The revival of Russia's military power owes much to Dmitry Rogozin's flamboyant leadership of the country's defense industries - he's a politician rather than a technocrat
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Putin’s announcement that Russia will deploy as many as 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles this year, the announcement of new production of the TU160 bomber, the bewildering array of new equipment on display during the Victory Parade in Moscow on 9th May 2015 and the (for NATO) terrifyingly effective performance of the Russian military during the Crimean events of last year, all confirm something that even the most skeptical of commentators on Russia are being forced to admit -- Russia is back as a leading military power.
At the centre of this revival stand two extraordinary --- and very different --- men: Dmitry Rogozin and Sergei Shoigu.
Rogozin is the deputy prime minister in overall charge of Russia’s defense industries. Ultimately he is the man responsible for the flood of new weapons that are appearing and which have recently been on display.
Shoigu is Russia’s defense minister -- the man in overall charge of Russia’s sprawling defense establishment.
Both men deserve attention. Though both are well-known in Russia, neither man gets the attention they deserve in the West.
In this piece I will focus on Rogozin. In a later piece I will deal with Shoigu.
Though Rogozin’s present post makes him Russia’s top military industrial technocrat, nothing about his background appears to qualify him for that role.
Rogozin comes from an academic family with connections to the military. His father is sometimes said to have been a “military scientist”, and sometimes a “military historian”.
The two do not necessarily contradict each other. In Russia --- and previously in the USSR --- military history is treated as a science whose study is seen as essential to prepare the military for war.
Rogozin’s own degrees from Moscow State University do not however suggest a man with a great interest in military affairs. His first degree was in journalism, his second in economics.
Putting aside the question of his education and intellectual interests, Rogozin’s career is that of a professional politician, something he has been since the age of 30, soon after he completed his degrees.
In his politics at least Rogozin has been consistent. He has always been a prominent and outspoken representative of the “national-patriotic” tendency in Russian political life.
Where Rogozin differs from other Russian politicians of the same tendency is that he has always been something of an establishment figure, always keeping in with the power structure and always eschewing opposition activity.
An Orthodox Christian, he has never associated himself with either of the two big opposition parties --- the Communist Party of the Russian Federation or Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party --- which emerged in the 1990s and which in their very different ways have traditionally attracted people of “national-patriotic” views.
Rogozin’s entry into politics began in 1993 as a supporter of General Alexander Lebed, a nationalist soldier turned politician, who controversially supported Yeltsin in the second round of the Presidential election of 1996 after standing as an independent candidate in the first round.
Lebed broke with Yeltsin shortly after the election, and at about the same time Rogozin went his own way.
Rogozin was first elected to the Russian parliament in 1997 as an independent deputy for the city of Voronezh in Russia’s south
Rogozin’s flamboyant personality --- very evident throughout his career --- and his outspoken advocacy of the rights of ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics (what the Russians call “the near abroad”) soon made his name for him in the parliament as one of its more colourful deputies.
Following Lebed’s death in a helicopter crash in 2002, Rogozin formed his own party in partnership with the prominent economist Sergei Glazyev. The party --- Rodina (“motherland”) --- sought to position itself as a patriotic left wing alternative to the Communist Party, filling the space previously occupied by Lebed.
Rodina was initially successful. It gained a significant measure of support in the 2003 parliamentary elections, winning almost 10% of the vote, mostly at the expense of the Communist Party which was badly hit by revelations that it had taken money from the recently arrested Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
At the same time as Rogozin was working with Glazyev to set up Rodina, he also began his long association with Putin, being appointed by Putin as his Special Representative in Kaliningrad.
Inevitably this fostered suspicions that Rodina was actually a Kremlin project stitched together by the Kremlin’s “political technologists” (i.e., by Putin’s spin-doctors) to take votes away from the Communists, and that Rogozin was not an independent figure but was really the Kremlin’s man.
Whether that was so or not, Rodina was unable to build on its strong start. Perhaps because it was always something of a hodgepodge of groups and individuals with very different ideas, it soon fell prey to factional infighting.
Rogozin and Glazyev fell out. Glazyev has been consistently more leftist in his economic thinking --- and less of a Russian nationalist --- than Rogozin. Glazyev also gives the impression of being a much more independently minded person --- less close to the Kremlin power structure --- than Rogozin.
Just months after Rodina’s strong showing in the 1993 parliamentary elections Rogozin and Glazyev were at loggerheads over who the party should support as its candidate for the forthcoming Presidential elections in 2004. Rogozin wanted Rodina to back Putin. Glazyev wanted to run against Putin as Rodina’s candidate.
Rogozin won that particular battle --- ousting Glazyev from Rodina’s leadership --- but the price to Rodina’s reputation was high and the party never recovered.
Rogozin --- now Rodina’s sole leader --- tried to retrieve the situation by repositioning Rodina as an anti-immigrant party. His campaign slogan for the 2005 Moscow city elections --- “Let’s clean the garbage” --- provoked uproar, and complaints from none other than Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who may have felt that his own political territory was being invaded.
