Category Archives: Ground Troops

Simmering War

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Russian news agencies marked the 15th anniversary of the Unified Group of Troops (Forces) — OGV(s) or ОГВ(с) — in the North Caucasus on September 23.

The OGV(s) was, and is, the inter-service headquarters established at Khankala, Chechnya to command all Russian “power” ministry (MOD, MVD, FSB) operations at the start of what became the second Chechen war in 1999.

The war that would bring Vladimir Putin to prominence and the presidency, and preoccupy him during his first years in power.

The ITAR-TASS headline proclaimed:  “The OGV in the Caucasus has killed more than 10,000 fighters over 15 years.”

Fighters means insurgents or terrorists from Moscow’s perspective.

That’s a lot.  On average, even through today, over 600 per year, or at least a couple every day.  Earlier this year, a news headline read “Russian MVD has killed more than 350 fighters in 4 months.”

Six Killed in Makhachkala (photo: ITAR-TASS)

The body count isn’t the only metric.

The MVD noted that OGV(s) units have conducted more than 40,000 “special measures,” destroyed 5,000 bases and caches, confiscated 30,000 weapons, and disarmed 80,000 explosive devices.

The Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to 93 MVD servicemen in the OGV(s) (including 66 posthumously).  More than 23,000 MVD troops have received orders and medals.

And the disparate North Caucasus insurgency still simmers.

More OOB Notes

Found new data points based on reports about the Central MD’s 2nd CAA during the recent readiness inspection.  Here’s the link.

Visit to the 26th Missile Brigade

Mil.ru provided quite a few good pictures of the new base of the Russian Army’s 26th Missile Brigade at Luga in the Western MD.  They were taken during Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s recent inspection trip.

Shoygu with Western MD Commander General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov (photo: Mil.ru)

Shoygu with Western MD Commander General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov (photo: Mil.ru)

Yes, what follows is ripped-off photo journalism, but the pictures are too good to pass up.

Iskander-K Cruise Missile Canister Being Transloaded (photo: Mil.ru)

Iskander-K Cruise Missile Canister Being Transloaded (photo: Mil.ru)

Iskander-M Ballistic Missile Being Transloaded (photo: Mil.ru)

Iskander-M Ballistic Missile Being Transloaded (photo: Mil.ru)

The Brigade's "Tent-Mobile Shelters" (photo: Mil.ru)

The Brigade’s “Tent-Mobile Shelters” (photo: Mil.ru)

The army erected what are termed “tent-mobile shelters” at the missile brigade’s obviously new base.

"Tent-Mobile Shelters"(photo: Mil.ru)

“Tent-Mobile Shelters”(photo: Mil.ru)

Shoygu Points Something Out, Colonel on Right Likely the Brigade's Commander (photo: Mil.ru)

Shoygu Points Something Out, Colonel on Right Likely the Brigade’s Commander (photo: Mil.ru)

Fuel Hoses Hang Inside the "Tent-Mobile Shelter" (photo: Mil.ru)

Fuel Hoses Hang Inside the “Tent-Mobile Shelter” (photo: Mil.ru)

A Last Chat Inside the "Tent-Mobile Shelter"(photo: Mil.ru)

A Last Chat Inside the “Tent-Mobile Shelter”(photo: Mil.ru)

Shoygu wanted to see that his orders to build essential basing facilities for new arms and equipment are being followed.  The 26th brigade not too long ago received its Iskanders.  Mil.ru noted that the brigade’s vehicle storage area has space for 200 pieces of equipment including the Iskanders.

The defense minister noted that “tent-mobile shelters” also need to be heated, so the missile launchers are always ready.  One wonders, of course, how they’ll hold up against heavy snow, ice, etc.

Shoygu repeated familiar words about synchronizing the arrival of new systems like Iskander with the selection of contractees to operate them.

He checked on the construction of concrete weapons bunkers, but nothing of this is shown or shared.

55 OMSBr (G)

Denis Mokrushin’s blog provided heads up to the establishment of an independent motorized rifle brigade (mountain), which may stand up in, of all places, Tuva in 2015.

Tuva and Central Asia

Tuva and Central Asia

According to Mokrushin, the new 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain) will be based in Kyzyl, capital of the ethnic Tuvan republic located at the geographic center of Asia, not far from Central Asian nations where it might deploy in a crisis.

The new mountain brigade, part of Russia’s Central MD, will reportedly be designated not just for mountain combat, but peacekeeping duties as well.  A story from February indicated only residents of Tuva will be considered for enlistment in the 1,500-man brigade.  It will be mainly equipped with GAZ-2330 Tigr vehicles.

The 55th would be one of a handful of formations specifically created for mountain warfare, the most significant being the Southern MD’s 33rd and 34th brigades.  It will also give Russia a maneuver force in a location near its border currently lacking troops.

