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Moscow (AFP) Nov 09, 2012
President Vladimir Putin on Friday replaced Russia's army chief of staff with a veteran commander from a Chechnya war, in a military shake-up after the dramatic sacking of the defence minister.
Putin announced that army chief Nikolai Makarov has been replaced by General Valery Gerasimov, a commander from the second Chechen war, just days after firing defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov over a graft scandal.
"You are an experienced person," Putin told Gerasimov in a meeting at the Kremlin that also included the new Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
"I believe the minister has picked the right candidate and I hope that you will work to the best of your abilities and efficiently," Putin said.
The chief of staff is one of three people in Russia with exclusive access to nuclear launch codes along with the president and the defence minister.
Shoigu described Gerasimov -- who served as first deputy chief of staff between 2010 and 2012 -- as a "military man from head to toe."
He added that Gerasimov enjoyed respect in the army and had "colossal experience working both at the General Staff" as well as "in the field."
A career officer, 57-year-old Gerasimov also served as the commander of the 58th army in the North Caucasus military district in the late 1990s and commanded Russian troops in the 1999-2000 battle against separatists in Chechnya.
The replacement of the army chief of staff was widely expected in the wake of the dramatic departure earlier this week of Serdyukov. Also on Friday, Putin replaced a number of top generals.
Putin had on Tuesday fired Serdyukov over a corruption scandal, the most dramatic change to the government since he returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May amid rising discontent.
Putin said at the time Serdyukov had been relieved of his duties so that a thorough investigation can proceed into a suspected $100 million property scam at a defence ministry holding company.
Serdyukov made many enemies, including top Putin allies like the head of the giant state conglomerate Russian Technologies Sergei Chemezov, as he tried to get Russia's arms manufacturers to produce modern weaponry.
Observers said that Putin had initially backed Serdyukov's army and procurement reforms but eventually took the side of the powerful military lobby.
At the Kremlin meeting Friday, the Russian strongman indicated that the long-brewing conflict over military orders and a failure to back the Russian defence ministry was the real reason for Serdyukov's dismissal.
"We have a problem," Putin told Gerasimov. "The situation in the scientific and technical spheres is quickly changing, and new means of conducting warfare are appearing.
"I expect you together with the minister to organise stable, good, partner-like work with our leading industrial enterprises in the defence industry."
Military analyst Alexander Golts said Putin's words betrayed the real reason for Serdyukov's dismissal. "The military-industrial lobby has won," he told AFP.
Alexei Venediktov, editor-in-chief at Echo of Moscow radio station, said under Serdyukov the defence ministry demanded that Russian arms makers produce new modern weapons, while the military lobby wanted the army to purchase what had already been "made and developed."
Military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the arrival of a new team signalled the end of Serdyukov's reforms. "They will try to revive the Soviet army but it's impossible, they do not have the same resources."
Serdyukov's dismissal was very unusual because Putin is widely known for his aversion to high-profile sackings.
Serdyukov, who is a son-in-law of Viktor Zubkov, a former prime minister and top Putin ally, left behind a trail of corruption and personal scandals.
His sacking came on the heels of a probe into a defence ministry holding company and reports that Serdyukov had left his wife for a younger woman at his ministry.
Russia weighs Brezhnev legacy 30 years after death
The burly and chain-smoking World War II veteran served from 1964 until his death in 1982 at a time when Moscow and Washington were churning out weapons of mass destruction and carving up the globe for spheres of influence.
It also saw the two superpowers boycott each other's Olympic Games -- the first in Moscow in 1980 and then in Los Angeles four years later -- and the Kremlin order tanks into Afghanistan for an ill-advised decade-long war.
But Russian media preferred to recall the stamp the native Ukrainian left on domestic life and his ability to introduce a remarkable sense of stability that nevertheless cost people their freedom to most forms of opposition thought.
They also poked fun at his propensity to lavish himself with medals and ruling long past the point at which he was fit enough to make clear-headed decisions about either foreign or domestic affairs.
"The general secretary was going senile and the entire system was rotting to its core -- stricken by nepotism, bribes and general cynicism," Channel One television commented in a news report about the anniversary.
The country's most-watched channel also planned to air a four-part television drama about Brezhnev and then wrap up its day-long coverage with a special political talk show about his life and times.
It set an almost forgiving tone to its coverage of Brezhnev by describing a man who tried his best but was a victim of his times and associates.
"People did not laugh (at Brezhnev)," Channel One said. "They pitied an old and ailing man, one who was neither bloodthirsty nor vindictive -- and therefore different from his predecessors."
The popular Argumenty i Fakty weekly recalled that Brezhnev was in fact first pronounced clinically dead in 1976. The incident had remained a state secret but historians believe that he had suffered a stroke.
"Yet the state of his health was never a secret to the people -- they saw him on TV all the time," Argumenty i Fakty remarked.
Brezhnev's 18 years in power were known among Russians as "zastoi" (stagnation) in the sense of frozen time with no social or economic change.
Writer and journalist Vadim Dubnov described Brezhnev's nearly two decades as "socialism light".
"He was our everything and he was everywhere," the author wrote in a commentary for the state RIA Novosti news agency.
"He was a part of our ballet, our hockey and our figure skating. He was a part of our vodka which went up in price by only half in his 18 years. That is the stability we got."
Dubnov argued that Brezhnev developed a cult of personality "based on a parody of himself" which became the fabric of Russian satire and political jokes -- always told at home and preferably around the kitchen table.
The ITAR-TASS news agency even remarked in a headline that "many are recalling the 'stagnation' era with nostalgia."
"Many who were young during the 'stagnation' sincerely miss the years when everyone had social protection and confidence in the next day," Russia's second state news agency said.
But even the Rossiya national channel conceded that Brezhnev's times will also be known for "the invasion of Czechoslovakia (in 1968), stricter control of the press, the exile of (dissident Andrei) Sakharov and the banishment of (author Alexander) Solzhenitsyn, and the invasion of Afghanistan."
The Soviet system survived for nine more years after Brezhnev before being formally declared finished by the late Boris Yeltsin, independent Russia's first president.
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