Remembering Vitaly Shlykov

Saturday evening, I heard the news that Vitaly Shlykov had passed away that morning. He should be a familiar name to most readers of this blog, but for those who are not familiar, I’ll just say that he was a leading figure in Russian military analysis and one of the key authors of the ideas behind the current reform of the Russian military. In the early 1990s, he chaired the State Duma’s committee on defense and was one of the founders of SVOP, the State Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. In the Soviet period, he worked for the GRU as a secret agent and served two years in prison in Switzerland in the mid-1980s as a result of his work.

His work in recent years has been dedicated to modernizing and reforming the Russian military by adopting some of the experience of foreign militaries. He has always called for cooperation between the Russian military and the armies of Western states, as well as greater cooperation between Russia and the West in general.

My personal interactions with Vitaly were minimal — I first met him at Valdai last spring. But both in conversations on that occasion, and in all his writings, he struck me as an eminently sensible and kind man. He will be greatly missed by all of us who work on the Russian military.

For those who can read Russian, here are some links to stories about him in the Russian press.

UPDATE: Here’s the Washington Post obituary.

4 thoughts on “Remembering Vitaly Shlykov

  1. Nice piece Dmitrii. I never had the chance to meet him, but I am familiar with his writings and comments. I did not always agree with him, but I certainly respected him. He was a major voice for change.


  2. Vitaly Shlykov made major contributions to the Western scholarship of the Cold war history. He was the first to explain the importance of mobilization in Soviet war plans and peacetime economy, as well as for the problems of transition of the post-communist economy. He also was the first — and the only — witness to tell us how the Soviet military intelligence inflated the Western threat. He viewed modern intelligence organizations as bloated self-interested bureaucracies unable to provide relevant information to politicians. A former intelligence operative, he became a great skeptic of human intelligence and of secret information in general; he was a great believer in open source and research. I knew him quite well for 18 years, and the only requests I ever heard from him was to get him another scholarly book that he could not obtain in Russia.

    Misha Tsypkin

  3. Hank Gaffney
    I met Shlykov only once — in our first CNA visit to Moscow in late October 1991. We met him in the crisis conference room in the White House, where he had been actively involved in support of Yeltsin. At that point, he was the Deputy Minister of Defense of the new Russian state. He gave us a clear account of their actions in response to the August 1991 coup. Since then, I had read numerous articles by him on the need for Russian military reform, all of which make great good sense — certainly much better informed on detailed military matters than one might have expected from a former GRU officer. Lately, he had been a strong advocate and clear explainer of the Serdyukov-Makarov reforms. We will miss him.

  4. Thank you, Dmitry, for the kind words about the great man we have lost.
    Most importantly, Vitaly Shlykov was a man of honor. As Jake Kipp marked out, “Across the Cold War divide he was an adversary of great talent and after it a voice of reason on defense and international security. He was a man of many parts and never a pawn.”
    Three brief points to your sketch on Vitaly. His major scholarly interest, I would even say love, was economics. His economic views as of an intelligence officer were widened with the knowledge of defense economies of the USSR as well as of its Cold War adversaries. His primary focus in the Soviet, and later Russian defense reform was economic restructuring. He was the father of the theory of ‘structurally militarized economy,’ as he described the Soviet one.
    The first time remodeling of the Armed Forces per se centered in the cross-hairs of his research was in 1989-1990, when after his forced retirement from the GRU he participated in the military reform group in the Soviet parliament. In 1990 in his chapter in the book “Armed Forces and Society” he introduced what later became known here as ‘Shlykov’s list’ — an inventory of the major features characterizing the modern armed forces that were missing in the Soviet and later Russian military.
    He tried to implement his economic ideas at the Russian State (not Duma!) Committee on Defense and Security, where he was a deputy chair for defense economy, but after Yeltsin preferred the boldness of the ignorance of the authors of the “shock therapy,” and refused the idea of creating the civilian ministry of defense by appointing Pavel Grachev, Vitaly left the government and became a freelance defense scholar.
    It was then that he had co-fathered the initiation of the NON-GOVERNMENTAL Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, as he had always been an ardent proponent of the development of independent expertise in the defense field.
    The best piece in Russian on Vitaly’s passing away, to my liking, was written by Sasha Golts. For English readers I would recommend two essays by Alexei Pankin, though I definitely don’t like the term “notorious” which editors of the Russia Beyond The Headlines voluntarily added to Alexy’s original text. And I fully agree with Alyosha that “His death is a terrible loss for Russia.”

    Alexander Belkin

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