Not Enough Men or Transports

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Another large-scale Russian military “surprise inspection” has concluded, and military commentator Ilya Kramnik has placed it, and other exercises, into perspective for Lenta.ru.

Interpreted as a prologue to war in Europe by some, the Kremlin-directed “surprise inspections” are the logical continuation of a process in recent years.  It is the process of developing strategic mobility through deployment exercises, according to Kramnik.

The latest six-day “surprise inspection” focused on deploying and redeploying forces in Russia’s Arctic regions, but President Vladimir Putin expanded it into a nation-wide exercise.

Kramnik focuses his analysis first on the Kaliningrad exclave.  Russia has practiced its defense of this region since the mid-2000s on an expanding scale. But the first large-scale drill in Kaliningrad, Kramnik says, was Zapad-2009.

Kaliningrad is where the pattern of special attention to troop mobility developed. In “surprise inspections,” military units from almost every armed service and branch were delivered by ground, rail, sea, or air transport to unfamiliar ranges in that region to conduct training missions.

The pattern has repeated in each of Russia’s “strategic directions.” Although Kramnik doesn’t describe it as such, it is, in effect, the establishment of expeditionary forces within the Russian military intended for internal transfer and use on any of Russia’s borders (or beyond them).  

If mobility questions play a key role in Kaliningrad, Kramnik continues, they are dominant when it comes to the Arctic.  All Arctic deployments depend on Navy and Air Forces transport capabilities.  Then he writes:

“It relies first and foremost on reestablishment of infrastructure which supports, if necessary, the redeployment [переброска] of troops by sea and by air and not requiring large numbers of personnel for daily service and security.  13 airfields, radar stations, repaired ports and other facilities allow forces to return quickly ‘in a threatening period.’  And to control the surrounding sea and air space a rather sufficiently compact grouping based here on a permanent basis.”

Kramnik concludes that Russia is confronting its weakness — armed forces not large enough to garrison its immense territory.  This increased attention to strategic maneuver is a means to compensate for an insufficient number of troops.  He takes a comment from Viktor Murakhovskiy:

“Today we don’t have a single self-sufficient grouping on any of our [strategic] directions.  This is the main reason for the great attention the Armed Forces leadership allocates to the potential for redeploying forces.”

Mobility, guaranteed by a developed railroad network, and in distant and isolated TVDs by the world’s second largest inventory of military-transport aviation, should support the potential for Russia, if necessary, to “swing the pendulum” — effectively maneuvering forces between different TVDs, Kramnik writes.  The capacity provided by the civilian airlines and fleet can also add to this.

But besides men, Russia also lacks enough transport aircraft.  

Kramnik writes that while attention has gone to constructing and reconstructing airfields and finding personnel to service them, the VTA’s order-of-battle is in critical condition, especially in terms of light and medium transports.  The average age of the An-26 inventory is nearly 35 years; the An-12 more than 45 years.

Events of the last year in Ukraine ended what were already difficult talks with Kyiv about building the An-70 and restarting production of the An-124.  Meanwhile, much of the Antonov Design Bureau’s competence has degraded, according to CAST Deputy Director Konstantin Makiyenko.

So today, Kramnik says, Russia has at its disposal only one serial VTA aircraft — the modernized Il-76, developed 40 years ago with serious limits on the weight and dimensions of military equipment it can deliver.  It will be supplemented by the Il-112 (light) and Il-214 (medium) transports, and by a “future aviation system transport aviation” or PAK TA.

The very same reported PAK TA that generated hysterical press here, then here, and here by promising to land an entire armored division of new Russian T-14 / Armata tanks overnight, anywhere in the world.  From an aircraft industry at pains to duplicate large but old designs like Antonov’s?  Obviously, a sudden outbreak of irrational Soviet-style giantism.

In the end, Kramnik concludes that VTA needs a high priority or Russia will have trouble moving combat capable groupings to the Arctic and Far East.  New aerial tankers are needed as well.

