MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has fired three generals and a top state security official in a shake-up seen as an attempt to end feuding in the top ranks and a response to recent losses linked to Chechnya.
The main casualty was General Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the general staff. A Kremlin statement said Kvashnin, 57 and in the job since 1997, would be replaced by his deputy, Yuri Baluyevsky.
The head of Interior Ministry forces, General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, the top military commander in the North Caucasus, General Mikhail Labunets, and the deputy head of the FSB security service, Anatoly Yezhkov, also lost their jobs.
The Kremlin press office gave no reason for the dismissals, but analysts said Kvashnin had paid the price for a tug-of-war with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s confidant. The two have been competing for effective control of the military.
The other three were punished for last month’s brazen separatist raid on Ingushetia, neighboring the rebel region of Chechnya, in which 90 people were killed, analysts said.
Kvashnin’s dismissal followed a decree by Putin cutting the powers of the general staff and reducing it to a department of the Defense Ministry.
As he sacked Kvashnin, Putin awarded him the “Services to the Motherland” order, third class. But Itar-Tass news agency quoted defense ministry sources as saying that Kvashnin had turned down an unspecified new job and quit the army.
Ivanov, who attended Putin’s meeting with the newly appointed Baluyevsky, made clear that he and the president expected the new chief of the general staff to focus on military planning rather than on securing control over the military.
“After surviving a difficult period for its armed forces, the country now is in better shape and the general staff should concentrate more on prospects of developing the armed forces and think about future wars,” he said in televised comments.
Russia’s post-Soviet leaders have repeatedly failed in attempts to modernise the huge and ineffective armed forces, inherited from the Soviet Union.
After years of poor funding and negligence, the 1.3 million-strong force is beset by problems ranging from poor equipment and training to regular desertions of conscripts.
Putin had declared in his State of the Union address that reform of the military was a priority.
Putin made clear in his state of the nation address in May that military reform remained a primary goal.
Military officials have said the jockeying for influence between the Defense Ministry and the general staff — a built-in feature of military life in Russia — was one of the factors stalling any effort to carry out radical reforms.
Kvashnin came to prominence when he led the failed war to seize control of Chechnya in 1994-96. He has persistently clashed with defense ministers, calling for a buildup of massive ground forces at the expense of more sophisticated and modern branches of the military.
“Kvashnin was a master of intrigue,” Interfax-AVN news agency quoted prominent general Leonid Ivashov as saying.
“He did this under former Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev as well as under the current Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, causing huge harm to the main principle of the armed forces — single command.”