Staunton, November 8 – This month marks the eighth anniversary of Sergey Shoygu’s service as Russian defense minister; and over the course of his tenure, he has transformed the Russian military beyond recognition into a powerful force while ensuring its popularity as one of the few places where social lifts continue to work, the editors of Nezavisimaya Gazeta say.
In a lead article that smacks of hagiography, they argue that he has proved himself a political survivor, an effective manager and “as foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has put it, ‘a tough negotiator” and has made changes in the military than anyone with an unaided eye can see (ng.ru/editorial/2020-11-08/2_8008_editorial.html).
“It is enough to look at the celebration of Victory Day on May 9 or visit the exhibit forum on the army near Moscow,” the editors write. The military has never been so well equipped with modern arms as now. Officials say that 70 percent of its weapons are at the most advanced level, up from a situation 30 years ago when that figure “did not exceed 15 percent.”
That has been accomplished at the cost of 23 trillion rubles (400 billion US dollars), but this rearmament has made possible “the political rebirth of the country.” In 2008, the fighting in Georgia raised questions about the Russian armed forces. But Shoygu has corrected the shortcomings and made the Russian military into a powerful and effective force.
The weapons systems are the most striking thing, but he has achieved at least as much and possibly more by focusing on improving the lives of soldiers and officers. Between 2012 and 2019, 680,000 military personnel received their own apartments. Including their dependents, that has changed the lives of 2.3 million Russians.
Shoygu has boosted pay and pensions, and he has arranged for all kinds of supplemental payments to those in uniform who are performing tasks especially critical for the regime. Most recently, this has involved paying bonuses to military doctors who have been helping the country fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The editors conclude with what may be Shoygu’s most important contribution. At the very least, it is one that sets him and his ministry apart from the rest of the Putin regime: “The Army today,” they right, is one of the few social lifts remaining” for Russians, a place where an individual can enter in his youth and rise to the top.
The paper’s editorial staff doesn’t say what is clearly on the minds of its members: Shoygu has demonstrated an ability to reach out beyond the current elite, precisely the kind of skill that would make him a successful leader – and also the kind of skill that is likely to make him a target for those with a different agenda.