How the Third World War Begins

What would happen if the U.S. and some NATO allies decided to intervene in eastern Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with arms or by sending their own troops to the front lines?  Mikhail Khodarenok has tried to answer this question, and provides much-needed tonic for Western observers wowed by the Kremlin’s “surprise” exercises since 2013.  He is a conservative critic of the Russian MOD leadership and post-Soviet military “reforms” up to Sergey Shoygu’s tenure.  

Khodarenok argues against allowing Russian forces to be drawn into an escalating conflict because ill-conceived and continual “optimization” has left them unprepared for a conventional war against the West.

Khodarenok is editor-in-chief of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer or VPK. He’s a retired colonel, professional air defender, General Staff Academy grad, and former staffer of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was an outstanding military journalist for Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, but by 2003 or 2004, he left for VPK.

Mikhail Khodarenok

Mikhail Khodarenok

His latest for VPK is interesting, and follows in its entirety.

Script for the Third World War

Volunteers from the USA and Western Europe are interfering in the conflict in south-east Ukraine.

One has to repeat yet again:  statements, from time to time voiced by ultraliberal Russian politicians like “the problem has no military solution” and “all wars end in peace,” have no relationship to reality.  Wars end only one way — a crushing defeat for some and brilliant victory for others.  If the phrase “there is no military solution” appears, this means that one of the parties to the conflict simply has no strength for the victorious conclusion of the war.  And if some armed confrontation ends like a draw, it is so perhaps because of the complete exhaustion of military capabilities on both sides.  Of course, there are possible variants with some very minor deviations from this general line.

Begin with the immediate and future tasks of the parties to the conflict in the south-east Ukraine.

For the Kiev leadership the immediate, and future, and enduring goal for the historically foreseeable future is only one thing:  restoration of the territorial integrity of the country by any means, primarily military ones.  The strategic mission is to wipe the armed formations of the south-east from the face of the earth.  Waiting for negotiations, for changes in the constitution of Ukraine in the right way for the unrecognized patches of territories, for federalization of the south-east — all this is from the realm exclusively of suppositions and imaginary games. Carthage (i.e. the separatist south-east) must be destroyed — and this thesis, without any doubt, will be dominant in all Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy.  To hold other views today among the [Maydan] Square elite means immediate political suicide.  Still Kiev doesn’t have the forces and means to solve the problem militarily.  But this doesn’t at all signify the Ukrainian leadership’s refusal of a policy of crushing the south-east by military means.

It’s necessary to say directly that, on the whole, the external and internal political missions of Ukraine in the south-east are clear and logical.

It’s more complicated with the unrecognized south-east.  Everything here is much foggier.  It’s possible to demand self-determination for these territories, but what then?  How can people live on this piece of land if it is practically impossible to guarantee the economic, financial and any other independence for the south-east (or more precisely, two torn off and extremely curvy pieces of Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts)?  Demanding federalization is also theoretically permissible, but official Kiev will never, under any circumstances, grant it.  Return to [Maydan] Square?  But so much blood has already been shed, the scale of destruction of the region’s infrastructure is simply astonishing, and the gulf between the parties to the conflict is so great that this is hardly possible without subsequent pogroms and mass shootings of insurgents by Ukraine’s central government.  In general, a complete zugzwang — what to do is not clear to anyone, and the next move can only worsen the situation.  It seems that the political line of the south-east, in these circumstances, can be only one thing — hiding behind a verbal veil and temporizing.  And then, maybe, something will happen.

In this regard, it doesn’t due to forget one important circumstance.  In predicting the future, futurists of all stripes mainly use the very same method.  From the point of view of a representative of anti-aircraft missile troops, as the author was in the past, —  this is the hypothesis of a rectilinear and uniform motion target.  A significant part of the forecasts is based on this postulate.

But there is the “Black Swan” theory.  Its author — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote about it in the book “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable. ” The theory considers difficult to predict and rare events that involve significant consequences.

