New head of the GOU: Lt Gen Vladimir Zarudnitsky

The Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate (GOU) has a distinguished past, a rather lackluster present and an uncertain future. Sometimes rightly described as the ‘brain of the army‘ (unkind souls may regard that as a rather low bar, akin to being the ‘soul of the tax office’ or ‘heart of the Chekist’), the GOU is at once a planning body, a liaison agency with other federal power agencies such as the MVD and FSB, a kind of operational think tank and an incubator of the brightest military thinkers. Or at least that’s the plan. In recent years it has been in disarray: four chiefs in four years, a massive cut in staff from 500 to 150, and a very poor performance in the 2008 Georgian invasion, which was in a number of ways handled very badly. On the other hand, given the paucity of present military thought (something Chief of the General Staff Makarov himself admits), and the current drive to reform the military and create a meaningful operational art for the new brigade-based structure, I’d suggest that the need for the GOU has never been greater.

Anyway, on October 3 GOU chief Lt. Gen. Tretyak for formally dismissed, although he had requested to be released on medical grounds in the summer and had already physically moved out of his office. In his place comes Lt. Gen. Vladimir Zarudnitsky, a line officer with a reasonable but not especially impressive resume:

The 53-year-old general-lieutenant was born on February 6, 1958 in the Abinsk, Krasnodar Kray.

  • In 1979, he graduated the Ordzhonikidze Higher Combined Arms Command School in Vladikavkaz.
  • He commanded a platoon and a recce company in the GSFG until 1985.
  • In 1985-1987, he was recce chief in a GSFG regiment.
  • He attended and completed the mid-career Frunze Military Academy in 1988-1989.
  • In 1991-1994, he picked up his career in the Far East MD as chief of staff, then commander of a regiment.
  • In 1997-1999, he was chief of staff, then commander of an independent motorized rifle brigade in the North Caucasus MD.
  • He graduated from the General Staff Academy in 2003, and commanded the 27th Guards Motorized Rifle Division in the Volga-Ural MD until early 2005.
  • Until early 2007, Zarudnitskiy was chief of staff, first deputy commander of an army in the Siberian MD, and then commanded the Siberian MD’s 36th Army based at Ulan-Ude until April 2009.
  • From 2009-2011, he was chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Moscow MD.

(translated from Novosti courtesy of the excellent Russian Defense Policy blog).

He did not serve in Afghanistan, nor in any of the smaller conflicts and interventions since, which is a strike against him in the eyes of some of his peers. He may potentially owe his promotion to the fact that he served under Makarov in the Siberian Military District, but this is not a guarantor of loyalty. (Witness the case of Colonel General Postnikov, commander of Land Forces, appointed in part on the same grounds, who since appears desperate to tread a line between serving his CoGS and keeping his subordinates happy.)

Zarudnitsky is a distinctly unknown quantity. It could be that he will turn out to be a brilliant, cerebral and inspirational figure able to revive the GOU and in the process both support Makarov’s reform drive and bring a degree of rigor to the present debate over future operational art that still seems bogged down in inter-service rivalries and token and totemistic uses of buzzwords relating to ‘information warfare’ and ‘initiative.’ But so far there’s nothing to suggest that this is the case and that this is anything more than Makarov, who is well aware of the low esteem in which many within the General Staff apparatus hold him, replacing a critic with a presumed ally, even if that also means filling an A+ position in the structure with what may be a B or B+ candidate. But we’ll see.

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