Policy Memos

Putin and the Military: How Long Will the Honeymoon Last?

Policy Memo:


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Russian President Vladimir Putin aggressively wooed the man in uniform during his victorious campaign for the Kremlin, from the time of his appointment as prime minister in August 1999 until his election in March 2000. Putin stressed the need to restore Russian pride and power, promised to make good on past debts to officers, pushed for an increase in military spending, and restored military training courses to the schools. Most prominently, he gave the high command free rein in Chechnya, and has made military victory there a fundamental goal of his early rule.

Putin's love was more than requited by the army. Leading officers were not shy in expressing their support for Putin prior to the elections. For example, Colonel-General Igor Puzanov, the commander of the Moscow Military District, stated in February 2000, "we understand his position, and we support his actions. In particular, the absolutely consistent line being carried out in the North Caucasus elicits every possible support and respect for the acting president from military people." Many in the army give Putin credit for their renewed sense of prestige and importance.

In this policy memo I argue that the Putin-military honeymoon is just that, a honeymoon. Although the marriage is currently based both on strong emotions and considerations of convenience, there are important challenges ahead that will strain the relationship. It is likely to end badly, if not in a nasty divorce, then at least in mutual disappointment and heartbreak. The US need not fear a resurgent Russian military; Russian weakness is still the more serious danger. [...]

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About the author

Professor, Political Science
Syracuse University