President’s Tough Talk to Defense Minister Serdyukov

Medvedev at Security Council Meeting

Let’s look at President Dmitriy Medvedev’s criticism of the Navy and the Defense Ministry, his warnings and dismissals of some Navy officers.  It looks somewhat like a script torn from Vladimir Putin’s ‘tough guy’ handbook. 

Kommersant recounted the details of what sparked the President’s ire.  On 29 July, a fire burned the 2512th Central Aviation-Equipment Base of Naval Aviation and Air Defense near Kolomna, several dozen kilometers southeast of Moscow.  The Prosecutor’s Investigative Committee (SK) said the blaze destroyed the staff headquarters, finance unit, club, two bays of vehicle parking, 13 warehouses with various items of aviation equipment, and 17 open equipment storage stands with vehicles on them. 

Medvedev addressed yesterday’s Security Council meeting: 

“I instructed the Defense Ministry to take part in the firefighting effort and help to protect the civilian population, but sadly, in a number of cases, the ministry has proved unable to protect itself.  A fire took place in Moscow Oblast that has caused very serious damage.  The ministry has already carried out a preliminary internal investigation, and the investigation will continue of course.  The evidence so far indicates that this is quite simply a case of neglect of duty and criminal negligence, when personnel failed to bring under control a fire that was not spreading particularly fast, and no one even knew where the base’s commanders had gone.  I have therefore taken the following decision.”      

“Regarding the Navy’s senior command:  Navy CINC Admiral Vysotskiy has been warned about not fulfilling his duties; Chief of the Navy Main Staff and First Deputy CINC  Tatarinov has been warned about not fulfilling his duties; Deputy Chief of Navy Rear Services Sergeyev is dismissed; Chief of Naval Aviation Kuklev is dismissed; Deputy Chief of Naval Aviation Colonel Rasskazov is dismissed; Acting Deputy Chief of Naval Aviation Rear Services Monakov is dismissed; the chief of base 2512 is dismissed.”  

“I am also instructing the Defense Ministry to dismiss a number of other officers and personnel for disciplinary violations.  If anything similar happens in other places and other departments I will do exactly the same again, and without the slightest regret.” 

After discussing the fire situation with other ministers, Medvedev turned back to Defense Minister Serdyukov later in the meeting: 

“Now the Defense Ministry.  I already announced certain decisions.  The Minister needs to take everything under direct control.  Conduct a meeting today with the Ministry’s leadership and say that, if anything else like this burns, everyone will answer for it.” 

“Are there any concerns about the current situation?” 

Serdyukov responded saying plans have been made, operational groups established at all command levels.  Personnel and equipment have been put at the disposal of MChS and regional authorities.  And he noted that Deputy Defense Minister, General-Colonel Dmitriy Bulgakov is his point man for the fire emergency. 

Medvedev chided Serdyukov because the Vladimir Oblast governor had to go to the Defense Ministry for help instead of suitably empowered local commanders. 

Serdyukov said ‘corresponding’ orders have gone to all commanders and garrisons.  He continued with the Defense Ministry’s support of MChS — 11,000 servicemen, thousands of pieces of equipment, 33 kilometers of water pipelines laid in four rayons.  After Bulgakov’s visit to the Federal Nuclear Research Center in Sarov yesterday, another two battalions and special equipment were allocated to efforts there.  Serdyukov said another 28,000 troops can be brought into firefighting in the Central Federal District within 3-12 days. 

Serdyukov concluded: 

“We are taking all steps in full measure, we reinforced all facilities (there are 164 of them, but in immediate areas where there are fires there are 22) behind every responsible commander.  We are conducting all measures there:  increased volumes of water reserves for extinguishing fires, equipment has been brought in, extra personnel, everything literally transferred into a barracks condition, therefore all necessary steps for this, in fact, have been accomplished.  Therefore I submit that this sad incident that happened at base 2512 will not be repeated.” 

Kommersant helped out with a full run-down on the ranks and names of the lesser known Navy officers:  Rear-Admiral Sergey Sergeyev, General-Major Nikolay Kuklev, Colonel Sergey Rasskazov, Colonel Sergey Monakov, and Base Chief Colonel Viktor Biront. 

RIA Novosti covered Serdyukov’s firing of other officers at the base.  They included:  Deputy Base Chief Major R. Gidayatov; Deputy Chief Main Engineer Lieutenant Colonel V. Marchenko; Support and Security Company Commander Major A. Yermolov; Chief of the Material-Technical Support Department V. Karandak; and Chief of the 7th Storage Department V. Melsisidenkov. 

Today the SK said a criminal negligence case has been initiated.  Gazeta ru said, per usual Russian practice, top officials have blamed lower-ranking ones, in this case Navy officers, allowing the ‘untouchables’ to demonstrate their toughness and avoid responsibility.  Kommersant noted that the warnings for Vysotskiy and Tatarinov are just a step from dismissal.  But history shows other general and flag officers have gotten such warnings and still moved forward in their careers. 

Gzt.ru broached the subject of whether this could provide Medvedev an occasion to purge the Defense Ministry and fill it with his ‘own people.’ Konstantin Sivkov and Aleksandr Konovalov agree that he could use this opportunity.  But one has to ask, does this make sense in the scheme of tandem politics?  Medvedev has changed few in the cast inherited from Putin, and he’s very unlikely to start with a stolid Team Putin guy like Serdyukov.  Especially when he appears to be the first man to make some real headway in fixing the post-Soviet military.

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One response to “President’s Tough Talk to Defense Minister Serdyukov

  1. Pingback: Unlikely Sacrifice | Russian Defense Policy

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