In other words, it is impossible to describe the processes of the real world with only mathematics, employing even the most advanced models.  From a certain point anything and everything can go contrary to predictions, extremely askew.  It seems that the unspoken political line of the south-east — to wait is built on this.  And then it will become apparent.  Is it good or bad — only time will tell.

Today in the south-east of Ukraine a cease-fire regime is in effect.  But all parties to the conflict seem to realize that this is not the end, but rather only a pause before the summer campaign.

We now turn to hypothetical scenarios of the developing situation in the south-east of Ukraine (we emphasize — scenarios exclusively from the realm of hypotheses and assumptions).

How does the war in the south-east present itself from the point of view of military art?  Essentially, two Soviet armies are fighting.  One is a 1991 model (it is the armed forces of Ukraine), the other is a somewhat modernized version of the same Soviet army — better trained in an operational-tactical sense, manned by more competent specialists, and commanded better.  And the armed confrontation is currently playing out solely on the ground — with only the forces of combined arms units and sub-units.  The south-east doesn’t have its own air forces, and Ukraine’s — formerly small — air forces have gradually dwindled to nothing in the course of the conflict.  Practically no serviceable aircraft and trained pilots remain for the [Maydan] Square. Volunteers for the south-east on their TO&E air defense equipment helped the development of such a situation a lot.  Sometimes vacationers in their planes acted fairly quietly and unnoticed for the same purpose.  But from the point of view of military art, the armed confrontation in the south-east is all just a somewhat modernized variant of World War II in its final stage.  Neither this nor that side has identified new weapons and military equipment or new techniques and methods of conducting armed warfare.

As is well-known, volunteer-vacationers are fighting on the side of the south-east. With their TO&E weapons as a rule.  But now suppose such a variant (again, purely hypothetical, why not), that volunteers and vacationers from the USA and Western Europe began to arrive in the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine, also with their TO&E weapons.

Let’s begin with the air forces.  Suppose F-15, F-16, F-22, A-10, “Panavia Tornado,” E-8A, E-3A began landing on the airfields of Kharkov, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye.  Previous identification markings and side numbers painted over, and marked in their place is the trident and yellow-blue banners of Ukraine.  Prior to this, many flights to Ukrainian airbases delivered fuel and the most modern aviation weapons.

Three CSGs (carrier strike groups) are deployed on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria which has prostituted itself politically for the past 140 years.  The typical composition of each is one nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, two-three guided missile cruisers, three-four guided missile destroyers, three-four nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Armored and mechanized divisions of volunteers from the West outfitted with “Abrams,” “Leopard,” “Leclerc” tanks, “Marder” and “Bradley” BMPs, modern artillery are unloaded in the area of ​​Mariupol, Pavlograd, Izyum, and Lozove.

In addition, we should make note of the volunteer units and sub-units (also manned by vacationers from the USA and Western Europe), electronic warfare, communications, unmanned aerial vehicles and so on, and so on.  Do not forget also about the volunteer logistics and technical support units, without which modern war is unthinkable.

Now a question.  How long would the armed formations of the south-east hold out if a qualitatively different enemy entered the war, if a hail of modern aviation weapons — anti-bunker bombs, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, air- and sea-based cruise missiles showered down on LNR and DNR formations and units?  If the order-of-battle were attacked by the newest armored combat vehicles and artillery?  And the action of all this military splendor was supported by American intelligence of all types which has not even a close analogue in the world?  And the planes of the volunteers of the West chase after every BMP, gun, and tank of the units and formations of the south-east, separately bomb every trench, firing point, and mortar position taken.  And destroy the target with margins commensurate with the size of the trench itself.

We’ll repeat the question:  how long can the armed formations of the south-east hold out?  A day?  Two?  A week?  The answer is unfortunately:  several hours would be good.

Of course, the elder comrades — the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation — of the volunteers of the south-east can support them.  And precisely at this moment — please get shaved(1) — the Third World War has begun.

Such a version of events is the crystal dream of the current Ukrainian leadership. But Anglo-Saxon blood is too dear to shed for the future happiness of some half-wild Ukrainians.  Therefore, such a version of developing events is still to be assessed as the game of a warmed-over imagination.

