MOSCOW President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed Russia's top military officer Tuesday in an apparent effort to assert Kremlin control over the armed forces and smooth the path for reforms.
The chief of general staff and other top brass have clashed with Russia's civilian defense minister, who was appointed by former President Vladimir Putin last year with a mandate to streamline the military's finances, cut corruption and fight graft in the Defense Ministry.
The top general's dismissal did not seem to be a sign of any power struggle between Putin and Medvedev, according to a Russian military analyst, but was likely a joint decision taken earlier this year but delayed until after Medvedev's inauguration.
Medvedev announced the removal Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky on Tuesday, but softened the blow by giving Baluyevsky another job in Russia's elite, making him a deputy chairman of the presidential Security Council.
Medvedev replaced Baluyevsky with Gen. Nikolai Makarov, an ally of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
A career military officer, Makarov, 58, had been the commander of forces in Siberia until Putin named him the military's armaments chief in April 2007, two months after installing Serdyukov.
Makarov's job was "to perform one of the key missions Serdyukov was given to put some order into the Defense Ministry and its procurement program, where the Kremlin believed there was too much graft," said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based military analyst.
Whereas Baluyevsky "was in an open fight with the defense minister to, a fight to resist his reforms, and he was kicked out," Felgenhauer said.
Announcing the reshuffle at a Kremlin meeting, which featured prominently in state-run television newscasts, Medvedev seemed to stress that he was accepting Serdyukov's recommendation.
"I received proposals from the defense minister on the appointment of a new ... chief of the general staff," Medvedev said.
The remarks may have been meant to reassure officers, who have balked at reforms, that Serdyukov has the Kremlin's backing. Generals have grumbled in recent months over initiatives to sell off military property and use civilians in support positions such as medical staff.
The televised meeting also appeared aimed at underscoring Medvedev's role as commander in chief, a job he assumed when he took over as president last month. Putin continues to wield major clout as prime minister and at times has overshadowed his hand-picked successor. Felgenhauer said both men likely had a hand in the decision.
While the reasons for the reshuffle were largely internal, Baluyevsky's dismissal could lead to a decrease in Russian rhetoric targeting the West though it is less likely to reflect a change in actual policy, which is in the Kremlin's hands.
Baluyevsky has been among the more vocal Russian critics of U.S. plans to deploy missile defense facilities in former Soviet satellite states in Europe, while Serdyukov has been relatively quiet.
But Putin and other top officials have strongly criticized the plans, and Baluyevsky's assertion that the intent is to weaken Russia's nuclear arsenal does not differ from the Kremlin line.