Category Archives: VDV

How’s It Look for VDV?

On Monday, Voyennoye obozreniye took a look at the VDV and their rearmament needs.  It notes they’ve received virtually nothing new since the USSR collapsed, and what new equipment has arrived came in small amounts.

The composition of the VDV has shrunk from 65,000 personnel in seven divisions to about 35,000 in four divisions (Novorossiysk, Tula, Ivanovo, and Pskov) today.  Its airborne combat vehicles include BMD-1, BMD-2 Budka, BMD-3 Bakhcha, and BMD-4 Bakhcha-U, armored personnel carriers include BTR-RD Robot and BTR-3D Skrezhet.

Here’s a RenTV video about the Bakhcha and Bakhcha-U.

Artillery includes ASU-57, ASU-85, 2S9 Nona-S, 2S25 Sprut-SD, and howitzers 2A18 D-30 and 2A18M D-30A.

In January 2007, then VDV Commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Kolmakov said the troops would soon be getting BMD-4, 2S25 Sprut, BTR-D3 Rakushka, KamAZ-43501, D-10 and Arbalet parachutes, and new infantry and special weapons.  In 2010, the Defense Ministry reportedly said it was buying Italian-made IVECO LMV combat vehicles for its “winged infantry.”

According to VO, the press says VDV has gotten more than 300 BMD-4 since they were accepted for service in 2004.  The BMD-4M, however, basically remains in testing, and only 10 of them are being used in the VDV.  Its future with the airborne troops might be in doubt.  Last December, VDV air defense sub-units got their first Strela-10M3 self-propelled anti-aircraft systems.  They will replace aged ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns.

VO concludes the VDV need to reestablish both their air and ground mobility.  VTA has degraded and can’t support airborne operations large enough to seize and hold strategic or tactical objectives in enemy rear areas, or to destroy enemy government and military command and control systems:

“As it was in the USSR, so it is in the RF, airborne troops are really used like the best trained motorized rifle units — for example in Chechnya, Ossetia.”

For off-road mobility, VO says VDV need Tigr, Vodnik, dune buggies, and ATVs.

It argues VDV divisions need their own fixed- and rotary-wing aviation, including multipurpose, transport, strike, and reconnaissance aircraft and UAVs.

The missions of the VDV need to be formulated like Spetsnaz, so they aren’t used like regular infantry.

Finally, VO says the VDV need to be fully professional, with career personnel, and pay twice the country’s median wage.  It can’t be done with today’s contractees who are mostly lazy and drunk, but this is the fault of the army’s reformers, according to VO.

Then, VO concludes, the VDV would be a real elite of the Russian Army.

Shamanov Returns to Duty

VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov reported for duty today a little more than three months after his BMW was slammed by a truck on the highway between Tula and Moscow.

Shamanov was discharged from Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital in late December, and has been on rehabilitation leave in Sochi since then.

Also injured in the accident, then-acting commander of the Tula-based 106th Airborne Division, Colonel Aleksey Naumets remains in the hospital in satisfactory condition after more surgery.

The Tajik national who rammed into Shamanov’s service vehicle admitted his guilt in the accident.  He remains in custody while the investigation and court proceedings continue.

20 Percent Undermanning and Declining Contract Service

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin writes this morning that the results of the fall draft are still being tallied, but the General Staff has already announced that several regions didn’t meet their conscription plans.  And so, for the first time in recent years, the Armed Forces is facing undermanned conscript soldier and sergeant ranks, while the number of contract soldiers continues its decline.

Mukhin harks back to Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s recent Duma session, where he admitted that the army’s demand for soldiers is not being fully met.  The exact quantitative deficit is a secret, but Mukhin says even a crude estimate tells him the military is at least 20 percent undermanned.

The Armed Forces now officially have less than 500,000 conscripts, 181,000 officers, and 120,000 contractees (800,000 in all, roughly), although approved manning is 1 million.

Mukhin concludes:

“It goes without saying, undermanning affects their combat readiness.  And measures taken to resolve the problem, let’s say it directly, are hard to call adequate.”