And if you still continue to fantasize and try to imagine how the development of such a conflict in the South-West Strategic Direction [YuZSN] might look, if all interested sides take part in it under this or that flag.

We say directly — the success of armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons is obvious in this case.  It certainly will be on the side of the West.  Unfortunately, the modern Russian Army is still less than qualitatively different from its Soviet predecessor of the 1991 model.  And there is not very much of the latest weaponry, meeting the highest demands of the XXI century, in it.

For example, at this time, we do not have a single operational large formation [объединение] of the air forces (which by the way are no longer themselves a service of the Armed Forces), equipped with modern aircraft with supplies of the newest aviation weapons for the conduct of at least 30 days of combat actions.

The Black Sea Fleet today, to our great regret, is a branch of the Central Naval Museum.  On the ships of the BSF it would be possible to study the history of Soviet shipbuilding in the 1960-1970s.

Yes, and combined arms formations and units, if you collected everything that is on the territory of the former SKVO(2), you would get not more than 1.5 army corps (by Western standards).  You clearly couldn’t form a 1st Ukrainian Front from the available set of forces and resources.  There are no operational reserves on the district’s territory.  That is, the formations and units clearly do not have the strength for operational-strategic missions on the YuZSN.

To understand the sharpness of the situation, let’s add just one thing:  if there are four-six specialized EW aircraft on every American carrier, then we don’t have a single similar aircraft in our entire air forces.

One should note still one more very important point — the operational outfitting of theater of military actions in the South-West Strategic Direction hardly meets the tasks of conducting combat actions successfully.  The airfield network, the quantity and quality of roads and railways far from fully meet the demands of pursuing armed confrontation.  It suffices to note that some railroads pass through the territory of Ukraine, and the famous quadrangle in which there are generally no railways lies precisely on the YuZSN.  In a word, the first railroad parallel to the front line goes through Ukraine, and the next — only through Volgograd.  And as is well-known, where the railway ends, and so ends the war.

As for the quartering of formations, units, and sub-units of the RF Armed Forces on the YuZSN, they are located mainly in the dispositions of the Soviet-era North Caucasus Military District.  In those days, this district was deep in the rear with a small set of reduced-strength and cadre units and formations.  The situation in this respect has changed a little since 1991.  But now the neighboring country of the district with the most militant and anti-Russian mood is modern Ukraine.

A fully legitimate question arises:  what did you do the last 20 years?  This period in the life of the Russian Armed Forces awaits its impartial historian. Still one can say the following concisely.  All force in the 1990s and 2000s, maybe, went into continuous organizational-staffing measures(3).  Meaning:  form, then disband the very same, then restore it, disband it again, but incidentally with the aims exclusively of optimizing and improving the organizational structure, zeroize military science and education, cut military academies to the root under the well-meaning pretext of relocating them, scatter valuable cadres in the course of continuous cuts and reformations.  Just two words — “reform” and “optimization” — in their harmful effect on the life of the Armed Forces are comparable, perhaps, only with the consequences of delivering a series of MRAUs (massed missile-air strikes).

Perhaps, if we look at the matter critically, nothing qualitatively new was created (in any case this is debatable).  We have essentially marked time for more than 20 years, while other countries have made a breakthrough in military affairs.  If any positive trend has been noted, then it is only with the arrival of Sergey Shoygu in the Ministry of Defense.

And somebody should be responsible for it — at least in terms of an objective analysis of the situation.  Let’s examine try the defense ministers in recent years – from Pavel Grachev to Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Which of them could be called “a prominent builder of the Armed Forces of modern Russia?”  Or write the line in their performance appraisal:  “A talented military theorist, who made a significant contribution to strengthening the defense power of the state?”  Finally, he “developed, established, introduced, and adopted weapons into the arms inventory?”

