Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has dismissed his defense chief, Anatoly Serdyukov, in a surprise sacking that has shocked Kremlin watchers and placed the nation’s most radical, and some would say much-needed, military reforms in peril.
The firing comes as a shock because it was widely held that Serdyukov’s reforms, some of which were not favorable to members of Putin’s elite inner circle, had the blessings of the Kremlin.
Allegations of embezzlement of $100 million in misappropriated funds is only the beginning of the scandal.
While intrigues ever abound in these types of situations, two scenarios have been widely seen as likely explanations for prompting Serdyukov’s sacking: Serdyukov is married to Gazprom chairman, and close Putin ally, Viktor Zubkov’s daughter and his rumored philandering cost him his job or he is the loser after an intense internal power struggle at the Kremlin, or both.
Serdyukov’s planned reduction of Russia’s officer ranks in order to form a more agile, modern military has angered many of his rivals and created many new enemies. Additionally, his demand for higher quality output from Russia’s arms industry may have caused some in the industry to conspire to oust him.
“He angered the leaders of defense industries, refusing to sign new contracts until they make their prices fully transparent,” said Alexander Golts, an independent Moscow-based military expert. “And he told them that the military will buy the weapons it needs, not the weapons they want to sell.”
Serdyukov’s attempts at reforming such an established system, coupled with rumors of marital infidelity, may have derailed Russia’s most earnest effort toward crafting a modern military force capable of the glories of its national past. Nonetheless, the impacts thus far of his tenure cannot be denied, and are in and of themselves quite phenomenal accomplishments: the dismissal of approximately 200,000 officers, disbandment of nine out of 10 units, and the transition of ownership of military assets to the civilian population.
Additionally, Serdyukov expanded the Russian military’s supply chain and equipment base to include advanced weaponry from nations such as France and Israel. His refusal to purchase obsolete weapons from the Russian arms industry was no doubt yet another mark against him in the eyes of the military elite.