A retired VDV general tells Mukhin contractees in the Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division (VDD or ВДД) dropped from 20 percent of personnel to 12 percent in 2010.  The outflow was due to low pay of 11,000 rubles per month against an oblast average of about 18,000. 

Mukhin forgets to mention that the 76th VDD was the cradle of “Pskov experiment” with contract service in 2003.  It led to the wider Federal Targeted Program, 2004-2007, which General Staff Chief Makarov declared a failure early last year.

The Pskov-based 2nd Spetsnaz Brigade recently received a Defense Ministry order not to extend professional contractees, and to replace them with conscript soldiers and sergeants from training sub-units (i.e. guys who’ve been in the army all of three months).

Mukhin’s ex-general says:

“We don’t have to say what Spetsnaz brigades do.  Namely, as before, they carry out not training, but combat missions in North Caucasus hot spots.  You can’t train a good Spetsnaz soldier in a year even, much less three months.  I don’t want to be the prophet of doom, but this means the likelihood of casualties will grow in a combat situation.”

A good article by Mukhin.  His general’s words will likely be borne out.  Anyone who followed both Chechen wars can see the Russian Army lining itself up to relearn the bitter lessons of those conflicts when it comes to choosing between professionals and draftees.

Oil on a Fire?

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin recently pointed out that Russian soldiers are still busy performing ‘noncore’ tasks [i.e. essential housekeeping chores unrelated to combat training].  And this is happening despite frequent Defense Ministry trumpeting about success in eliminating ‘nonmilitary’ work from the troops’ daily regimen.

Helping out during the recent snow and ice storms is just the most recent example.  Mukhin says the army was pressed into this municipal task in Khabarovsk, Nizhniy Tagil, and Chelyabinsk.  Suburban Moscow air defenders in the OSK VKO fueled mobile power generators and operated field kitchens during the bad weather.  Reservists were called up to cope with heavy snow in Tatarstan.  Military units were also pressed into service against forest fires this summer. 

None of this is particularly surprising.  Many governments would turn to the army in similar circumstances.  But it shows that Russia’s local and regional governments lack the depth of resources to provide the services customarily expected at those levels of administration in most countries.  And, of course, they don’t have part-time soldiers in a national guard structure that can be mobilized by the governor in an emergency.

More interesting, however — to return to Mukhin’s article — a Kremlin source told his paper that an unpublicized order had gone out from the PA to the Defense Ministry on the eve of the New Year’s holidays saying that troops should prepare for “active participation” in resolving any kind of “emergency situations” (ChS) arising in the country.  And the order implied both natural and “social”  [i.e. man-made] emergencies.

Ready to Help the Police (photo: Nezavisimaya gazeta / Aleksandr Shalgin)

An NG source in the Defense Ministry said VDV unit and formations throughout Russia were in “full” combat readiness, and at “hour X” were ready to come to the assistance of police and the MVD’s Internal Troops (VV) in the event of disturbances in the capital or other major cities.

KPRF Duma Deputy and former Black Sea Fleet Commander, Vladimir Komoyedov put it in this context:

“There’s nothing bad about the army coming to help people, to help clean up disasters.  In the days of the USSR, soldiers also harvested crops, cleaned up man-made disasters, and separated ethnic groups who were fighting.  But our leaders have proclaimed the principle that the army is outside politics.  The troops should be occupied with their business – combat training, ensuring military security — and that’s all.  But it isn’t happening like this…  Now once again signs of instability are appearing — and no longer just in Russia’s south, but also in the entire country.  And we no longer have an army at all.”

The VDV spokesman felt compelled to respond right away to this story.  He told RIA Novosti the VDV is not in “full,” but rather “permanent” combat readiness for any missions assigned by its command.  And he noted that VDV sub-units are not specially trained for the mission of securing law and order.

But he didn’t say they couldn’t or wouldn’t give it a try.