The sequel was that Rodina was banned from standing in the election on grounds of racial incitement. Shortly after it was absorbed by A Just Russia, the new social democrat party that subsequently emerged and which remains the main leftist alternative to the Communist Party to this day. Rogozin did not join and found himself left out in the cold.
Rogozin was plucked from likely political oblivion by Putin who unexpectedly appointed him Russia’s ambassador to NATO in 2007.
Nothing about Rogozin’s previous career would appear to have marked him out as a suitable candidate for such a sensitive diplomatic post. Tact has never been Rogozin’s strong point and to the extent that tact is commonly considered an essential quality for a successful diplomat he hardly comes across as someone who is likely to be one.
In the event Rogozin’s performance in the post is testament to a recurring feature of Rogozin’s career -- his ability to succeed in the most unlikely posts by remaining completely true to himself.
Where a less confident man might have tried to make a success of the post by moderating his language and by behaving in a more “diplomatic” way, Rogozin instead went out of his way to stir things up and to court controversy.
He trenchantly defended Russia’s position during the 2008 South Ossetia war. He vigorously opposed NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and Georgia. He loudly protested NATO’s plans to install an anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe. He vigorously condemned NATO’s campaign in 2011 against Libya.
On all of these issues he made his opinions public in an extraordinary series of pungent and highly undiplomatic tweets. A celebrated example was one he tweeted shortly after Gaddafi’s death. In it he compared NATO leaders gloating over Gaddafi’s death to delinquent youths hanging cats in a basement.
The result was that no-one in NATO was ever left in the slightest doubt about where Russia stood on any one of these issues.
Since making the stance of his country clear to his hosts is the single most important part of an ambassador’s job, Rogozin’s stint as Russia’s ambassador to NATO must be considered a success.
As for Rogozin, his spectacular performance as Russia’s ambassador to NATO restored his reputation in Russia.
In February 2011 Medvedev appointed him Russia’s Special Representative on Anti-Missile DefenSe, leading negotiations with NATO on this issue.
In December 2011 --- shortly after the announcement of Putin’s decision to stand again for the Presidency --- Rogozin was appointed deputy prime minister in overall charge of the defense industries.
Rogozin’s appointment to this post was hardly less unexpected than his appointment as ambassador to NATO.
At the time of his appointment Rogozin had no history as a military or industrial technocrat. Nor did he have any experience as a top manager. The idea that he would be the man to turn round Russia’s sprawling military industrial complex must have looked farfetched to many people.
The facts however speak for themselves. Where prior to Rogozin’s appointment the story was of constant procurement failures despite a rising defense budget --- with a seemingly endless succession of meetings in the Kremlin at which recriminations were traded by the participants as they searched fruitlessly around for a solution --- since Rogozin’s appointment a bewildering range of new weapons has appeared, coming in a growing flood.
This success must partly reflect Rogozin’s sheer enthusiasm for his job.
Since his appointment Rogozin has lost none of his gift for flamboyant promotion -- both of Russia’s defense industries and of himself.
The result is a never-ending series of tweets proudly touting whatever new weapon the military industrial complex comes up with.
There is something in this of the boy delighting in his new toys. To the grizzled veterans of the defense industries --- accustomed to the hard times that followed the USSR’s collapse --- such enthusiasm must however have come as a hugely welcome boost, making them at last feel appreciated after years of indifference.
Importantly it is enthusiasm which has also come with money. Whatever his possible weaknesses as a manager, Rogozin has proved an exceptionally tough and capable lobbyist for the defense industries. Under his watch the money has kept flowing, keeping the defense industries humming with work, even during the hard times that have followed last year’s oil price collapse.
Rogozin is also the man in overall charge of Russia’s space program, where he has overseen work on the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia’s far east, and development of the new Angara rocket family.
These are both very difficult, complex projects. Here again Rogozin’s drive and enthusiasm appears to be producing results. Both seem to be on track after initial cost-overruns and delays.
However the sheer size and complexity of these projects means that Rogozin’s lack of management experience may here have been more of a problem. Strikes at Vostochny earlier this year by disgruntled workers complaining of non-payment of wages, plus allegations of corruption, have forced Putin to step in and take personal charge of the project.
Despite this setback Rogozin’s star seems to be rising.
He appears to have Putin’s confidence. There is little sign of any overt disaffection with his leadership on the part of the defense industries. Though little is know of his relationship with Shoigu --- the other key figure in Russia’s defense establishment --- there are none of the tell-tale signs that might suggest strain between them. On the contrary the pace of Russia’s military build-up suggests a successful partnership, with the two men’s very different skill-sets complimenting each other.
It is easy to dismiss Rogozin. Some of his gimmicks --- such as his threat to fly to Moldova in a TU160 bomber --- might suggest a man who lacks seriousness.
The reality --- as both his record and the transcripts of his meetings with Putin posted on the Kremlin website show --- is of a man who delivers results, and who manages to stay on top of his brief. He is definitely someone to watch, and in one capacity or another he is likely to be around for a long time.
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