The counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will determine the course of the conflict in Ukraine for this year, and possibly the fate of the war. Nevertheless, the capture of Bakhmut by the Russian PMC Wagner remains one of the main events of 2023.
At this point it is important to analyze the battle in Bakhmut, including the so-called the “Prigozhin rebellion”, and the first results of the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine not as separate events, but in their interconnectedness. That will allow us to more deeply understand the processes that are taking place at the front, as well as within the Russian political elites and its armed forces, and between Russia and the West outside of Ukraine.
Moreover, those events signal that there is a force rapidly growing and increasing its influence on the international arena that can become important factor and instrument in the conflict between the West and Russia.
In this situation, I considered it necessary to return to the series “Russian Army and U-Turn in Putin’s policy» and in part 2, to make analysis of the current events based on what happened in previous years, but remained hidden from the public or misunderstood by both Russian and Western political analysts and commentators (part 1 of the series — Russian Army and U-turn in Putin’s Policy » Валерий Морозов (valerymorozov.com)
Many questions, but no answers
Modern warfare has one peculiarity. Politicians and the media willingly raise questions, but do not give answers, and if they do give answers, most of these answers intend to support ideology and cover up the reality.
Chess has lost popularity and is abandoned. Party poker came into politics including international relations. Fakes have not just become cover for intentions or mistakes made. Fake news and misinformation have become the main tool of politics, negotiations and even military operations. However, it is rather difficult to make fakes of flying rockets, shells explosions and death of thousands of people…
Let’s start with Bakhmut. State leaders, the command of the armed forces of Russia and Ukraine did not answer the questions that have long been raised by many who closely followed the operation «Bakhmut meat grinder».
Why did Bakhmut in the eyes of the public, not only in Ukraine and Russia, but in many countries, became for six months the “second Stalingrad”? Why was this city given more attention than any other sector of the front during half a year of fighting? After all, the length of the Bakhmut sector of the front was only 15 to 5 kilometers at different stages of the battle. At the same time, the line of the Ukrainian-Russian front in the same period was from 1000 to 815 kilometers, and the Bakhmut front accounted for no more than 1.5% of the total confrontation line.
Bakhmut was an important stronghold of the second line of defense of Ukraine, but the sector of the front directly near Donetsk, the capital of the DPR, was more important from political, military and humanitarian point of view.
More important were the sectors of the front in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions, where the current counter-offensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine began. Why did Kyiv need to get into “Bakhmut meat grinder”, if Zelensky needs the lost troops and wasted ammunition and equipment now, when the outcome of the war is really being decided? For what purpose did 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers die and 70,000 were wounded, and why all that happened just before the start of general counteroffensive?
Why, after the capture of Bakhmut, having broken through the second line of defense of the Ukrainian army, in violation of all the rules of strategy and tactics, the Russian army did not develop its offensive into the territory in order to reach the third line of the Ukrainian defense, but stopped?
How did the very idea of the “Bakhmut meat grinder” operation come about? Who came up with that idea? Are General Sergei Surovikin and Yevgeny Prigogine the two main authors of this operation? And, why did General Surovikin, the chief commander of the Russian troops on the Ukrainian front at the initial stage of the “Bakhmut meat grinder”, not provide the PMC Wagner with enough ammunition in advance, but leave the supply issues “for later period”? How could Surovikin and Prigozhin not foresee that there could be supply disruptions, and how could Prigozhin accuse the Minister of Defense Shoigu and the Chief of Staff Gerasimov of those disruptions in supplies, if it was planned exactly by Surovikin and Prigozhin to grind thirty percent of the combat-ready personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on one percent of the front line?
What was behind the conflict between the Wagner PMC that operated as contractor of the Ministry of Defense and received payment from the Ministry of Defense for its services and actions, with its customer, personally with the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff, who signed financial documents, including for payment for the «services» of the PMC Wagner and Prigozhin?
