When Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov meets with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at the Pentagon tomorrow, they will have a lot to discuss. Although Serdyukov has been defense minister since 2007, this will be his first official visit to the Pentagon. That's primarily because he has focused his attention back home, implementing the most comprehensive reform of the Russian military in almost a century. Indeed, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell noted last week that Gates and Serdyukov "are both taking on very bold, very ambitious reform initiatives within their respective militaries, and I think they want to talk about how that's going."
Though the two might very well compare notes, the extent of Serdyukov's reform program as well as the challenges he faces are much greater than those confronting Gates.
The Georgia War in August 2009 exposed several flaws with the Russian military that the current reforms are meant to overcome. In addition to technical problems with various components of Russian equipment, these shortcomings included flawed command arrangements, low unit-readiness, and poor leadership throughout the chain of command. Many of these problems were recognized well before the Georgia War, but the conflict helped provide a catalyst for addressing them. Soon after the fighting ended, Sedyukov launched his campaign for comprehensive military reform. Thus far, he has enjoyed the support of Russia's civilian political leadership despite some opposition and widespread unease among Russia's military leadership.