Try to include the following lines in their testimonials:

“Extraordinary concentration, inquisitive mind, analytical skills, ability to make correct, forward-looking conclusions;”
“Creative mind and a remarkable memory, ability to quickly grasp a situation, to foresee the development of events;”
“Has a rich combat experience, broad erudition, high operational-strategic training, gave all his strength to the training and education of military personnel, to the development of military science;”
“Distinguished by deep knowledge of matters, persistent daily work, high culture and personal manners;”
“Dedication to affairs, high professionalism, intelligence.”

Having presented a line on the [MOD] leaders noted above, we can say — almost nothing suits, however.  Or its suits, but not much.  In the best case, all the enumerated persons were occupied with only one thing — “merge-unmerge,” and then cut.  But court of history is impartial — no matter how so-and-so puffed out his cheeks or furrowed his eyebrows in the past, it is not at all the generals for special assignments from his inner circle who will write his testimonial for him.

By way of conclusion.  What do Russia’s Armed Forces do in the event of such a development of the conflict?  Threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons?  Meaning:  if you do not stop, we will strike at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, the series of hydroelectric power stations on the Dnieper River in order to create a flood zone and destruction.  But this, as is well-known, is a double-edged sword.  And there are not so many long-range tactical nuclear weapons delivery vehicles.  After all, with our own hands we destroyed the class of missiles most needed for the defense of the country — RSMD(4).

Of course, all the above described and enumerated is no more than speculation, fantasies, and hypotheses.

But there can be only one exit from the Ukrainian crisis — under no circumstances should the Russian Federation Armed Forces be allowed to be dragged into the conflict in the south-east.  Our country, the army and navy, needs to note objectively that we are still not ready for large-scale armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons.  If you sort out all the criteria of the state’s readiness for war (Armed Forces training, preparation of the country’s economy, the preparation of the country’s territory to support the RF Armed Forces, preparing the population for defense), then most of them have very substantial problems.

And it’s necessary to strengthen the country’s defense capability at a forced (downright Bolshevik) tempo, and create Russian Armed Forces which meet the highest standards of modern warfare.  And the first thing is to stop the nervous organizational-staffing(3) delirium.

A post-script to Khodarenok’s opus:  where does he leave us?  

A frozen conflict [a draw — to use his term] is, of course, a win for the Kremlin.  At least through the medium term.  

If the West intervened militarily in the conflict as Khodarenok hypothesizes, both sides would have to make dangerous decisions about working up the conventional escalation ladder.  Moscow might conceivably back away from eastern Ukraine if given a serious bloody nose.  Along the way, the U.S. and EU might also go “nuclear” economically by revoking Russia’s membership in the SWIFT international money transfer system.  

But if, as Khodarenok suggests, the West trumps conventionally, Moscow could consider a game-changing resort to nuclear weapons. With probably only messy endings in store for him anyway, Putin might have fewer compunctions here than the U.S. or NATO.  He would have fewer choices too — escalate again or lose the war (and his grip on power).  Would Russian military men be willing to use nuclear weapons over eastern Ukraine or to save Putin?

There is, of course, an alternative more likely to be chosen by the West:  Cold War-style containment of eastern Ukraine and Russia. It’s a less dangerous, but slow and frustrating process placing much of the burden of nation-state building on pro-Kyiv Ukrainians themselves and on the West’s willingness to finance the emergence of a viable country in contrast to the Russian-backed statelets in the east.  However, this long road is open everywhere to Russian meddling, and frontline NATO allies would require lots of tangible reassurance.

Whatever the policy course, it isn’t clear to this author that the U.S. and the West possess the same fortitude to pursue it that they did in the 1940s and 1950s.  They don’t have the same cohesion in decisionmaking.  Not many are willing to view what happens in Ukraine as a top policy concern.  The U.S. is tired and distracted. Putin’s Kremlin, however, has already defined Ukraine as an immediate and vital interest.