According to Tuva’s military commissar, contractees in the brigade will have a chance to support themselves and their families.

Tuva might best be described as remote, rugged, impoverished, and sparsely inhabited.  Its 300,000 or so people are predominately, and increasingly, Tuvan as the Russian population dwindles.

The reported plan to recruit only in Tuva means that the 55th brigade would be effectively an ethnic formation — something the Kremlin and the MOD have steadfastly resisted in regions like Tatarstan or the North Caucasus.  The brigade priest will be Buddhist.

This month, however, a military spokesman said men from neighboring Krasnoyarsk Kray, Khakassia, and Kemerovo will be recruited as well.

The report of a new brigade in Tuva appears against the backdrop of previously announced plans to add more Russian Army brigades and sign up larger numbers of contract servicemen.

Russia’s Regional Power

On 8 April, the HASC explored Russia’s military development and its strategic implications.  The second of two witnesses was the U.S. Joint Staff J5, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe.  Here’s the public opening statement to his testimony [emphasis added].

“Chairman McKeon, Ranking Member Smith, and distinguished Committee Members, good morning.  Thank you for this opportunity to update you on Russian military developments.”

“You just heard [from Mr. Chollet] a review of actions taken by the United States, the NATO Alliance, and the international community in response to Russia’s unlawful military intervention in Ukraine. Russia’s seizure of Crimea is a flagrant violation of international law, and it reintroduces into Europe the threat of external aggression.  By doing so, Russia set back decades of international progress.”

“The United States military and the wider NATO Alliance have supported our response to this unwarranted intervention:”

“- We have given support to Ukraine by way of material assistance, defense consultations, and the offer of enhanced training.”

“- We are reassuring our NATO Allies, with whom we have Article V security guarantees, by sending additional air power to the Baltic States and Poland, increasing our surveillance over Poland and Romania, and sending naval ships into the Black Sea.”

“- And we are helping to impose costs on Russia by halting all bilateral military-to-military interaction.  However, as noted by Mr. Chollet, we are keeping open channels for senior leader communications, to help deescalate the crisis.”

“I would now like to widen the focus of my remarks beyond Ukraine, to discuss the evolution of Russian conventional military power, thereby providing context to today’s events.”

“At the height of its military power, the Soviet Union was truly a global competitor.  With millions of people under arms, vast numbers of tanks and planes, a global navy, and an extensive intelligence gathering infrastructure, the Soviet military machine posed a very real and dangerous threat.”

“Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, that arsenal fell into disrepair.  Starved of funding and fragmented, Russian military capabilities rapidly decayed throughout the 1990s.  From the start of his term in office in 2000, President Putin has made military modernization a top priority of the Russian government.  When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, a number of shortcomings were noted in its military performance.  This led the Russian government to further increase investment in its military services.”

“Since 2008, those efforts have had some success. Russian military forces have been streamlined into smaller, more mobile units. Their overall readiness has improved and their most elite units are well trained and equipped.  They now employ a more sophisticated approach to joint warfare.”

“Their military has implemented organizational change, creating regional commands within Russia.  These coordinate and synchronize planning, joint service integration, force movement, intelligence support, and the tactical employment of units.”

“Finally, the Russian military adopted doctrinal change, placing greater emphasis on speed of movement, the use of Special Operations Forces, and information and cyber warfare.  They instituted ‘snap exercises.’  These no-notice drills serve the dual purpose of sharpening military readiness while also inducing strategic uncertainty as to whether they will swiftly transition from training to offensive operations.”

“Today, Russia is a regional power that can project force into nearby states but has very limited global power projection capability.  It has a military of uneven readiness.  While some units are well trained, most are less so. It suffers from corruption and its logistical capabilities are limited.  Aging equipment and infrastructure, fiscal challenges, and demographic and social problems will continue to hamper reform efforts.”

“The United States, in contrast, employs a military of global reach and engagement.  The readiness of our rotationally deployed forces is high and we are working to address readiness shortfalls at home.  And we operate within alliances; the strongest of which is NATO.  Composed of 28 nations, NATO is the most successful military alliance in history.  Should Russia undertake an armed attack against any NATO state, it will find that our commitment to collective defense is immediate and unwavering.”

“Russia’s military objectives are difficult to predict.  But it is clear that Russia is sustaining a significant military force on Ukraine’s eastern border.  This is deeply troubling to all states in the region and beyond, and we are watching Russian military movements very carefully.”

“I spoke with General Breedlove, the Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, last Friday.  He is formulating recommendations for presentation to the North Atlantic Council on April fifteenth.  These recommendations will be aimed at further reassuring our NATO allies.  As part of this effort, he will consider increasing military exercises, forward deploying additional military equipment and personnel, and increasing our naval, air, and ground presence.  He will update members of Congress on those recommendations at the earliest opportunity.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to address your Committee.  I look forward to your questions.”

