Reforming the GRU

In the aftermath of the Georgia War last year, the Russian government made the decision to reform the military intelligence service (GRU). According to a recent report, the proximate cause for the reform was the perception that the GRU had failed to inform the minister of defense and other top officials about the possibility of a Georgian attack.

Since the forced retirement of the head of the GRU last year, the government has been entirely silent regarding the specifics of the reform. Speculation centers on cuts in personnel and a reduction in the GRU’s sphere of activity. Most significantly, the special forces were removed from the GRU’s jurisdiction last spring and reassigned to the military districts. As a result, the GRU is left as an agency focused exclusively on intelligence — including branches dedicated to signals intelligence, human intelligence, and analysis.

The report leaves open the question of whether these changes will increase the GRU’s effectiveness. There is no doubt, however, that the changes (combined with Korabelnikov’s resignation last spring) will lead to a significant reduction in the GRU’s political influence within the Ministry of Defense and in the government as a whole. It seems that the FSB is now close to victory in the long-running competition for power and influence between the civilian and military intelligence agencies.

Housecleaning at the Top

I have previously noted the extent to which Russian military reform was made possible by the removal of Yuri Baluyevsky, the previous chief of the General Staff, and a number of other top generals from key positions. Many other members of the military leadership resigned or were removed from their positions during the last year, in most cases because they opposed the reform. Elena Melnichuk and Vasilii Toropov have published some data on the extent to which the top staff of the Ministry of Defense have been replaced since Serdiukov’s appointment 2.5 years ago. According to their data, of the 50 top military commanders (including deputy ministers, heads of main directorates,  chief commanders, and chiefs of military districts) 44 have been replaced since February 2007.

The housecleaning began almost immediately, with the removals of Anatoly Mazurkevich, Chief of the Main Directorate for International Affairs, and Aleksey Moskovsky, Deputy Minister and Chief of Armament. By the end of 2007, the commanders of the Army, Air Force, and Navy had all been dismissed. All of these were accompanied by corresponding dismissals and transfers of their clients. The goal was to break the military high command’s resistance to radical changes in organizational structure and budgetary priorities. Through both statements at staff meetings and wide-ranging audits of various directorates, Serdiukov sought to spread the message that the widespread theft and corruption that his predecessor Sergey Ivanov could not stamp out would no longer be tolerated. As a clear sign of the seriousness of his anti-corruption effort, Serdiukov assigned the auditing tasks to people who had never worked in the military.

While Serdiukov rapidly cleaned house in the Ministry and in the services, he was not immediately able to break the power of the military General Staff. Although he sought to replace Baluyevsky virtually from the start of his tenure, Baluyevsky was strong enough to prevent his removal for well over a year, while frequently expressing opinions critical of Serdiukov’s positions. Eventually, it became clear that radical reform could not proceed while traditionalists such as Baluyevsky remained in positions of power in the General Staff, which in the structure of the Russian military was responsible for, among other things, strategic planning.  In June 2008, Baluyevsky was replaced with the much more pliable Nikolai Makarov, who has since taking the job shown himself to be a strong supporter of Serdiukov’s actions. Once this change had been made, all was ready for the implementation of radical reform, which began the following October.

Another round of dismissals and resignations followed in the wake of the commencement of reform, including in April 2009 the long-rumored departure of Deputy Defense Minister Liubov Kudelina, who had been brought in by Sergei Ivanov to run the ministry’s finances and had stayed on after his departure. According to one source, her departure was caused by her disapproval of the way some aspects of the reform were being conducted, though other sources have noted that Serdiukov had long wanted her gone, seeing her as a rival for financial control of the ministry.

Around the same time, another round of generals were also asked to retire, including Valerii Evtukhovich, the commander of the airborne troops, the commanders of the Moscow and Far Eastern military districts and, most significantly, Valentin Korabelnikov, the head of military intelligence (GRU). The latter was removed because he opposed the GRU’s reassignment from the General Staff to the Defense Ministry proper and efforts to remove special forces units from the GRU’s jurisdiction.

In the end, these firings, retirements, and resignations allowed the minister and his supporters in the Defense Ministry to create an unprecedented situation. All of the top military officers are now either fully in favor of the reform or, at the very least, silent about their opposition. The conflict between the ministry and the General Staff, which has been a constant part of the Russian military’s disfunction since the late 1990s, is no more; the general staff have been vanquished and no longer have any political clout. This has made both the rollout of the reform and its continued implementation despite trying political circumstances possible. Success will depend on keeping military bureaucrats from quietly sabotaging the effort and keeping the rank and file from openly expressing their fear and discontent.