(1) Refers to Alexander the Great having his men shave before battle.
(2) North Caucasus Military District.
(3) A term used in the Russian workplace for reorganizations entailing closure of some entities, establishment of new ones, physical relocations, and personnel transfers and cuts.
(4) Medium and shorter range missiles — covered by the INF Treaty.

Reinforcing Russia’s Western Frontier

NVO correspondent Vladimir Mukhin recently reported that the MOD will move the Mulino-based 20th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to Voronezh, near Russia’s border with Ukraine.  The governor of Voronezh apparently informed local media about the army’s impending return to the oblast after meeting with Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov.

Mukhin wrote that the MOD wouldn’t confirm his report, but didn’t deny it.

The 20th CAA was based in Voronezh until 2010, when the MOD, under Anatoliy Serdyukov, transferred it to Mulino (west of Nizhnyy Novgorod).  The 22nd CAA, then in Mulino, disbanded.  Mukhin hints that, in Mulino, the 20th was a relatively hollow reserve force.

Voronezh and the Ukrainian Border

Voronezh and the Ukrainian Border

The change could place a large formation on Moscow’s Western frontline, and improve its base and training infrastructure.  The Boguchar training ground will be recommissioned and enlarged.  The MOD also plans to build a new military garrison town next to Baltimor air base, just south of Voronezh.

Enlarging Boguchar (200 km south of Voronezh, 60 km from the Ukrainian border), according to Mukhin, presents a military administrative problem.  The bigger training area could spill over into Rostov Oblast and the Southern MD. According to Mukhin, local media report Boguchar will house a motorized rifle brigade.

Mukhin says military experts conclude that the redeployment resulted from changes in the Defense Plan recently signed by Putin and from the experience of a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

He quotes former Ground Troops Main Staff Chief, General-Lieutenant Sergey Skokov:

“If the 20th CAA staff deploys in Voronezh again, this would be a correct decision I think.  It was obvious then for many military leaders and experts that the transfer of this large formation [объединение] from Voronezh to Mulino (Nizhegorod Oblast) left western Russia naked, and created difficulties for constructing a reliable defense there.  But neither former Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov nor General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov heeded those opinions then.  Now these mistakes have to be corrected.  And it will be, it seems, expedient to correct them since the situation in Ukraine is tense, and the NATO countries are strengthening their grouping in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders.”

According to one source, these formations are subordinate to the 20th CAA:

  • 4th Tank Division (Naro-Fominsk);
  • 2nd Motorized Rifle Division (Kalininets);
  • 6th Independent Tank Brigade (Mulino);
  • 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Nizhnyy Novogorod);
  • 288th Artillery Brigade (Mulino);
  • 448th Missile Brigade (Kursk);
  • 112th Missile Brigade (Shuya);
  • 53rd SAM Brigade (Kursk);
  • 49th SAM Brigade (Smolensk);
  • 9th Command and Control Brigade (Mulino);
  • 69th Independent Material-Technical Support Brigade (Mulino);
  • 262nd Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Boguchar);
  • 99th Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Tver);
  • 7015th Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Mulino).

Those around Mulino or Nizhnyy (Shuya, Tver) would be candidates to move southwest if this pans out.  But what about the 4th and 2nd divisions?  Traditional praetorian guards for Kremlin rulers against political challenges and domestic disturbances, they have been southwest of Moscow for many years.  It seems unlikely they’ll move in these times.

Catalyst for Military Reform

It’s sad, but safe, to conclude that Russian politics has always been pretty violent. Always being the last several hundred years.  And that violence has claimed its latest high-profile victim.

RIP 1959-2015

RIP 1959-2015

The many eulogies for Boris Nemtsov were eloquent and on-target for what they said about the man and about Russia today.

It was surprising, however, that they all (from what the present writer can tell) pretty much neglected Nemtsov’s role as a critical catalyst for serious reform of the Russian military.  The part Nemtsov played was just one way he reflected hope for the emergence of a liberal, European Russia.

Whether in government in the 1990s or out in the 2000s, Nemtsov argued for making military reform a priority.  He was the political face of criticism of President Vladimir Putin for failing to reform the armed forces.  He had lots of knowledgeable help and supporters, but he was a politician who could make the case publicly and loudly.

