only because the defense ministry is requiring them to pass rigorous physical fitness tests but also because military prosecutors are examining their pasts more closely and the minister himself wants to retain only those with combat experience.
According to an article in Argumenty nedeli, “panic” is spreading among Russia’s most senior military commanders because “the fattest” of them may not be able to meet the army’s physical fitness norms thus risk losing their billets with all the power and perks they now enjoy (
The weekly suggested that Lt.Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, the head of the main administration for training, is behind this effort. Himself a veteran of the Chechen war, Shamanov is said to be appalled by the poor physical condition of the generals in Moscow and wants to shake things up.
This “purge of the generals,” Argumenty nedeli continued, is being helped along by military prosecutors. They are looking into cases where senior officers have violated the rules or acted in ways that cost the lives of their subordinates but been let off by their colleagues with nothing more than a symbolic slap on the wrist.
Among those most at risk reportedly is Admiral Gennady Suchov, who was found guilty of responsibility for the loss of an atomic submarine as well as the lives of its crew but was given a suspended sentence and immediately provided a new job as anadvisor to the minister of defense with the pay of a colonel general.
But many other senior commanders may find themselves charged with crimes as a result of this new attention. Military prosecutors said this week that in 2007, they had brought new charges against 244 field grade officers, including 180 colonels and 16 generals (
In addition to readiness and simple justice, there are two other reasons why these senior officers find themselves in trouble. On the one hand, Russia has one of the most top-heavy militaries in the world. And on the other, the minister himself wants commanders to “systematize” the experience of fighting in hot spots like Chechnya.
For the 1.1 million soldiers and officers in the Russian army, there are 1400 generals – or one for every 786 people in uniform. That compares, the paper notes, with the situation in Kazakhstan, where there are 34 generals for an 87,000-strong army – or one general for every 2558 military personnel.
And according to Shamanov, “one of the tasks that the minister of defense has set for [him] is to systematize [Russian] military experience in Afghanistan and the two Chechen campaigns.” Doing that with commanders who did not serve in any of them – and most generals in Moscow did not – would be extraordinarily difficult.
The generals at risk are certain to try to use their contacts in the military-industrial complex and the political elite to block this purge. After all, they have been remarkably successful in preventing similar moves to cut their numbers in the past. But this time, the situation may be different.
By taking on the generals just before Vladimir Putin is to leave office if not give up power, the defense ministry appears to have calculated that any general slated for removal will face greater difficulties in finding someone to intervene on his behalf or even knowing just which officials in the current climate might be capable of doing so.
If that is the ministry’s calculation and if it is correct, there could soon be a large number of angry former military commanders on the streets of the Russian capital, at least some of whom can be counted on to try to take revenge in almost any way they can against those who ended their gilded careers.

No comments: