Will Serdyukov Go?

Pavel Baev

Back to a familiar topic . . . is it possible or likely Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov will resign or be dismissed from his post prior to the March 4 presidential election?  It is, of course, a topic that won’t quit.  At least not for the next two months. 

Pavel Baev discussed this with BFM.ru over the holiday. 
 
We looked at Baev’s view of Serdyukov’s reforms back in the spring.  He was neither sanguine about them nor forgiving of mistakes made.
 
We also looked earlier at a couple considerations of whether Serdyukov might leave or be forced out of the Defense Ministry. 
 
In August, Mikhail Rostovskiy thought Serdyukov’s position pretty secure, and this author postulated, with once-and-future president Vladimir Putin secure in the Kremlin again, Anatoliy Eduardovich might find relief from the defense portfolio in a job both cushier and more to his liking.
 
In April, Aleksey Makarkin also thought Serdyukov was pretty safe.
 
It’s obvious that the aftermath of the December 4 Duma elections changed a lot of things.
 
Now Oslo-based Professor Baev thinks Serdyukov could be sacrificed in the election run-up for nothing other than loyal performance of the tasks Putin set him to in February 2007.
 
Baev says Putin believes his regime faces an old-fashioned Cold War-style political threat.  Various Western “circles” (NATO, NGOs, CIA) think the regime’s exhausted itself.  Any possible replacement would be welcome to them.
 
Then we get to the essence of Baev’s argument — the fact that the Defense Minister has generated great dissatisfaction and irritation among Russia’s defense factory directors.  Without a serious go-between in the Military-Industrial Commission, Serdyukov’s become the focus of their ire.  They blame him and his subordinates for rejecting Russian weapons and equipment, and claim they’ve hurt Russia’s reputation as an arms exporter.
 
His case in point is the complaint from railcar and armor producer Uralvagonzavod during Putin’s December 15 “direct broadcast” Q and A with citizens.  A caller asked Putin to take Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov by the neck, and replace the former with a “clearheaded Defense Minister.”
 

Baev’s interviewer asks whether Serdyukov will keep his current seat under Putin 2.0:

“. . . I think that the Defense Minister will be replaced even before the election.  The Armed Forces and military enterprises are a large and serious part of the electorate.  It was possible to extinguish accumulated irritation with the promise of money since after long promises they raised pay for officers, although not as substantially as was said.  It’s also possible to give money to OPK enterprises and sacrifice an unliked minister.”

But a resignation won’t be enough:

“I don’t think so because the problems have gone too far.  It’s hardly possible to put the protest mood just on one minister.  Everyone understands perfectly that it’s not the minister who started all this and carried all this out, no one suspects Serdyukov of being a confirmed reformer, having a program, or being a man motivated by a sense of his own mission.  He is a manager, an executive, and extremely stubborn, but he didn’t start this, and that’s clear.  And I don’t think Serdyukov will hold onto the minister’s chair.  The problems and conflicts have become so acute that it’s becoming costly to him.  I think they’ve had enough of him.”

Baev concludes that another civilian should take over the Defense Ministry, and continue separating its intertwined military and civilian functions.  He doubts Serdyukov’s replacement will reverse anything, but simply move forward on the problems reforms have created.

Serdyukov’s departure seems like more of a possibility now than before the Duma elections.  As Baev suggests, Putin could sacrifice his Defense Minister to appease his numerous unhappy defense industrial constituents.  Serdyukov’s fate may hinge on how badly Putin needs a boost for March 4. 

The Defense Minister’s 5-year anniversary comes next month and provides an opportunity for a change short of dismissal.  This author gets the impression Serdyukov’s energy for his difficult job has declined lately.

As for Uralvagonzavod, its workers are unlikely to quit sniping at the Defense Minister.  They, along with other military vehicle makers, have reportedly learned their defense order for 2012 has been drastically cut in favor of procurement in 3-5 years.

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