In the early 2000s, Nemtsov and the SPS advocated reducing the compulsory military service term from two years (which the MOD thought barely sufficient) to just six months.  He also called for slicing the army from more than 1 million to just 400,000.

Early and often, Nemtsov said the military should rely first and foremost on professional contract servicemen.  He did this in rallies and marches back when they were permitted and could be arranged with relative ease.  Former Defense Minister and Putin confidante Sergey Ivanov labeled Nemtsov’s call for an all-contractee army by 2007 “populist hodgepodge.”

But Nemtsov’s insistence was a major impetus behind the government’s 2003 contract service experiment in the 76th Airborne Division, and the 2004-2007 Federal Targeted Program to introduce contract service throughout the armed forces.  In the latter, the MOD aimed to convert 200 divisions and regiments to full professional manning instead of conscripted soldiers.

Even Ivanov said, if the government’s program worked, conscription could be cut to one year.  It didn’t.  Nemtsov argued that the contract service program, as implemented, was underfunded.  He also tried to tell Putin that the MOD generals could never be trusted to reform themselves.

What has happened since?

Civilian Anatoliy Serdyukov served almost six years as Defense Minister and imposed many military reforms on reluctant Russian generals.

One-year military conscription was phased in and became the norm in 2008.

Most importantly, professional contract service replaced conscription as the basis of Russia’s military manning policy.  The armed forces have the goal of putting 425,000 volunteer enlisted in the ranks by recruiting 50,000 each year through 2017.

And the Russian Army has, generally speaking, become a safer place to serve.

Boris Nemtsov wasn’t solely responsible for these important changes, but he was a significant force pushing for them.

So it isn’t surprising Nemtsov was killed while urgently trying to awaken somnolent Russians — mothers and fathers — to the dangers of letting the Kremlin send its young men to fight, and possibly be injured or die, in eastern Ukraine.

Defender’s Day Promotions

On 21 February, President Vladimir Putin issued an ukaz listing 23 general and flag officer promotions for Defender’s Day 2015.

The list included:

  • Three-star general-colonel rank for GRU Chief Igor Sergun and Ground Troops Main Staff Chief Sergey Istrakov.
  • Two-star ranks for the head of the General Staff’s military-scientific committee and a deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet.
  • One-star general-major for the commanders of the 98th Airborne Division, the 22nd Spetsnaz Brigade, the 6th Tank Brigade, the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade, and the chief of VVS radar troops.
  • Other notables — one-star for the deputy chief of staff of the Southern MD, chief of the Plesetsk cosmodrome, and head of the RVSN’s missile armaments directorate.

As always, there were newly-minted generals whose current posts could not be identified.

The updated promotion list, now with about 230 names, is available here.

Brothers Armed — A Review

Brothers Armed

If you follow the Russian military, you need to pick up Brothers Armed:  Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine from the Moscow-based Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) and published by East View Press.

Brothers Armed is a great summary of events in Russia’s seizure of Crimea last February-March as well as in-depth reference detailing the condition of the Russian and Ukrainian militaries.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s good and, most importantly, it’s sui generis.  It came out quickly and no other book covers these issues.  CAST has successfully achieved “relative objectivity” in its approach, as the introduction by David Glantz notes.

Vasiliy Kashin begins Brothers Armed by examining the history of Crimea’s disputed status.  He concludes:

“. . . in several agreements and treaties . . . Russia clearly recognized Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its existing borders [including control of Crimea]. Until the crisis in 2014, Russia had made no attempts to question Ukraine’s rights to Crimea.”

Putin’s move on Crimea was opportunistic, not premeditated, according to Kashin.

Two chapters then explain how Ukraine neglected its rich inheritance from the Soviet military.  In sheer hardware terms, Ukraine suddenly found itself the second most powerful in Europe, and fourth in the world.  The legacy of Soviet defense industry left it with “more than 700 military design bureaus and manufacturing plants that developed and made almost every type of modern weaponry.”  But without obvious threats and an army too large for its needs and finances, Kyiv focused on downsizing rather than preserving its forces.

