Sergei Ivanov is not a man of the people. He is considered by the ordinary Russian an outsider and a bit of a cold fish and not everyone understands what he is saying. As the first defense minister in Soviet and Russian history who did not grow up in the armed forces or military industry, he is actively disliked in both. Neither has he ever held any economic post.
Yet Sergei Ivanov, aged 53, has been designated candidate for president after Vladmir Putin ends his eight years in office in 2008, because of his assets and his closeness to the president. Both were born in St. Petersburg when it was called Leningrad and are veterans of Soviet and Russian spy services.
Ivanov is highly educated, a quick learner, a fast thinker and a hard worker. He seems to bear up well under pressure. Because he is not hidebound by any attachments to military frameworks, he may be free to carry out long-awaited reforms in the Russian armed forces.
Fond of basketball and the Beatles, he is married with two grown-up sons and has lived in Moscow since 1980
The projected shape of the administration he may head in the Kremlin, already being hammered out by himself and the president, is causing disquiet in Washington because of the three hubs of power that are emerging.
1. Ivanov will have direct charge of Russia’s military and security establishment as well as of its Ostpolitik – Russian-Chinese, Russian-Iranian and Russian-Central Asian relations.
He is regarded in Moscow as an outstanding expert in all three fields after many years of exhaustive study and a whiz without rival on Central Asia.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources report Ivanov as being convinced that an American military attack on Iran’s nuclear industry would touch off a conflict that will spread like a bushfire to the Caspian Sea region and beyond.
For six months, therefore, he has supervised the boosting of Russian military strength in the Caspian and Central Asian regions and the training of military units inside Russia for rapid deployment to defend Russian interests wherever they are threatened.
If Moscow’s pessimistic prognosis comes true and the Americans go to war against Iran, it will be a testing moment for Ivanov as head of the army and could determine his future as lead-candidate for the presidency.
2. Putin will head Moscow’s European strategy – its Europolitik.
US analysts are curious to see if Putin does indeed distance himself completely from the presidential office after his retirement or decides to act in the role of influence broker. They wonder if US policy-makers faced with a closed presidential door will be able to turn to Putin for a spot of lobbying on their behalf with the new president and his intelligence backers.
This will depend very much on the people close to Ivanov and Putin and whether the two sets of aides work together or spar.
At present, the two men, old friends from their cloak and dagger careers in the Cold War and its aftermath, are close.
Ivanov’s son, Sergei Sergeyevich Ivanov, 26, is employed as deputy president of Gazprombank, the financial arm for Russia’s oil and gas transactions. Young Ivanov obviously knows Putin well and works directly under Schroeder.
3. Sergey Kirienko, briefly Russian premier, will head the nuclear energy ministry.
Kirienko leads the political-intelligence faction in Moscow, which is an aggressive pusher for a Russian entente with the radical Muslim Arab world which it seeks to achieve by rendering Russian nuclear technological aid to Iran.
Since his appointment eighteen months ago, Russia has finished building for Iran a heavy water plant near Bushehr, thereby opening the way for Iran to produce nuclear fuel from plutonium.
Now that the Saudis and Egyptians have decided to enter the Middle East nuclear arms race by developing – or rather purchasing – a weapon, Kirienko’s ministry and his pro-Muslim faction are turning into an important center for orienting Russian policy in this direction.
Kremlin-watchers in Washington are keeping an open mind on the measure of influence Kirienko’s faction will have over Sergei Ivanov’s policies as president.
It could go two ways: the pro-Muslim advocates could opt for cooperating with the new president, or they could gang up against him with his foes in the armed forces and military industry.