According to Defense News, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Vice Admiral Pandolfe about reports from “senior U.S. commanders in Europe” that up to 80,000 Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine.  Pandolfe demurred, saying he would answer in closed session.

Other than that, we don’t know much about what was said or asked.

Pandolfe’s opening statement is a pretty accurate, albeit brief, description of what’s happened with Russia’s military, its progress and limitations, in recent years.

But it’s a little off-the-mark.  Regional power, not global reach, is the critical issue today.  Ukraine is a prototypical regional crisis. The kind of regional crisis for which Moscow has tried to prepare its armed forces.

In contrast to what Pandolfe said, Russia’s military objectives are pretty easy to understand.  

The ultimate Heartland of geopolitics, Russia sees itself hard-pressed by a Rimland alliance [NATO] expanding deeper into eastern Europe.  Now Moscow feels it’s imperative to push back.  Unfortunately for Ukraine, it is the object of contention.

Russia has marshaled an ominous, overweening force to influence the situation just over the border in Ukraine.  Moscow can let events in Kharkhiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Slovyansk unfold, perhaps with some provocation by intelligence operatives, special forces, and agents of influence.

As Mark Galeotti concludes:  

“The forces massed on the border (ranging from low-end estimates of 40,000 to 80,000 upwards), combined with dire warnings to Kyiv about the risk of ‘civil war’ if it uses force against the paramilitaries represent a formidable political cover, which is deterring the [Ukrainian] government from using the full means at its disposal.  Moscow is a past master of fighting its battles with proxies, agents, allies and dupes.  Whether or not there are many actual Russian soldiers and agents in eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s role is clear and, if anything, increasing.”

So Ukraine is damned if it responds to Russian-orchestrated unrest in the east, and damned if it doesn’t.

And Russia still holds the high card because it can still intervene with more “little green men” — Russian Army forces without insignia.  Or it may just want to keep Ukraine off-balance and unstable.  But events on the ground sometimes create their own dynamic.

Unlike Russia, for America, Ukraine is neither close nor vital.  Washington has already indicated it will not respond with military force, but only with support to its frontline NATO allies, and with MREs, consultations, and training for Kyiv. The Kremlin’s one fear might be that, under certain circumstances, the unpredictable Americans could change their minds about what’s at stake in Ukraine.

Paul Goble captured commentator  Georgiy Mirskiy’s insights last week, noting [emphasis added]:

“Neither [Russian President Vladimir] Putin nor [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants to go into history as the politician who ‘lost’ Ukraine, although [that country] does not belong to either the one or the other.”

“What is going on in Donetsk and Kharkhiv, [Mirskiy] continues, is ‘a Maidan in reverse,’ backed by a powerful neighboring state that is interested in destroying Ukraine.  Local support for these ‘people’s republics’ is not that great, but the Ukrainian authorities are ‘afraid’ to use force lest they ‘provoke the introduction of Russian forces’ as Putin has promised to do.”

“Given this fear, it may also be the case that ‘perhaps in the depth of their souls,’ some in Kyiv may ‘prefer to lose several unstable and hostile eastern oblasts’ in order to ‘keep firm control over a ‘mini-Ukraine,’ including Kyiv, Lviv, and so on.’”

“If that is so, then a repeat of the Crimean scenario is possible, although in any referendum there, support for joining Russia will be 60 percent at most and not 97 percent as it was on the peninsula, [Mirskiy] suggests.  Because Moscow won’t have introduced troops, ‘the West will again swallow everything.’ After all, ‘what is left for it to do?’”

In the strategic and ultimately cynical sense, maybe it wouldn’t be bad to watch while the Russian snake tries to swallow something it probably cannot digest.  This comes from the “worse is better” school of thought.

Trying to absorb Crimea and eastern Ukraine might worsen Russia’s domestic political and economic circumstances.  It will certainly refocus NATO on reinforcing Article V security guarantees (against Russia).  Thus, the Kremlin will have succeeded in creating the threat to which it has constantly pointed.  It will isolate Russia further, and possibly even hasten the end of the Putin era. Some foundering future Russian government may even one day have to relinquish occupied territories to Ukraine as a condition for international acceptance and assistance.

General-Major Sergey Sevryukov

General-Major Sevryukov Accepts His Army's Standard

General-Major Sevryukov Accepts His Army’s Standard

It’s worth looking at one army commander, as an example of who they are and the experience they have.

They’re the men who may lead the Russian Army in the not-so-distant future.  Exactly which ones and in which capacities is, of course, almost anyone’s guess.

Sergey Mikhaylovich Sevryukov officially assumed command of the Stavropol-based 49th Combined Arms Army on 9 January.

