The Kremlin and the High Command

Presidential Impact on the Russian Military from Gorbachev to Putin

Dale R. Herspring

Choice Outstanding Title

Throughout its existence, the Red Army was viewed as a formidable threat. By the end of the Cold War, however, it had become the weakest link in the Soviet Union's power structure. Always subordinate to the Communist Party, the military in 1991 suddenly found itself answering instead to the president of a democratic state. Dale Herspring closely examines how that relationship influenced the military's viability in the new Russian Federation.

“In this well-written and quite readable book, Herspring breaks new ground and provides a useful tool for anyone interested in the current state of the Russian military. In seven chapters, Herspring presents handy introductions and great summaries of each leader, including a description of their respective leadership style, as it pertains to the military. Herspring also brilliantly details the main events in Russian military history.

—H-Net Book Reviews

“A masterful presentation of fact by an author who has thoroughly researched his material and presented a clear point of view as to how events actually occurred. Anyone wishing to develop a greater understanding of the military and civil-military relationship of the last generation of Soviet/Russian leadership needs to read this truly indispensable account.

—Parameters
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Herspring's book is the first to assess the relationship between the Russian military and the political leadership under Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. He depicts an outmoded and demoralized military force still struggling to free itself from Cold War paradigms, while failing to confront not only debacles in Afghanistan and Chechnya but also a rise in crime and corruption within the ranks. He reveals how Gorbachev neglected the military to save Russia from internal collapse and Yeltsin reneged on continuing promises of support. And, while Putin claims a better understanding of the armed forces, he has severely tightened his control over the military while monitoring its struggle toward modernization.

Herspring argues that presidential leadership—or a significant lack thereof—has been the key variable determining the kind of military Russia puts in the field. It has been up to the president to ensure that the high command makes a successful transition to the new polity—otherwise combat readiness will decline and generals and admirals could become politicized. By focusing on how the high command has reacted to each president's decisions and leadership style, Herspring shows that, in spite of the continued importance of the military's bureaucratic structure, personality factors have assumed a much more important role than in the past.

The Kremlin and the High Command provides the most complete analysis to date of the Russian president's influence on the Russian officer corps, the soldiers they lead, and their army's combat readiness. Shedding light on the chaos that has plagued the USSR and Russia over the past 25 years, it also suggests how the often fraught relationship between the president and the high command must evolve if the Russian Federation is to evolve into a truly democratic nation.

About the Author

Dale R. Herspring is professor of political science at Kansas State University. Among his many books are The Pentagon and the Presidency: Civil-Military Relations from FDR to George W. Bush, Requiem for an Army, and Russian Civil-Military Relations.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series