Popovkin to Roskosmos?

Vladimir Popovkin (photo: Sobakidendy-news.ru)

Friday Marker.ru reported rumors from its sources saying First Deputy Defense Minister, and GPV 2011-2020 architect, Vladimir Popovkin will relieve Anatoliy Perminov as Director of Roskosmos.  This is interesting because it supposedly features a little tandem tension between President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.

Marker.ru’s Ivan Cheberko writes that Perminov will resign at “his own request,” and become a presidential adviser for space issues.  For his part, Popovkin had hoped to replace Sergey Ivanov as Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for the defense-industrial sector.  But Medvedev and Putin couldn’t agree on Ivanov’s fate, according to Cheberko’s report, and they proposed that Popovkin should head Roskosmos.

A source close to Perminov told Cheberko the Popovkin decision was made last week:

“The president and prime minister couldn’t determine Ivanov’s future, and they proposed Popovkin to head Roskosmos.  The Defense Minister has already signed the corresponding paperwork.”

Cheberko’s two independent missile-space sector sources say there have been three candidates for the Roskosmos job — Popovkin, Popovkin ally and deputy General-Lieutenant Oleg Frolov, and Roskosmos Deputy Director Vitaliy Davydov.  Frolov reportedly would have gotten the job if Popovkin took Ivanov’s spot.  Roskosmos rank-and-file lobbied for Davydov in hopes of avoiding changes Popovkin would make.  His views diverge from those of the agency’s current leadership, and he’s expected to make many personnel and organizational changes.  Among other things, Cheberko highlights Popovkin’s strong support for a new liquid-fueled heavy ICBM versus missile designer Yuriy Solomonov’s vocal public opposition to such a plan.

Unfortunately, Mr. Cheberko only dug so deep.  There’s a bit more to this story.

On the eve of the 18 March expanded collegium, Sergey Ivanov told the Federation Council the Defense Ministry was to blame for late placement of the State Defense Order (Гособоронзаказ, ГОЗ, or GOZ) this year.  Even prior, he had lots of sharp public criticism for Perminov, Roskosmos, and their failures.  Of course, Ivanov himself has long suffered at Putin’s hands over GLONASS, so he’s just letting stuff roll downhill, so to speak.

In his collegium speech, President Medvedev railed about problems with the GOZ last year, and demanded a “post-flight debriefing” to identify which industry and state officials are to blame.

Prime Minister Putin followed the collegium with a March 21 government session on the defense order at the Votkinsk missile plant.  Ivanov and Perminov were there, and probably Popovkin too.  The latter was very much on the defensive afterwards, asserting that GOZ-2010 was fulfilled “on the whole.”  And he blamed last summer’s heat wave and forest fires for disrupting defense production.

So where’s it leave us?

As Marker.ru implies, it appears Popovkin’s position isn’t too strong, and he could be headed out of the Defense Ministry after only 8 months on the job.  This would take away one of the louder proponents of buying arms and equipment abroad if necessary.  It begs the question who replaces Popovkin, and what does it mean.  Possibly someone closer to Serdyukov.  Never known for his skill as a political infighter, Sergey Ivanov actually comes out of this looking like a semi-adept bureaucratic warrior.  It’s interesting to imagine Medvedev and Putin discussing Ivanov’s fate when he was once thought the frontrunner in Operation Successor 2008.

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