Why did General Surovikin turn out to be aloof from the conflict, although he remained the direct commander of the Wagner PMC as deputy Chief Commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine after appointment of Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, as Chief Commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine? How could it happen in the Russian army that a subordinate accused of sabotage not his immediate superior, but Minister of Defense and Chief of the General Staff?
How could it happen that Yevgeny Prigozhin, “owner” or, as some media call him, “leader” and “commander” of the Wagner PMC, not only criticized, but attacked and insulted Shoigu and Gerasimov for several months, accusing them of «betrayal» without any official response from them, without any payback in return, except for payment for his services and the supply of ammunition? And then, according to his statement, published in Russian media, Prigozhin wrote letter to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, accusing top officials of the Ministry of Defense of sabotage, corruption and treason.
How could significant part of the Russian non-state media post Prigozhin’s speeches and statements, comment on them, focusing the attention of the Russian public on the conflict that seemed absolutely shameful to everyone in Russia and abroad, for several months, and that media, like Prigozhin himself, was not punished or sanctioned by the Kremlin?
Why did this story feed foreign media, perplexing politicians, journalists and commentators with the absurdity of what was happening? As former British Foreign and Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind expressed the opinion of Western political elites about the ongoing conflict between Prigozhin and the Ministry of Defense: “This is not possible, because it is stupid!”
I would like to answer all these questions, taking into account the experience of my work as general contractor in the Kremlin and at the facilities of the Presidential Administration for seventeen years, as the only one so far in the history of the Moscow Kremlin who refused to carry out the corruption scheme developed by the three top Commanders of the Main Directorate of Guards (now the Federal Service od Guards) and managed to get out of that conflict retaining the contract for the reconstruction of the engineering systems of the Grand Kremlin Palace (1994-95), who was the first and so far the only one to write statement to the Prosecutor’s Office about corruption at facilities in the Kremlin, including the “Special Zone of the President of the Russian Federation” (2005), and remained to work at the facilities of the Presidential Administration, and in 2009, wrote statement to Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office on corruption at the Olympic facilities of the Administration of the President in Sochi, participated in organizing and conducting sting operation against the Kremlin top managers, and later, when those materials and evidence were used by the top Police and FSB officers to extort money from the Kremlin Administration officials, managed to pass letter to President Medvedev, bypassing the «controllers» from the Presidential Administration and without witnesses (with the exception of his adjutant), and to get his resolution ordering Prosecutor General to start investigation, and when the employees of the Investigative Committee managed to close down the investigation under the pretext that “the evidence has already been destroyed”, to receive the second resolution from President Medvedev that resulted in initiating criminal case (known as the “Case against the Kremlin”) that was buried after two years of the investigation, but led to dismissal of the whole management of Administration of Presidential Affairs, disappearance of some and imprisonment of few top officials, including of the Police and the Investigation Committee…
Photo: The second resolution of President Dmitry Medvedev, Novaya Gazeta, 27.07.2010
So far, no one else has succeeded in doing this, and taking into account that experience, I can offer my own answers to the above questions.
The Russian dolls in Bakhmut
In my articles on Russian history, Russian civilization, the Kremlin’s internal policy and Vladimir Putin’s organizational methods that he applies to solve problems that Russia faces in its conflict with the West, for several years now, I have been writing about the principle that I called the “Russian doll”.
In Russian civilization, it became cultural and historical tradition to apply this principle in creation of state and social systems, structures and organizations. The Russian doll principle is being applied to control political processes, internal and abroad, including special operations of secret services and military operations. It was precisely the “Russian doll”, in terms of its organization, methods and mechanisms for its implementation and execution, tasks set and goals accomplished, that was used in the operation called by Russian media “Bakhmut meat grinder”.
In Bakhmut, we observed the multi-layered special operation that comprised of several separate suboperations, and each of these suboperations pursued its own goal, had its own authors and executors, actors who were brought to the forefront to perform and be presented to the audience. And all these suboperations were carried out inside one Big Doll that covered up and controlled the entire operation.
