Mr. Shoigu, a four-star Army general who's the current governor of the Moscow region and was long-time head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (the Russian equivalent of FEMA), has an unshakeable reputation for competence and loyalty, and is one of the few long-time Russian officials who appears to enjoy genuine, from-the-heart public respect.
Reaction to Serdyukov's firing was mixed, with some military-connected experts blaming the civilian minister for alienating the officer corps, gutting the armed forces, and fanning the flames of corruption in the course of carrying out the most sweeping campaign of structural reforms to Russia's military in almost a century.
"Military people didn't like Serdyukov, because he seemed to have no connection with the Army," says Alexander Khramchikhin, an expert with the independent Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow. "His Army reforms had a destructive character, and the results are ambiguous at best."
Serdyukov was given extraordinary political backing by Putin to enact reform after the brief 2008 war with Georgia revealed vast inefficiencies in Russia's military capabilities.
His thankless task was to effectively abolish the old Soviet "mobilization army," which kept hundreds of "phantom divisions" – with almost no personnel but a full complement of top officers – on the books, to be filled out with reservists in time of war. In the course of the reforms, thousands of officers were forced to retire, the privileges of generals were slashed, while pay and benefits for those who remained in the streamlined Russian army were substantially improved.