Ex-KGB officer to head Russia defense

Putin appoints hawk Ivanov in a shake-up of government and military

March 29, 2001|By Will Englund | Will Englund,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW - With military reform and the war in Chechnya stalled, President Vladimir V. Putin named a hawkish ex-KGB officer yesterday as the first civilian defense chief in Russian history as part of a shake-up of the government.

Sergei Ivanov leaves his post as secretary of the Kremlin's Security Council, where he pushed a tough line on the Chechen fighting and on relations with the United States, to try to shake up Russia's stagnant army.

He is sure to meet resistance. Generals don't take kindly to people they refer to as "paratroopers," or outsiders, and are apt to be particularly unhappy with a boss from the rival KGB, said Viktor Baranets, a retired officer and current military correspondent for Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Yet, Putin himself is a former Soviet spy, and Ivanov has shown himself to be one of the popular president's most loyal lieutenants. They are almost the same age - Ivanov, at 48, is a few months younger - and have known each other since both were stationed in St. Petersburg.

Politically, the generals may find they have little room for maneuver against Ivanov, at least for the short term. Ivanov has been working on a military reform plan, and now his boss wants him to put it into effect. But even if he can impose his will on the army, there will be a question of whether money will be available to do so.

"He'll be able to make some cosmetic repairs, and that's all," Baranets said.

Ivanov replaces Gen. Igor Sergeyev, who has long promoted nuclear forces at the expense of regular units. But the continuing war in Chechnya has made it clear to the Kremlin that Russia needs an effective conventional army as much as or more than it needs a nuclear deterrent.

Car bombings in the Caucasus region on Saturday "reveal that the system of preventing terrorist acts does not work and that the situation in Chechnya does not improve," said Sergei Kolmakov, vice president of a parliamentary foundation here. Two months ago, Putin placed the Federal Security Service, or FSB, in overall charge of the Chechen conflict, but the army still appears to take the blame when things go wrong.

"I would also link this reshuffle to the crisis in Russian-American relations and with the response that Russia is trying to formulate as a reply to the tough policies of the American administration," Kolmakov said.

The two countries have in the past week started expelling each other's diplomats in a spy scandal, been at odds over the sale of military hardware to Iran, and disagreed over U.S. plans for a national missile defense system. Bush administration policy toward Russia has been decidedly cooler than that of the Clinton administration.

Ivanov, who speaks fluent English and Swedish, has been chief of the Security Council since late 1999. Last fall, he resigned as a general in the FSB.

He developed the doctrine of "information security" that led to government harassment of such journalists as Andrei Babitsky, a Radio Liberty reporter detained incommunicado for several weeks a year ago, and Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter with Novaya Gazeta who was held last month by troops outside Chechnya.

"We are not opponents of a free press, but we need an information concept of our own," he said last year. And he has argued that no country can be respected unless it has a strong army.

That might seem to make him a natural fit with the Russian military, except that one of his goals is to reduce the size of the general staff. He is expected to attack the corruption that is endemic within the officer corps, though Baranets is skeptical of his chances.

"It's a sweet swamp that after two or three months will just suck him in," he said.

Ivanov will be replaced at the Security Council by Vladimir Rushailo, chief of Russia's vast Interior Ministry, which oversees several security forces.

"Rushailo has lost control over a very powerful force, second only to the army," said Kolmakov. "But ... he will have new opportunities to be engaged in strategic problems of national security."

Rushailo is to be replaced by Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction in parliament.

Putin accepted the resignation of Yevgeny Adamov, minister of atomic energy, who has been accused of corruption by Greenpeace and by a parliamentary committee. Adamov has been overseeing a multimillion-dollar U.S. aid program designed to redirect Russia's nuclear program away from military research and production.

His efforts to accept spent nuclear fuel from abroad have provoked fairly determined opposition here, and may have made him expendable.

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