It seems more convenient to start the analysis with the Big Doll, the largest external figure, visible to most observers and participants, and then go deeper, and I think that this is what readers expect from me, but in this case, I will not start with the largest figure. It is not that simple. The Big Doll will become more visible gradually, in the course of the Ukrainian counteroffensive operation, and it will be apparent at the end of the war, when the results and consequences that were invisible, hidden, will become evident.
Today, I’ll start with one doll that was inside, that was not the largest, but not the smallest either, and inside it there were other dolls hiding, and some of those dolls are not even visible and known to public up to date. However, these medium dolls are important and interesting and are going to play increasingly important roles, including in the international affairs, that need to be analyzed and explained.
As a reference stone, a fulcrum to begin my analysis, I am going to use one of the most important results of this special operation, the Bakhmut meat grinder, because by the results one can determine the dolls and the real tasks performed by them.
And, if we analyze the results of the battle in Bakhmut, it should be recognized that in terms of its consequences the Bakhmut meat grinder was one of the most expensive and effective advertising and promotional campaigns that made three brands the most recognizable: «Russian PMC», «Wagner» and «Prigozhin».
How much is a global brand worth?
To make “Wagner”, “Russian PMC” and “Prigozhin” the global brands known in most of the countries in the world, Russia paid with over 20 thousand lives of volunteers killed and forty thousand wounded. Russia also paid with tens of billions of rubles (or hundreds of millions of dollars) of ammunition, military equipment, fuel and equipment used to fight in Bakhmut, although most of the ammunition was from Soviet-era stockpiles.
Russia received Artemovsk (the name of Bakhmut in Soviet times) as completely destroyed Bakhmut, and its restoration will cost billions of rubles that have to be paid. However, it should be noted that Russia received not only the city and adjacent territories with their natural resources, but also the population that will eventually return to their native places.
Ukraine paid more than 50,000 dead and 70,000 wounded soldiers and officers, hundreds of civilian lives, tens of thousands of population that moved from Ukraine into Russia, by tens of billions of dollars received from the West for the purchase of weapons, equipment, ammunition, for paying military salaries and other related expenses. Ukraine has lost Bakhmut, nearby towns and villages, their population, as well as lands and natural resources of this part of the country, and that can also be included in “expenses”.
The West paid tens of billions of dollars that were allocated to Ukraine for the purchase of all of the mentioned above, because the sums allocated to Ukraine for this war will never be returned. It should be taken into account that in the «Bakhmut meat grinder» during the nine months of fighting, the weapons, equipment and ammunition used by the Ukrainian troops and destroyed, exceeded the number that Ukraine received from the West during the same period of time.
And what was it all for? What were the gains by the Kremlin from that advertising campaign? To understand this, one must go back to the history of relations between the Kremlin and the Russian army, starting from the end of the Boris Yeltsin period, and then to the origins of PMC Wagner and Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Story shrouded in silence, but full of noise and fury
In my previous articles, including the first article in this series, describing the story of Vladimir Putin’s coming to power in the Kremlin, I wrote about one of the most important episodes, when he managed to prove to Boris Yeltsin and his clan, called the Family, his effectiveness and the ability to quietly and imperceptibly solve complex problems and remove dangerous competitors.
Let me remind you. After arriving in Moscow in 1996, Putin was given task to remove Igor Rodionov from the post of Russian Defense Minister. There were three main reasons for the conflict between Rodionov and the Yeltsin clan:
- In 1996, the Russian Armed Forces still retained the high-ranking officers brought up and trained in Soviet times. Significant part of these officers, including generals, perceived the collapse of the USSR as tragedy created by the high party bureaucrats, corrupted state officials, groups in the KGB and Police connected to criminals. The constant degradation of the economy after the collapse of the USSR and the reduction in funding for the army caused not only discontent and protest, but pushed the generals and officers to overthrow the Yeltsin and those, who privatized Soviet enterprises and properties, the “reformers”.
