Pavel Felgenhauer in an article for The Jamestown Foundation titled “Russia Completes Massive Tsentr 2019 War Games With Enhanced Chinese Participation”:
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave a rare lengthy interview to the popular paper Moskovsky Komsomolets — the first in seven years, since being appointed to head the Ministry of Defense in November 2012. Speaking with the news outlet, Shoigu lauded his unparalleled achievements in restoring Russia’s military might after decades of decay and neglect.
This article makes you wonder how The Jamestown Foundation picks their headlines. The part about Exercise Tsentr 2019 or its connection to China is clearly the least interesting thing about Felgenhauer’s article.
Much more important is Felgenhauer’s take on Shoigu’s interview with Moskovsky Komsomolets. It is an understatement to say that it is rare for Shoigu to give interviews, and apparently he is not very good at it. This was the first interview in his seven years as defense minister, and it has turned into something of a drama. The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia published a fairly critical analysis of Shoigu’s interview by the well-known defense analyst Ilya Kramnik. This did not go over well with the Kremlin, and Izvestia quickly pulled the article and fired Kramnik.
I have been struggling to make sense of the story. Why would Izvestia publish a critical story about Shoigu? If it were part of a power struggle in the Kremlin or the Ministry of Defense, they would have found some unknown journalist to publish it instead of throwing Kramnik under the bus.
But Felgenhauer’s assessment makes sense:
The sacked Izvestia author had not criticized Shoigu’s strategic assessment of a supposed US-led eternal conspiracy to destroy and enslave Russia; he only questioned some of the defense ministry’s PR practices and Shoigu’s personal projection of grandeur. But that was enough to have him fired. As Shoigu explained in his Moskovsky Komsomolets interview, the West is running a constant cyberwar against the Russian military, spreading fake news and subversive innuendo, as well as organizing journalists and civil activists to investigate Russian military and special forces casualties in Donbas and Syria. NATO has created special cyber and communications warfare centers in Riga, Latvia, and Tallinn, Estonia, to undermine Russian military morale and incite a revolution. These Western plots must be resisted with vigor. Hence, a defense ministry Political Main Directorate was created in July 2018 to counter this threat (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 22). Apparently Kramnik, basically a loyal pro-Kremlin defense analyst, has been identified by the Ministry of Defense as an enemy hybrid warfare combatant — and dealt with accordingly.
In other words, Kramnik put it into words what most people were thinking. It is common knowledge that Shoigu took over the ministry when many of the hard and important decisions had already been made. Shoigu’s predecessor, Anatoly Serdyukov, and the chiefs of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov and Valery Gerasimov deserve much credit, and people find it offensive that Shoigu takes the honor.
To that comes that under Shoigu’s leadership there even appear to be areas where things are moving in the wrong direction. For example, Svobodnaya Pressa has followed up with a scathing article where they slam Shoigu for turning the navy into a littoral force without global reach. And Kramnik’s criticism of the Ministry’s PR practices was hardly considered a revelation of state secrets. Everyone knows that the Ministry of Defense lies, and Izvestia apparently thought it would be ok to suggest that they return to earlier practices of sometimes providing actually useful information.