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Outside View: Russia's new top general

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Ilya Kramnik
Moscow (UPI) Jun 10, 2008
On June 3, 2008, a serious reshuffle took place in Russia's military establishment: Army Gen. Yury Baluyevsky stepped down as chief of the General Staff to become deputy secretary of the national Security Council.

He was replaced by Army Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who until then had held the post of chief of procurement, to which he was appointed in April 2007, soon after Anatoly Serdyukov was made defense minister.

Baluyevsky began his general staff career in July 2004. His major efforts were devoted to structural reforms in the armed forces and negotiations with the United States and NATO countries over missile defense and the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty.

Prominent among Baluyevsky's reforms were plans to set up strategic commands instead of military districts, and to combine air defense and missile defense forces under one umbrella. Neither has yet been implemented.

The first calls for a lot of red tape to be worked through with the government and the Presidential Executive Office, something that was hard to do with the electoral campaigns of the past two years.

The second reform -- joining air and missile defenses -- is even more challenging. Not only does it require administrative changes and the upgrading and reinforcement of air defense units, but it also faces opposition from many in the forces concerned.

The immediate cause of Baluyevsky's dismissal -- officially a resignation -- could have been a conflict between him and Defense Minister Serdyukov. His departure, however, does not mean his reform plans are being ditched.

The new chief of the General Staff, General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, is viewed by many who have worked with him as one of Russia's best generals. He rose through the ranks from platoon commander to head of a military district. His record includes service in Tajikistan and Russia's special Kaliningrad region, where he was deputy Baltic Fleet commander for ground and coastal troops.

Makarov's emphasis on troop training is seen as one of his best traits. As commander of the Siberian Military District, he organized classes for soldiers and contract sergeants, as well as officer graduates from military colleges, to improve their professional qualifications.

In operational doctrine he believes in the concept of task groups made up of units from all forces as required, and fulfilling a common objective under one command. Such groups and their control and command call for a new level of officer training and an understanding of the potential of all types of armed forces. This makes it necessary to improve educational standards and retrain officers, both at special training centers and on command and staff exercises.

Rearming the Russian army remains a top priority, too. No new structural reforms will bring dividends unless backed by modern weapons in sufficient quantities. Although procurement is not among the General Staff's functions, the opinion of its new chief on that matter -- adjusting purchase programs and planning further ahead -- hopefully will be heard.

Time will tell how the armed forces will change under Makarov. So far, from what is known about the new chief of staff, it can be said that the plans for modernization remain in force.

(Ilya Kramnik is a military commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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