WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- Gen. Nikolai Makarov has replaced tough, old Gen. Yury Baluyevsky as the chief of staff of Russia's armed forces and has been tasked with rapidly modernizing them -- but the odds are against him.
Despite all the stories of gloom and doom about them that regularly appear in the Western media, the Russian armed forces are still one of the most formidable and important factors of military power on the planet and the most powerful and effective land force across all of Eurasia.
They don't have enough modern equipment and they are modernizing excruciatingly slowly. But what they have is state of the art, especially in Main Battle Tanks, heavy artillery and close ground tactical air support. Their multiple-launch rocket mortar forces are without parallel in any other armed force in the world.
However, modernization has not been going remotely as fast as former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would like. That is one reason Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has shoehorned out four-star Army Gen. Baluyevsky and replaced him with four-star Army Gen. Makarov.
According to a June 3 report from RIA Novosti, Russian analysts generally interpret Makarov's appointment as meaning there will be a major new drive to upgrade the Russian army's operating procedures, officer and troop training, and procurement procedures.
Makarov enjoys Defense Minister Serdyukov's full confidence and previously worked very closely with him as deputy defense minister. By contrast, Baluyevsky, who has very publicly led Russia's so far unsuccessful campaign to prevent the United States from deploying Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Central Europe, worked very closely with Serdyukov's predecessor as defense minister, Sergei Ivanov.
Baluyevsky has now been kicked upstairs to the essentially powerless position of deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council.
Makarov also got the job because his specialty has been solving the bottleneck problems of industrial production, spare parts and supply that have bedeviled Putin's efforts to revive Russia's military might. Makarov previously ran the Russian military's Armed Forces Procurement operations.
Three-star Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, president of the Russian Academy of Geopolitical Studies, told RIA Novosti in an interview that Makarov would focus on seeking to "reverse the negative, destructive trends that are now plaguing the armed forces, and stop the technical degradation of the army and navy."
Ivashov confirmed the assessment of leading U.S. military experts that the Russian military "has an acute shortage of new weaponry and military equipment, ammunition and other technical systems."
However, Ivashov also expressed confidence that Makarov would be able to overcome the Herculean problems he is facing.
Makarov will certainly not lack financial resources. Putin, on the day he was sworn in as prime minister within 24 hours of handing over the presidency of Russia to his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, pledged to boost the country's defenses. With oil prices still well over $120 per barrel and Russia benefiting from them as the second-largest oil producer and exporting power in the world, Makarov will certainly get all the funding he needs.
Unlike Baluyevsky, Makarov is an acknowledged expert in the very areas where the problems are worst -- industrial production and timetables for supplying weapons and other equipment. And unlike Baluyevsky, whose unease and discontent with Serdyukov was common knowledge around Moscow, Makarov also enjoys a warm and close working relationship with the defense minister.
But the problems he faces are so intractable that he will need all the help he can get.
Next: The problems Makarov faces