RIA Novosti reminded readers of mid-December riots in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Rostov-na-Donu.  About 5,000 took part in an unsanctioned nationalist rally on Manezh Square adjacent to the Kremlin to protest the reported murder of an ethnic Russian by a man from Kabardino-Balkaria. 

The use of the VDV for an internal contingency is unlikely, but certainly conceivable.  It would probably be a last-resort measure.  And its effect on any situation might be unpredictable. 

In the right circumstances, the VDV might handle themselves professionally.  In the wrong circumstances, they might be like oil on a fire.

Shamanov Addendum

Komsomolskaya pravda’s Viktor Baranets spoke with VDV Commander Shamanov by phone yesterday.  Asked how he’s feeling, Shamanov said:

“Normal.  I’m already walking without crutches and a cane.  However, of course, there are still problems with the ulnar joint of my right hand and my left hip.”

Asked when he’ll return to duty, he said:

“I think rehabilitation will take 4-6 months.  But I’ll most likely do part of it while on duty.  My condition, thank God, allows it.”

Shamanov Leaves Hospital

VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov was discharged from the Burdenko Main Military Clinical Hospital this morning, nearly two months after his BMW-525 was hit by a truck near Tula on 30 October. 

Shamanov’s spokesman said he’s already held his first staff meeting, and participated in a commemoration of the 102nd anniversary of VDV founder Margelov’s birth.  He called Shamanov’s condition normal following the accident and more than one surgery, according to ITAR-TASS.  Shamanov had several hours of surgery on his hip on 1 November. 

The spokesman said it’s completely possible Shamanov might return to duty earlier than his doctors have directed.  He said Shamanov completed his hospital rehabilitation, will take routine medical leave, and continue rehabilitation as an outpatient.

The acting commander of the VDV’s 106th Airborne Division in Tula, Colonel Aleksey Naumets, even more severely injured in the crash, transferred from intensive care to a general ward yesterday.  A source told RIA Novosti that Naumets has regular visits from fellow servicemen, and is interested in what’s going on in the division, but it’s still hard to say when he might be discharged.

A preliminary hearing in the criminal case against Dovlatsho Elbigiyev, the driver accused of hitting Shamanov’s car, will take place Wednesday in Tula’s Zarechenskiy Rayon Court.

Short Takes

A Navy Main Staff source has told Interfaks that Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy will launch its first Bulava SLBM on 17 December.

The RVSN has decided to implement testing for narcotics use among its personnel, according to ITAR-TASS.  It will begin next year.  The RVSN spokesman provided no explanation why his branch will institute drug testing. 

RIA Novosti reports Russia will have contract reservists from 2016.  GOMU Chief Vasiliy Smirnov tells the wire service conscripts will be asked if they want to stay in the reserves for pay.  Russia’s requirement for reserves should be lower in the future given the recent shift to smaller, higher readiness forces and away from cadre units that would need fleshing out with mobilized reservists.  This story’s been around for a while.  It’s not clear how much reservists would be paid, or what their commitment would be.  It hasn’t been easy for military commissariats to mobilize reservists even for infrequent exercises and training assemblies in the past.

Lenta.ua is reporting a Defense Aerospace story that the Indians have moved acceptance of the Admiral Gorshkov (Vikramaditya) carrier off from the beginning to the end of 2012 because the ship will need more work.

RIA Novosti cites military medical sources saying VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Shamanov may not be discharged from the hospital until after 1 January.

IA Regnum reports the Chelyabinsk governor has complained to Defense Minister Serdyukov about the resumption of explosive ammunition disposal at Chebarkul, and also about Su-24 flights over Chelyabinsk.

RIA Novosti and Lifenews.ru report that a document creating a Russian DARPA may soon be put before President Medvedev.  The agency would be independent of the Defense Ministry, but conduct ‘breakthrough research in the interests of national security.’  The idea was first raised back in September.

Shamanov Doing Well, His Staff Not So Well

Interfaks reports the VDV’s spokesman says Airborne Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov is doing well enough to receive visitors and work from his hospital bed, though doctors won’t say at this point when he might be discharged.

