Russia's Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin lost faith last year in his Westernized, technocratic defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, and kicked him upstairs to the post of first deputy prime minister, replacing him with current Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
Putin had wanted Ivanov to transform and streamline the Russian armed forces, but he had failed to do so. And as first deputy prime minister, Ivanov was tasked with concentrating on helping solve the disastrous and widespread delays in production and development of Russia's most advanced weapons systems, such as the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile interceptors.
The S-400s are reputed to be the best weapons system of their kind in the world, but so far only one force of them has been operationally deployed to defend Moscow, and productions schedules for further production and deployment remain woefully slow.
Now Serdyukov has fired veteran armed forces Chief of Staff Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, a brilliant strategic mind and blunt, tough-talking soldier, and replaced him with fellow four-star Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov.
Makarov has something of a comparable reputation to U.S. four-star Gen. David Petraeus, who has so successfully transformed the fortunes of U.S. forces fighting counterinsurgency operations in central Iraq over the past year and a half. Like Petraeus, he is regarded as an exceptionally brilliant intellectual soldier with flexible, unconventional views on military force deployment who also has a first-class reputation in the field.
Russian military analyst Ilya Kramnik, writing for RIA Novosti, noted this week that Makarov "is viewed by many who have worked with him as one of Russia's best generals. He rose through the ranks from platoon commander to head of a military district. His record includes service in Tajikistan and the special Kaliningrad region, where he was deputy Baltic Fleet commander for ground and coastal troops."
Kramnik also noted that Makarov bucks conventional Russian military thinking by putting great emphasis on training and educating troops in his commands. This was an issue that the old Soviet army and the Russian army traditionally have ignored, except for very small elite units.
Makarov also believes in having flexible armed forces that, like the 21st century U.S. armed forces, are designed to work flexibly and be interoperable with units and elements from other arms of the Russian military in specialized task forces quickly assembled to perform designated missions.
Most of all, however, as respected Russian analyst Pavel Felgenhauer noted this week in an analysis for the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, "Makarov has the right military career qualifications to be accepted as chief of general staff by the military, but his main asset is his presumed loyalty to Serdyukov."
Former Chief of Staff Baluyevsky, Felgenhauer noted, was close to and had a warm and effective working relationship with then Defense Minister Ivanov from 2004 to 2007.
However, over the past 16 months Gen. Baluyevsky and his new boss, current Defense Minister Serdyukov, have clashed often, especially over Serdyukov's determination to move key command facilities and offices from Moscow northwest to St. Petersburg. Also, Serdyukov and Putin saw Baluyevsky as lacking interest or drive in upgrading the living standards of Russian servicemen and their families, neglecting their education and, in general, failing to share their vision of a streamlined, leaner, far more efficient Russian military.
But it remains to be seen if the new Serdyukov-Makarov team can deliver the goods.
Next: Solving the morale problem