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Sergei Sokolov

Sergei SokolovGeneral Sokolov born in 1911, the son of a Russian tsarist army officer, Sokolov served in the Battle of Lake Khasan during the Soviet-Japanese Border Wars and also served fought against Nazi Germany during World War II. He should not be confused with the Marshal V.D.Sokolovskii who in l962 published Military Strategy, the first Soviet treatise on strategy since l927.

A contemporary of Marshal Yakubovskii (born 1912), Sokolov had served as one of three First Deputy Ministers of Defense (along with Kulikov and Yakubovskii) since 1967 - the same year Grechko was appointed Minister of Defense. In spite of having commanded the Leningraid mitary district (196567), General Sokolovs past assignments suggested to some that he was a less desirable candidate for Minister of Defense than the other two First Deputies.

Soviet ground forces, initially under the command of Marshal Sergei Sokolov, entered Afghanistan from the north on 27 December 1979. In the morning, the 103rd Guards 'Vitebsk' Airborne Division landed at the airport at Bagram and the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan commenced. Sokolov, the Soviet First Deputy Defense Minister, set up field headquarters at Bagram Air Force Base north of Kabul.

A tendency to promote the so-called Afghantsy [senior Afghan war veterans] began during the initial stages of the war. The most notable was the appointment of Marshal of the Soviet Union Sergei Sokolov, who had commanded the Soviet effort in Afghanistan, to the position of minister of defense in 1984. The Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan can hardly be called a success. Yet almost every commander there received a prestigious promotion. In December 1984, after the death of Marshal Ustinov, his first deputy, Marshal Sergei Sokolov, was chosen to become the Minister of Defense. It was not clear how much influence Gorbachev had in the selection of Sokolov as Ustinov's successor, but the choice of the 74-year-old Sokolov, who clearly did not have any affiliation with the new Soviet leader, had the stamp of Chernenko's style of personnel policies.

The appointment of Marshal Sergei Sokolov allowed the civilian leadership to avoid conflict in civil-military relations. Due to Sokolov's age however, his appointment was seen by the military as a conciliatory gesture. It conveyed an underlying message of mistrust and was clearly designed to neutralize the military during the imminent succession of Chernenko.

The staggering domestic economic and political crisis facing Gorbachev has prompted a major national security reassessment and a significant change in the Soviet Union's international and arms control policy. As a result, the Soviet military is beginning to face its most severe manpower aAd budgetary constraints since the end of World War II. It was also trying to accommodate itself to a new "defensive doctrine," which appeared to call for a very different operational orientation on its part.

But at the Party aktiv meeting in the Ministry of Defense, which was reportedly dedicated to discussion of the results of the January 1987 Central Committee "Cadre" Plenum, Defense Minister Marshal Sokolov's speech was not very much different from those given by his predecessors on similar occasions five, ten, or fifteen years ago. After giving the customary praise to the Party's guidance, Sokolov concentrated on criticizing the bureaucratic approach to troop training, poor discipline, forms and methods of work, cadre policy, etc. His only concession to openness was a strong criticism of the combat training process in the Air Force, the PVO troops, and the Navy. Indeed, military publications, unlike other organs of the Soviet press, were not much different from those in the pre-glasnost era.

Unlike his predecessors, particularly "Marshal of the Soviet Union" Leonid II'ich Brezhnev, Mikhail Gorbachev seems to avoid any semblance of the all-too-familiar decoration displays. Military figures (with the exception of Marshal of the Soviet Union Sokolov, the Minister of Defense, and, occasionally, the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Akhromeev) were almost always absent from the Soviet leader's entourage. Gorbachev also did not upgrade Marshal Sokolov to full Politburo member status.

It was not until Armed Forces Day, February 1987, that Sokolov publicly stated that war prevention was the "main proposition" of Soviet military doctrine.

Sokolov's career ended with surprising suddenness. In May 1987, Mathias Rust, a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), flew his private airplane into Soviet airspace and landed in Red Square in Moscow on Border Guards Day - the ultimate humiliation. Within twenty four hours of the incident, Sokolov's retirement was announced by a Supreme Soviet decree. The commander in chief of the Air Defense Forces, a former fighter pilot, was also fired and replaced with a high ranking Ground Forces officer who had extensive combined arms experience.

Army General Dmitri Yazov found himself, in June 1987, as minister of defense, replacing Marshal Sergei Sokolov at the helm of the Soviet military machine following the Rust incident. There are some indications, however, that General Yazov had been hand-picked by Gorbachev to replace Marshal Sokolov before the "Red Square landing" scandal. The removal of Sokolov ushered in a wave of personnel changes at all levels of command.

On turning 100 he stated, "Military service prestige will regain the importance it once had." Sokolov died of undisclosed causes on 31 August 2012, at the age of 101. He was buried on 3 September with full military honors at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow, next to his wife of 70 years, Maria Samojlovna Sokolova (19 December 1920 - 28 August 2012) who had predeceased him three days earlier.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2016 20:05:07 ZULU