- The military reform started by Boris Yeltsin to sharply reduce the Armed Forces and military budget. The reform was based on concept developed in Gorbachev’s time, that in the modern world, no major war with the West and NATO was possible, that Russia needed small, mobile, professional army capable of effectively waging local conflicts on its own periphery while maintaining strategic nuclear forces to maintain the status of the world power.
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, appointed by Yeltsin to carry out that reform, blocked it. He and his General Staff insisted on maintaining the Armed Forces capable of waging large-scale war with NATO, Japan and China. Generals from the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff believed that the threats had not disappeared, that Russia was surrounded by potential aggressors. Sharp reduction in the army and navy was considered premature, since Russia needed army capable of conducting «active defense» in all directions. The military insisted that the reform of the Armed Forces could be started only if significant financial resources were allocated for modernization, at least twice the level of funding proposed by the reformers.
In response, the reformers not only refused to provide the Armed Forces with the funding demanded by Rodionov, but accelerated the defense cuts forcing Rodionov to look for external sources of funding.
- Yeltsin, his family and his inner circle had financial and business interests not only in Russia, but also abroad, and one of the services that protected the Family’s business interests and controlled financial flows abroad was the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the General Staff. In order to obtain additional sources of funding for the needs of the Ministry of Defense, Rodionov took control of the Family’s foreign business, in particular, diamond mining in Angola, and directed funds to the needs of the army, including the GRU itself.
This conflict between the Ministry of Defense and the Family could lead to military coup and arrest of Yeltsin and his inner circle, as well as the entire group of reformers.
To solve the problem of removing Rodionov from his post, carrying out reduction and purge of the Armed Forces from radical officers, Vladimir Putin and his group, who were not known to public and had no influence in Moscow, were called from the political periphery of Sant-Petersburg. This group began, — from within and quietly, like a small «doll» inside the Russian state, — to carry out special operation to remove Rodionov from the post of defense minister, to carry out purges and take control of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff.
That was the first stage of the special operation «Successor».
«St. Petersburg doll» of the Yeltsin family
Putin and his people took positions first, in the Administration of the Presidential Affairs, where Putin began to oversee the Russian state properties and the Family’s business projects abroad, and then, when it became clear that from this position he had no chance to remove the Minister of Defense, Vladimir Putin was appointed Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation — Head of the Control and Audit Department, and that allowed him and his “doll” to quietly get inside the Ministry of Defense under the guise of a routine check and obtain necessary information, kompromat and evidence that allowed Yeltsin to sack Rodionov.
By this time, in March 1997, Putin was already considered by the Family as the only candidate for the presidency, and all the resources of the Family were directed to ensure his support as successor to Yeltsin. With that aim, the Family began to reshuffle the highest echelons of power, forming other «dolls» that had to support Putin and his team on the way to the Kremlin.
In particular, Anatoly Chubais was transferred from the post of head of the Presidential Administration to the position of First Deputy Prime Minister of the Government in order to ensure Putin’s support by state bureaucrats and business, primarily by oligarchs, and Chubais successfully coped with the task.
In support of Chubais, the “doll” of special services was created that managed to convince some oligarchs, including Boris Berezovsky (Badri Patarkatsishvili played major role as instrument and close link to Berezovsky), that the choice of Putin was initiated by oligarchs themselves, and the choice of Putin as Yeltsin’s successor to the special services and the military-industrial complex had nothing to do (some oligarchs until the end of their days believed, and some still believe that they made that choice on their own initiative, and attribute to themselves authorship of the idea of nominating Putin to the role of Yeltsin’s successor).
In 1998, Chubais was appointed by Yeltsin as his special representative in relations with international financial organizations, and one of the main tasks of Chubais was to ensure the support of the West for Putin’s candidacy for the post of President of the Russian Federation. Chubais also successfully completed that task.