He landed on a “hot seat” given recent terrorist attacks in Pyatigorsk and Volgograd and the approach of the Sochi Olympics.  His first public comments were the rather stiff announcement that, at the Defense Minister’s order, his forces had commenced joint patrols with MVD units, along with a reassurance that his army is “in a state of increased combat readiness throughout all of Stavropol [Kray].”

A provincial city and region often touched by the Chechen wars, Stavropol is only about 150 miles by air from Sochi.

The 49th covers the western reaches of Russia’s North Caucasus — Stavropol, Krasnodar, Adygea, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkaria.

Sevryukov’s 49th includes the 34th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain), the 33rd Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mountain), and the 205th IMRB.  It is also responsible for Russia’s 7th and 4th Military Bases, established after the Russian-Georgian five-day war of August 2008 in Gudauta and Tskhinvali in the disputed breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively.

The previous commander of the 49th noted last year that the army is about 80 percent re-equipped with new wheeled vehicles, the 205th has gotten modernized T-72s, and the missile brigade at Molkino has deployed the Iskander SRBM.

For completeness, let’s note that the 49th Army fought from Moscow to Berlin between 1941 and 1945, was disbanded, reformed in Krasnodar in 1991, reformed as the 67th Army Corps in 2002, and was disbanded again.  The present 49th was resurrected in 2010.

Conservative military commentator Vladislav Shurygin visited Sevryukov in 2008, and provided some insight on him.  Sevryukov, at the time, was chief of the Far East MD’s Khabarovsk-based 392nd District Training Center (OUTs or ОУЦ), tasked with turning some of the district’s conscripts into “junior commanders” [i.e. sergeants] or specialists.

Shurygin’s impression:  a colonel who wasn’t a “staff” type, army to the core.

He was born in Bugulma, a somewhat remote city in southeastern Tatarstan.  But he spent the majority of his teenage years in Kazan’s Suvorov School, finishing in 1982.

He would have been about 17, so we can say General-Major Sevryukov is in his late 40s.

He graduated from the Kazan Higher Tank Command School, probably taking his commission in 1986.

Shurygin says Sevryukov served in East Germany and the Leningrad Military District.

He didn’t mention that Sevryukov served a short tour (April-June 1995) early in the first Chechen war, commanding an independent tank battalion.  According to Krasnaya zvezda, he received the order Courage, one of Russia’s highest, for this.

He attended the mid-career Military Academy of Armored Troops starting in 1995, and was posted to the Far East, probably in 1997 or 1998.

Sevryukov commanded the “fortified region” or UR (УР), consisting of various fixed defenses, mine fields, machine gun-artillery battalions, and tank fire point companies, opposite Chinese forces on Bolshoy Ussuriyskiy and Tarabarov Islands, not far from Khabarovsk.

In fact, he was the UR’s last commander, since Moscow and Beijing settled their dispute over these Amur River islands in 2004.  He told Shurygin he supervised the dismantlement of Russia’s defensive works in the UR.

A brief Krasnaya zvezda mention seems to indicate Sevryukov was at the Military Academy of the General Staff in 2011, embarking on a candidate (PhD) of military science degree.

After this, Sevryukov probably became deputy commander of the 49th Army as a promotable O-6.  He achieved his current one-star rank in June 2013.

That is a part of the story of one army commander, perhaps typical, perhaps not.  Not very obvious in any of it are exactly the kind of officer he is and the important professional connections or patrons he has.

Army Commanders

Russia’s ten combined arms armies have new commanders (with one exception) since they were noted here in 2011.

In the first half of last year, General-Major Gurulev in the Southern MD’s 58th Army was investigated for “abetting” a crime by a former superior, Nikolay Pereslegin.  In 2005, Pereslegin reportedly “exceeded his authority” by using the labor of two soldiers while attending the GSA in Moscow — colloquially known as a “soldier slavery” case in Russian media.  For his part, Gurulev is suspected of covering the soldiers’ absence and Pereslegin’s tracks with paperwork.  Not clear where the case stands, but Gurulev remains in command of the 58th.

Most previous army commanders moved to deputy MD commander slots.

Here’s an updated map of Russia’s armies.

Ten Armies

Army Headquarters MD / OSK Commander
6th CAA Agalatovo Western General-Major Sergey Kuralenko
20th CAA Nizhnyy Novgorod Western General-Major Aleksandr Lapin
49th CAA Stavropol Southern General-Major Sergey Sevryukov
58th CAA Vladikavkaz Southern General-Major Andrey Gurulev
2nd CAA Samara Central General-Major Igor Seritskiy
41st CAA Novosibirsk Central General-Major Khasan Kaloyev
36th CAA Ulan-Ude Eastern General-Major Mikhail Teplinskiy
29th CAA Chita Eastern General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Romanchuk
35th CAA Belogorsk Eastern General-Lieutenant Sergey Solomatin
5th CAA Ussuriysk Eastern General-Major Aleksey Salmin