Following Russia’s short war with Georgia in 2008, a “snap inspection” of the Ukrainian Army’s combat readiness “yielded very alarming results.”  In 2014, this inability to react to a rapidly emerging threat resulted in the loss of Crimea.

Mikhail Barabanov provides two narratives on Russian military reform — before and after the war with Georgia.  He concludes that, although former Defense Minister Serdyukov was despised by the military, he was “instrumental in laying the foundations of a genuinely modern Russian Army.”  His successor has normalized and stabilized the military in the wake of Serdyukov’s changes, but not reversed their intent.

Barabanov argues Crimea vindicated Russia’s transition from a big war mobilization army to leaner high readiness forces for smaller wars (despite lingering problems in manning them fully).

Alexey Nikolsky’s report on the formation and use of Russia’s two new SOF units in the seizure of Crimea makes for an intriguing chapter.  He argues that the SOF units are elite combat elements, unlike GRU Spetsnaz which are tasked with strategic reconnaissance.

Anton Lavrov’s section on Russia’s military operation in Crimea is the meat of Brothers Armed, and it’s a valuable account of what happened on the ground last winter.  He points out that, although Kyiv’s numbers were superior to Moscow’s, its military forces were psychologically, politically, and technically unready to react to the Russian invasion of Crimea.  At a point, he writes, “. . . the Ukrainian government was forced to desist from active attempts to restore its control of Crimea, so as not to risk a full-blown Russian invasion.”

The final chapter is Vyacheslav Tseluyko’s insightful look at where Ukraine’s military needs to go now that Russia is giving it “a crash course in real warfare.” He concludes Kyiv should focus on its most dangerous threat — a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine — and adopt a territorial defense strategy to prevent a foreign occupation.  Tseluyko advocates drawing the aggressor into protracted fighting in urban areas, making every Ukrainian soldier an infantryman, and employing anti-armor weapons from light helicopters.

Brothers Armed is an object lesson for countries bordering Russia. They and their armed forces need to be ready immediately to respond to challenges to their sovereignty and territorial integrity from their overweening neighbor to the east.  Anything less could be too late.

The book is smoothly translated and features good photos.  A good map lost in the back might have served better up front.

With Brothers Armed on the shelf, one looks forward to a future book about the war in the Donbass.  CAST publishes routinely about the conflict in its English language journal.

Looking Landward

The newest deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet is former deputy chief of the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate (GUBP), General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrovich Petrov.

The media quoted Petrov several times in that post, addressing either last year’s tank biathlon or Rheinmetall’s pullout from the Mulino training center contract.

Moscow apparently isn’t neglecting the landward defense of Crimea. Petrov’s arrival might presage a beefing up of ground units on Russia’s most recently acquired territory.  

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

According to Mil.ru and KZ, the 50-year-old Petrov was born in the Dnepropetrovsk oblast (former Ukrainian SSR), and graduated from the Kiev Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1985.

He got a platoon in the old Turkestan MD and, rather immediately, another graduation present — two years in Afghanistan (1986-1988).

On his return from that tour, he commanded a reconnaissance company and served as chief of reconnaissance for a regiment in the Far East MD.

He completed the mid-career Frunze Military Academy in 1994, commanded a battalion, and then served as chief of staff for a division in the Moscow MD.

In 2005, Petrov finished the General Staff Academy and took command of one of the Far East MD’s machine gun-artillery divisions.

Petrov proceeded to head the Siberian MD’s combat training directorate. He was acting chief of the combat training directorate of the Ground Troops, then deputy chief of GUBP.

He wears several combat decorations.

Petrov likely will serve as Chief of Coastal Troops, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet for Coastal Troops.  If this is the case, he’ll replace General-Major Aleksandr Ostrikov.  Russia’s other fleets have Ground Troops generals in similar positions.