President Clinton, who personally confirmed to Yeltsin the US approval of Putin’s candidacy, believed, like all in his close circle, including Hillary Clinton, that Putin was the nominee not only of Yeltsin, but also of the Russian oligarchs and pro-Western business, that Putin would fulfill the role of caretaker and controller over Russia, while maintaining calm in the country and freedom of action for Western business throughout the post-Soviet space, and also, as former KGB officer, will be able to control corruption and crime that the Western business was fed up by that time, forcing the West to concentrate on China.
The same time, Chubais managed to reach agreement with the IMF on allocation of $11.2 billion for Russia as credit to overcome the 1998 global economic crisis. Important role in that case was played by Sergei Kiriyenko, specially appointed Prime Minister, and his deputy Boris Nemtsov, who has long been regarded in the West as representative of the pro-Western lobby and one of the leaders of the reformers.
The money was «received», although it did not reach Russian economy. The money “disappeared”, and although special commission of the Accounts Chamber of the Russian Federation conducted secret investigation and found out the details of the “disappearance” of funds, that investigation had no consequences. The case was closed. Default followed as the final banquet of the outgoing clan…
In 1999, Chubais was responsible for approval by the State Duma of Vladimir Putin for the post of prime minister that made Vladimir Putin Yeltsin’s legal successor. Chubais also coped with that task, although he had to press hard on some deputies.
Photo: Putin and Chubais, late 1990s
The second key figure who organized special operation to ensure the success of Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power was Valentin Yumashev, who, in order to provide cover and support for Putin, was appointed head of the Presidential Administration and replaced Chubais in March 1997.
It was Yumashev who ensured Putin’s support from the Presidential Administration and provided him direct contact with the Family. By this time, Yumashev had already become not only Yeltsin’s memoirist, but also his son-in-law, and his wife Tatyana Yumasheva, Yeltsin’s daughter, «led» Putin on behalf of the Yeltsins.
In the photo: Valentin Yumashev, Boris Yeltsin, Anatoly Chubais
One important fact should be noted. The rise of Chubais and Yumashev to the highest echelon of power in the USSR and Russia was under control and with support, first of the KGB, and then of the Russian special services. Yumashev was introduced to Yeltsin by the head of the Presidential Security Service Alexander Korzhakov, former officer of the 9th Directorate of the KGB (guards), to whom Yumashev was recommended by the FSB. Chubais never concealed his connections with the KGB since his participation in the group of economists – reformers (1979). As he himself recalled: “I was responsible for security (from the KGB), it was my job. And for the fact that none of us was arrested and imprisoned, I was responsible. And that was the system of measures that we deliberately taken.” (Andrey Kolesnikov. Unknown Chubais. 2004).
Expansion and growth of Putin’s “Doll”
After the removal of Rodionov, in order to calm down the officer corps, General of the Army Igor Sergeyev was appointed Minister of Defense. Before his appointment, Sergeyev was Commander in Chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces. He belonged to the Soviet nuclear missile complex that was created as “nuclear doll” inside the Soviet military-industrial complex by Stalin and Beria, who supervised the Soviet secret services and most important defense projects, including nuclear and missile. That “doll” included group of nuclear physicists and curators of that project in the Central Committee of the CPSU.
After the collapse of the USSR and the liquidation of the CPSU, these curators moved to the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation, and in the 1990s they dispersed among corporations, including Rosatom, government, as well as branches of Western corporations in Russia. It was the curators of the military-industrial complex in the Central Committee of the CPSU who brought the former director of the Soviet military plant “LOMO” Dmitry Sergeyev (please do not confuse with General Igor Sergeyev) as vice-mayor of Sant-Petersburg, who became the first direct boss of Vladimir Putin in the city Administration (see https://valerymorozov.com/news/3360 ).
General Igor Sergeyev, selected by Putin to the post of Minister of Defense, ensured control of the Yeltsin’s Family and Putin over the Armed Forces and allowed to begin the process of reforming the army in accordance with the post-Soviet defense concept. Creation of that concept started in the times of Gorbachev. In November 1997, Igor Sergeyev received the title of Marshal of the Russian Federation.