Tuesday’s Argumenty.ru reported bad news for Shamanov’s staff.  A Defense Ministry commission working in the VDV will soon issue its decision on cutting the airborne staff.  A military source says it’s only a formality since a decision, not favorable to the VDV, has already been made.

The officer said the commission arrived immediately after Defense Minister Serdyukov’s 30 September dust-up with VDV Colonel Krasov at the Seltsy training center near Ryazan.  It had mainly finance and personnel people.  Scheduled to work for two weeks, the commission needed more than a month, and didn’t finish until after Shamanov’s car accident on 30 October.

According to Argumenty.ru’s source, the report will consider it expedient to cut the VDV’s Main Staff by two times, transfer its headquarters from Moscow to Ryazan or Tula, and sell its current premises in Sokolniki.

Shurygin on the VDV’s Discontent

Writing in Zavtra, Vladislav Shurygin has added his take on Sunday’s VDV protest.  As usual, it’s a different cut with different details, but a unique one that shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s the gist.  Shurygin says it’s not just the VDV’s discontent, but the military’s.  He enumerates the VDV’s specific grievances.  He claims the airborne has lost its status as the Supreme CINC’s strategic reserve and been placed operationally under OSKs West, South, Central, and East. 

Much of Shurygin’s article comes down to the VDV’s alleged loss of elite status.  Others, however, would say Serdyukov’s handled the airborne with kid gloves compared to how other services have suffered.  They might also say it’s high time the VDV got knocked down a notch or two.  

Shurygin seems to want to say that vlasti are more worried, or should be more worried, about discontent in the army than they appear.  He says Serdyukov can’t be dislodged from the Defense Ministry by his opponents, only the internal imperatives of vlasti will move him to another job; then he’ll be replaced by someone who’ll begin his own reform.

Shurygin quotes one Russian Airborne Union (SDR or СДР) official on how servicemen are left socially unprotected:

“In the framework of this reform which is destructive for the country, the overwhelming majority of servicemen have been dismissed without serving the term enabling them to get a pension.  Half of them don’t have housing.  Our country already has a sad experience of dismantling troops.  In the distant 1950s, the Defense Ministry decided to eliminate Naval Infantry under the pretext of missile-nuclear weapons development, saying that, if necessary, conventional infantry could fully replace it.  Nearly 50 years later history’s repeating itself.  Only now the VDV and Spetsnaz ended up in the role of unneeded forces.”

Shurygin continues:

“Meanwhile, the attitude of high state officials toward the VDV has been drawing criticism for a long time already.  In July, when the VDV observed its 80th anniversary, neither the Supreme CINC, nor the Prime Minister appeared at a ceremonial concert in the Kremlin palace and they didn’t even send the nominal greeting customary in such instances.  Then a directive according to which the VDV command would become subordinate to the Main Command of the Ground Troops was prepared, and VDV formations and units are in fact being transferred into operational subordination to the commands of strategic axes ‘North,’ [sic] ‘West,’ ‘South,’ and ‘East.’  That is, they’re being taken from the reserve of and immediate subordination to the Supreme CINC of the RF Armed Forces.  Add to this the estrangement of the VDV from work with premilitary youth in DOSAAF and the elimination of the Ryazan Airborne Higher Military Command School, which has been dropped into the Ground Troops training center (Combined Arms Academy), and the elimination of the VDV Personnel Directorate, which will put a final end to the elite status of the VDV, traditionally proud of its own unique personnel school.  In fact, a quiet destruction of the troops is going on.”

Shurygin says VDV Commander Shamanov’s doctors say confidentially that, in intensive care, he was in no condition for paperwork, and his right hand was immobilized when he supposedly authored his message urging VDV on Poklonnaya Gora to avoid confronting the Defense Ministry.   

So Shurygin doubts Shamanov wrote this, but he doesn’t allow for the possibility that the general dictated words to be issued in his name.

