Serdyukov’s Anniversary

Putin Welcomes Serdyukov as Ivanov Looks On

The fourth anniversary of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s appointment came and went quietly enough on 15 February.  But WikiLeaks has come through as if to mark the occasion.  

On Friday, it posted an Amembassy Moscow assessment of Defense Minister Serdyukov a month and a half after he arrived in the “Arbat Military District.”  Mindful of hindsight bias, one can’t judge this cable too harshly.  But it’s an interesting retrospective on what was expected of the man going in, and what has happened since.

As stated all over the Russian media, Amembassy anticipated Serdyukov would impose discipline on the “Ministry’s notoriously loose financial control system,” and not otherwise initiate major changes.

Aleksandr Golts told Amembassy:

“Serdyukov’s inexperience on military issues would undermine his credibility with the General Staff and other senior officers, hindering his ability to push through needed reforms.”

A bit silly in retrospect.  Yes, he had no credibility with the Genshtab, nor it with him.  But he didn’t care and pushed right through the Genshtab, cutting the Genshtab (it suffered first in the reforms) and building his own bureaucratic machinery in the Defense Ministry.

Amembassy claimed that Serdyukov dismissed then-Chief of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation (GU MVS) General-Colonel Anatoliy Mazurkevich, and that Serdyukov’s auditors might be driving other corrupt officers into resignations or dismissals.

The cable describes the Defense Minister aptly as a “detail-oriented micromanager and ruthless policy administrator.” 

But what it doesn’t note (and what has become patently obvious over the last four years) is that the Defense Ministry, and the Russian military, is an unwieldy and untidy establishment not well-suited to micromanagement.  Talk about trying to turn an aircraft carrier on a dime . . . not gonna happen here. 

A couple stories come to mind . . . Serdyukov trying to put new uniforms on the troops, one of his first initiatives.  Now maybe only 20 percent of the troops have them, and the parents of those that do say the new uniforms aren’t as good against the cold as the old ones.

Also, Serdyukov talking about one new brigade commander who didn’t implement his directives.  It’s a big country and a big army.  What Moscow says isn’t always relevant in Chita, etc.

Next, Amembassy summarized the views of Ivan Safranchuk this way:

“He thought the Ministry establishment would try to ‘outlast’ any reforms that Serdyukov sought to impose, with the brass counting on Serdyukov to adjust to their way of thinking — or at least to stay out of their way.  Safranchuk told us that former DefMin Ivanov ultimately had not made a significant impact on how things functioned within the Ministry, despite his reform efforts, and predicted the same fate for Serdyukov.”

This one turned out to be pretty wrong, didn’t it?  There may still be some elements awaiting Serdyukov’s departure and a return to the way things used to be, but too much has changed.  The military establishment can’t ever be exactly what it used to be.  And the brass was definitely no match for Serdyukov, and he didn’t stay out of their way, but rather sent many of them down the highway.  And this Defense Minister has had a greater impact in four years than Sergey Ivanov in nearly six.  Ivanov’s fate was not to be Putin’s successor, and to muddle around in his next job, i.e. First Deputy PM.  As for Serdyukov’s fate, we’ll have to see.  As for his impact, at least some is likely to be lasting.  How long?  Only until the next determined reformer arrives.  None of this is to say Serdyukov’s impact is all positive, mind you.  Some changes may have messed things up worse than they were.  But he got reform off the dime in a way Ivanov never dreamed.

Here’s video of Putin’s meeting with Ivanov and Serdyukov on 15 February 2007.

The cable continues:

“Sergey Sumbayev, a former journalist with Krasnaya zvezda (Red Star), told us that management and accountability within the Ministry were dysfunctional and fostered inefficiency and corruption.  He referred both to financial accountability and responsibility for policy implementation.  Sumbayev thought the Ministry’s entrenched bureaucracy resisted, mostly successfully, institutional change, which generated considerable waste and delayed delivery of modern weapons systems to the armed forces.”

Sumbayev also told Amembassy:

“. . . management experience and tenacious work ethic make [Serdyukov] the ideal ‘technical’ manager that the Ministry needs.  While acknowledging Serdyukov’s political connections, Sumbayev did not think Serdyukov harbored any political ambitions.  He was chosen mainly for his managerial expertise, loyalty, and willingness to please his political bosses.  Serdyukov could probably make progress in streamlining the Ministry’s management structure, reducing waste, and exerting more control over its financial accounting systems.  One year, however, would not be sufficient to accomplish these tasks.”

“Sumbayev speculated that keeping the General Staff off-balance and focused on internal matters over the next year was one of Putin’s objectives in appointing Serdyukov. In this respect, he suggested that Serdyukov had a mandate to shake things up in the Ministry without sparking too much discontent.”

Amembassy concluded that:

“Serdyukov has his work cut out for him in bringing order to a Ministry badly in need of reform.”

Serdyukov’s made progress, but this final assessment probably remains true four years on.

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