By taking control over the Russian Defense Ministry, Putin not only guaranteed security to Yeltsin and his inner circle, but also secured Washington’s acceptance of Putin’s status as Yeltsin’s successor.
In May 1997, Putin became the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, in fact the head of the Administration (under the umbrella of Yumashev) and started establishing control over all branches of state power, including in the regions.
Ten months later, Putin was appointed Chairman of the FSB, and his closest associates occupied key positions in the FSB. It was during these years that the influence and power of the FSB that was constantly and significantly decreasing in the post-Soviet period, began to grow rapidly, although many, including the oligarchs and regional leaders, did not notice this. They continued to believe that Putin and his “men” were silently fulfilling the tasks that Yeltsin’s inner circle and the oligarchs put forward.
When he already became the most influential person in the country, Vladimir Putin could, rather humiliatingly, but outwardly calmly, sit in the waiting room of oligarchs for hours, waiting for appointment, for example, in Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s office.
(When I was told about these episodes, I immediately thought that Khodorkovsky would eventually pay and pay dearly for the hours of Putin’s waiting)
In April 1999, on the basis of kompromat obtained by the FSB, the Commission headed by Putin and Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin removed Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov from his office. Skuratov was one of the last and one of the most capable members of the anti-Yeltsin group of left-wing politicians and the military, and by that time he was officially investigating the activities of Yeltsin’s Family.
Even at that time, there were very few people who understood that Putin had actually already taken power in Russia. It seemed that there were figures more influential, independent and worthy of being the President and leader of Russia, for example, Yevgeny Primakov, who headed the Government in 1998-1999 and whom it seemed very difficult for Putin to remove.
After his appointment as Chairman of the Government, Yevgeny Primakov immediately ensured growth of Russian economy and standard of living of the people, for the first time in the post-Soviet period. Moreover, he and his team did that by taking decisions familiar and understandable to the people: restoring influence of the state, by return to planning in the economy, strengthening the ruble and restoring Russia’s financial independence from the international financial system.
Primakov and his team became so popular among the Russian population that his removal and change of government, became very risky, especially for Putin and his team, who had no positive story, who had only the negative result of the post-Soviet collapse in St. Petersburg. That could not attract the population and voters.
Primakov had to be removed from politics so that the post of prime minister would be taken by a person who would take on himself all the negativity that inevitably would form in society after the removal of Primakov. That new prime-minister had to be unable to become the leader due to his personal qualities and who could easily be later removed from office.
Operation was carried out to remove Primakov, who was replaced with Stepashin, and when the time came, Stepashin was easily removed to public satisfaction. Putin’s path into the office of the prime minister as official successor to Yeltsin, was open. «Putin’s Doll» has grown and absorbed, imperceptibly, all other “dolls”, including military, special services, political and oligarch’s clans.
Photo: Vladimir Putin and Sergei Stepashin, 1999
The Russian Armed Forces also played important role in the removal of Stepashin and carried out promotion campaign to support the election of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation. While Stepashin was prime minister, the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff blocked any action against separatism in Chechnya, demonstrating indecision, inaction and incapacity of the government. After Putin’s appointment as Prime Minister, the war in Chechnya was unleashed and used to raise Putin’s approval rating from 2% in 1999 to 85% in 2000, by the time of the presidential election.
From Rurik to Putin, and then…
After the election of Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation, the task of strengthening control over the Armed Forces and reforming them, as potentially the most dangerous force for new regime remained relevant.
The war in Chechnya in 1999 pushed back plans to reform the army, but after the victory over the separatists and the establishment of rule by Akhmat Kadyrov in Chechnya in 2000, the Kremlin returned to the plan to reform the army.