Shurygin adds that sources close to the Defense Ministry say the Shamanov document turned up in the hands of Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, was edited by his people, and sent to the hospital for Shamanov’s signature as he was being wheeled into surgery. 

Shurygin shifts gears reprinting part of an interview he gave Baltinform prior to the Poklonnaya Gora demonstration.  Asked about Serdyukov, he says:

“The reform Serdyukov is conducting causes confusion in specialists.  The opposition to the pogrom he’s conducted in the army is very great.  Tens of thousands of people are opposed — they really see what is happening in the troops, and are trying to get this information to the public.”

“The fact that this [Seltsy] scandal received publicity is not evidence of conspiracy, but evidence of the crudest error in Serdyukov’s judgment, who left himself open, conducting himself rudely and offending an honored officer, a Hero of Russia.  And this outrageous incident only became the latest reason again to raise the theme of reform.  If the main reformer conducts himself in such an unworthy manner, then this automatically calls forth questions about the entire reform he’s conducted.  I think that opposition to Serdyukov is located not at the Kremlin level or any mysterious officials, but at the level of those whom military reform has literally ‘run over like a tank.’”

 I relate to [Serdyukov] as an absolutely incompetent person who occupies a job that is not his.  And for three years already he’s been learning the completely new business of managing the army at the cost of huge damage to the latter.  First they constantly destroy army structures like a house of cards, then they try to ‘sculpt’ and create something out of them.”

  “Some directives are suspended, others are given out and then are suspended.  The army leadership is feverishly searching as if trying to get a careening wagon down a hill in the necessary direction, but still just increasing the chaos and disintegration.  Massive break-ups were undertaken in place of approaching reforms from a scientific viewpoint and working out experiments on specially selected parts.”

“The Armed Forces have been ‘cut to the bone.’  They’ve broken everything in them, both the bad, and the good.  They broke it, then observed the mistakes, and are now trying to correct them.”

Asked if Serdyukov will finish his reforms or be replaced because of complaints from his opponents, Shurygin concludes:

“It seems to me he’ll go to that phase when it’ll be officially acknowledged that the reform has taken place.  Then a moment will come when it’s necessary to make a change in the official hierarchy, and Serdyukov will be transferred to another position.  The one who comes into his place, will begin his own reform anew, perhaps, a more ‘quiet’ one.  But he won’t avoid long work analyzing the mess of forest cut down by Serdyukov.”

Officer Discontent on Poklonnaya Gora

Reviewing the press on Sunday’s VDV meeting on Poklonnaya Gora, one could say there’s an inclination to dismiss it as the howling of old cranks who don’t constitute an organized challenge to anything or anyone.  But behind that initial take, some media saw palpable discontent among officers, both retired and active duty.  Nezavisimaya gazeta suggested there might be more below the surface of this rather feeble demonstration – either more powerful interests or much larger numbers of affected individuals.  Ekspert concluded, at a minimum, the whole episode might lead Defense Minister Serdyukov to take the opinions of officers more seriously.      

The VDV demonstration goes back to the 30 September Seltsy incident, and the Russian Airborne Union’s (SDR) call for Serdyukov resign for insulting Hero of Russia, Colonel Krasov as well as for destroying the army.  Kommersant put the number of participants at about 1,500.  Retired General-Colonel Vyacheslav Achalov and other organizers threaten to resume protesting on 17 November if President Medvedev doesn’t fire Serdyukov.  They also want General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, and Main Personnel Directorate Chief Viktor Goremykin to resign. 

The conspiracy-minded protesters maintain that Vladimir Shamanov’s crash was no accident; they think someone tried to kill him since he’s the only man standing in the way of the VDV’s ruin.

The Defense Ministry didn’t officially comment on yesterday’s protest, but Kommersant garnered an unofficial reaction.  An unnamed Defense Ministry representative said:

“Criticism should be constructive.  When memorial days like 7 November are used for political purposes, it’s unseemly.  Moreover, criticizing the minister for the reform is premature, since it’s not complete yet.”

So the Defense Ministry didn’t think the protest was helpful, but they also think 7 November is still a holiday.  The last is the best though.  Exactly when, where, and how are opponents supposed to raise their objections?  When everything’s over and done with?  Another insight into current regime thinking about the proper interaction of politics and policymaking . . . none.

Nezavisimaya gazeta was most interested that it wasn’t just the usual non-systemic outcasts at the VDV rally, but Just Russia (Справедливая Россия) flags showed that some of the official opposition was there too.  Federation Council Speaker and Just Russia leader Sergey Mironov was once a VDV senior sergeant himself.  NG sees SR trying to play an army card to its advantage while remaining part of the official opposition.

The paper says Mironov could be using the military, and showing support for officers against Serdyukov (and Medvedev by extension) for his own purposes.  And he’s politicizing the army – something not done in recent years and generally considered unacceptable.  NG indicates some think there’s more to all this than just a reaction to Serdyukov’s alleged rudeness to the VDV:

“There is, incidentally, an opinion that the [Seltsy] incident was only a pretext, and the interests of some military circles and retired officers connected to them, who feed off the army and are dissatisfied with the current military reform, are behind the protest.”

Novyye Izvestiya describes Poklonnaya Gora as quite the retrograde affair replete with Soviet flags, and the usual representatives of the radical opposition.

One participant bragged to its reporter after passing through one of many metal detectors:

“We don’t need weapons, we could take the Kremlin with a stool leg.”

But Novyye had more serious points too, like one ex-VDV who complained of Serdyukov’s cuts in military medicine, and his commercialization of military hospitals.  He asked:

“What military doctors will be on the battlefield?  There aren’t any remaining.  But there’s no one to fight, in a year’s army service what can you learn?  Only to sweep the parade ground.”

The paper concludes VDV veterans believe only military men can solve the army’s problems, the army needs to be mobile and highly capable, and it shouldn’t be shameful to serve in it.  At least everyone seems to agree on the last two.

Writing for Ekspert, Stanislav Kuvaldin describes Seltsy and Poklonnaya Gora as a breakdown in communications between the Defense Minister and the officer corps.  One SDR leader told Kuvaldin:

“Serving officers are silent, but they think the same things.  We grew them and indoctrinated them.”

He went on to say that even if they are silent about Serdyukov and reforms in exchange for today’s higher officer pay, it doesn’t mean they’ve been suppressed.

A key element of Serdyukov’s reform is basically tripling officer pay, and this higher pay is already a serious factor in calculations about serving, but it hasn’t happened yet (except for those getting special premium pay).  Nevertheless, potentially higher pay won’t automatically mean Serdyukov will be more popular, and it doesn’t mean the VDV will get over Serdyukov’s insult to one of its officers and a Hero of Russia, according to Kuvaldin.

Kuvaldin reports the Defense Ministry may compromise on some of the VDV’s more specific complaints, i.e. not moving the VDV Headquarters to Ryazan and preserving the VDV Museum, but not reversing the VDV Higher Military Command School’s subordination to the Combined Arms Academy.

In the end, Kuvaldin writes, this dissatisfaction is only creating tense moments for Serdyukov, not a serious threat:

“In the end, if after two years of reforms, vulgar insults to the head of one military school have become the cause for veterans to come out, it’s possible only to talk about an unpleasant emotional backdrop for the minister, but not about a hypothetical organized resistance.”

However, possibly, the situation will force the minister to deal with officers’ opinions more attentively and respectfully.

But this author wouldn’t bet on it.

In a not particularly surprising postscript, the GAI stopped SDR leader Pavel Popovskikh – former colonel, VDV Reconnaissance Chief, and defendant in the murder of journalist Dmitriy Kholodov – for driving drunk after the demonstration.  The story was widely reported, but an alternative version hasn’t gotten as much play.  Segodnya.ru reported that Popovskikh’s friends and others say he stopped drinking long ago.  The website also says Vladislav Shurygin wrote in his blog that traffic cops were ordered to stop Popovskikh and check him for alcohol, but they sheepishly released him with an apology when they found he was sober.