Marshal Igor Sergeyev had to be removed from the post of Minister of Defense, because he appeared not to be ready for radical reduction in the armed forces, especially for five-fold reduction in so closed and dear to him, the Russian strategic missile forces (there were such ideas in the Kremlin at that time), as well as the severe purges in the army. Since that time, Putin and his inner circle could not trust Sergeyev or any other professional military man, who raised from lieutenant to general, to lead the Armed Forces.
Unique period in the history of Russia began.
Since the creation of the first Russian state, Rus, the entire elite of the Russian state consisted of the army men. That was the Squad, the army of Prince Rurik. Even its name, Rus’, the Russian state received not by the name of one of the tribes or a group of tribes, but by the name of the Squad of Prince Rurik and his family, who were called «Rus».
From that time, from the 9th century, professional military men were appointed heads of civil state structures and later, special services, but it never occurred to Russian rulers to appoint civilian or policeman as head of the military department, as Commander of Russian army. All Tsars and aristocrats began to serve in the army from childhood.
For the first time in the history of Russia, Putin created regime of government that allowed people, who did not belong to military, to be appointed ministers of defense. Moreover, only those, who had not served a single day in the army in the officer rank, were appointed ministers.
During Putin’s rule, Ministers of Defense were intelligence officer Sergei Ivanov (2001-2007), philologist by education. He was succeeded by Anatoly Serdyukov, driver of communications battalion, who served as private and corporal, and who was given in the Ministry the nickname “furniture maker” (2007-2012), and then Sergei Shoigu was appointed Minister of Defense. Shoigu did not serve a single day in the army, even as private, but was appointed to the post of minister already in the rank General of the Army. He got the nickname “plywood maker” and “woodcarver” popular among professional military and intelligence officers (2012-present).
There are two interesting consistent patterns to note down.
First. All civilian ministers of defense, appointed by Putin, did not seek the office. The initiative has always come from Vladimir Putin. However, there were differences.
Sergei Ivanov, although he did not seek to head the Ministry of Defense, accepted this appointment with readiness as counterintelligence officer, who understood the task to purge the officers opposed to Yeltsin and the Putin’s clan («doll”) and who could oppose to Putin’s plans.
Anatoly Serdyukov resisted the appointment, as best as he could, trying to avoid hatred of professional military. As he himself admitted in conversation with one of my friends, the person very close to Serdyukov: “I did everything I could to avoid this, but I was forced to agree. I’ve been ordered!»
Sergey Shoigu was the only one who accepted Putin’s decision with joy and willingness to impose himself as army general and defense minister. He and his clan wanted to get Ministry of Defense under control. Shoigu already had experience of portraying what he was not, as well as taking over what he had not created and transferring that into what he wanted.
Builder by education and the Communist party official by experience, Shoigu was never rescuer or specialist in overcoming consequences of disasters, such as earthquake or flooding. He was never firefighter and never worked in the Soviet fire service or the civil defense system. And yet, he created and headed the Ministry of Emergency Situations that like nesting doll, first absorbed all the financial flows from Russian budget to the former Soviet organizations and services responsible for emergency situations and protecting civilian population. Then Shoigu ruined and absorbed the entire Soviet system for protecting population from fires and natural disasters, as well as the civil defense system in case of war.
Shoigu showed himself to be skillful and cunning politician, bureaucrat and showman. He managed to create for the Ministry of Emergency Situations the image of the ministry that functioned, and judging by the reports of television and the media, sometimes even successfully. Over the eighteen years as minister for emergency situations, and then over the nine pre-war years as minister of defense, Shoigu managed to raise his rating among the Russian population from zero in 1994 to 21% in 2021, and to enter the top three politicians in terms of recognition and support by the population. Only the war in Ukraine brought down his rating almost to the original level, — and Prigozhin played important role in that fall (I will come back to “Prigozhin rebellion” later).
Shoigu was well aware that in the Ministry of Defense he would have to play his usual role of successful and brave minister and to create picture, covering up the real work of another body in the big “defense doll” — the core that would really ensure the defense of Russia. This was one of the tasks assigned to him by the Kremlin, as it had been assigned before him to Serdyukov. Shoigu’s second task was to ensure control over the military, over officers and the army, to prevent any threat from them for political elites and regime.
The fate of his predecessors, Ivanov and Serdyukov, showed that Shoigu career in the army could end in big trouble. Ivanov, over the six years as minister of defense, turned the officers against him so much that he had to be removed in order to prevent another aggravation in relations between the army and the Kremlin. That was just the beginning…
Serdyukov became the first defense minister in Russian history to be punched in the face by general, his own adjutant, according to some Russian media reports. The hatred of the military towards Serdyukov spilled over and initiated criminal investigation against Serdyukov and his inner circle. Putin managed to get Serdyukov out of the threat of arrest and imprisonment, but after his dismissal from the post of minister, Serdyukov did not have the slightest chance to regain at least some respect among the Russians, and when Putin someday leaves the Kremlin, the military, special services and the Prosecutor General’s Office will be happy to remind Serdyukov of his time as the Minister of Defense.
Second. All three were entrusted with tasks that were not paramount to Russia’s defense capabilities, but were aimed at «optimizing» the defense sector, cutting off and utilizing through privatization or dismissal of defense structures, facilities and personnel that were superfluous from the point of view of the new defense concept. These were the cuts in the budget financing, personnel, as well as hundreds of buildings and estate objects in the largest cities of Russia, including dozens in Moscow and dozens around it, including educational institutions, research and scientific centers, millions of hectares of territories in all regions, stocks of weapons and equipment worth hundreds of billions of dollars, as well as strategic reserves of materials, metals, including thousands of tons of titanium, copper, uranium, etc. All that reduction was necessary to cut costs, increase direct and legal, as well as indirect, secret and even illegal incomes of the defense complex, its commanders and managers. It was those profitable, but not the most important areas and resources that were allocated to civilian ministers as «grazing» to benefit them and their clans.
From political and state point of view, all three were the screen, large “matryoshka”, “Russian dolls”, figures that covered smaller dolls that were more important for the defense of Russia. Those were groups of professional military men, scientists, production specialists, who carried out and were responsible for restoring the level of combat readiness of the reduced and «optimized» Armed Forces. These dolls were responsible for creation of new types of weapons and putting them into service. The civilian ministers did not interfere in the affairs of these dolls, and their interference was not allowed.
Moreover, until 2014, three ministers were supposed to create the appearance of a “mess” in the Kremlin, thereby reassuring the West, primarily the United States, of «stupidity» of the regime, and providing Putin with time to create those armed forces that would deprive the West of hope of defeating Russia in the war.
These groups existed before Putin came to the Kremlin, but under Yeltsin, there was no demand for them, there was no demand for their abilities and talents, as well as for their achievements made in Soviet times and since that times kept secret. Therefore, they were in the shadows, inside bigger dolls, politically weak and had only hidden influence, retaining their clan ties and relations from the Soviet era.
The first impetus for Putin’s rethinking of relations with the West was the expansion of NATO to the East in 2004, when the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia became NATO members. That forced Putin to change his mind and turn to these remnants of the organizational and scientific core of the Soviet military-industrial complex, and its resurrection slowly began.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to power in the United States, when the process of Ukraine’s integration in the EU and NATO began, when split between the Kremlin and Washington started quickly widening, and the threat of direct conflict round Ukraine loomed over the Kremlin, the role and importance of these “dolls”, quietly hiding deep within the Presidential Administration, Russian corporations, the Ministry of Defense and the military-industrial complex, has increased dramatically. It was they who were able to return to Soviet heritage and start restoring the military industry, science and armed forces. At that time, those dolls required Serdyukov, the «furniture maker», and Shoigu, the showman, to cover them.
However, the world was also changing, and Putin faced several serious problems, and it was to solve those problems that PMC Wagner wase created.
Where does PMC «Wagner» come from?
(To be continued)