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.

Pork à la Russe

Sounds tasty, but (probably) not an actual recipe . . . .

Many no doubt are familiar with the American tradition of “pork-barrel”
politics.  Congress appropriates and spends money in the districts of various representatives to get them to vote for funding they wouldn’t otherwise support. The projects are usually unnecessary, fat, or “pork.”

An item reading like a Russian MOD version of “pork”  appeared in TASS this week.

The chief of Tuva — Sholban Kara-ool — announced that the construction of MOD infrastructure in his republic should be a priority in 2015.

Sholban Kara-ool

Sholban Kara-ool

Kara-ool’s press-service told TASS that the chief and his ministers reviewed plans to build a garrison town and training area for a new motorized rifle brigade and for the region’s military commissariat in Kyzyl.  The brigade is the 55 OMSBr (G) —  the 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain).

The Ground Troops currently have two mountain brigades — the 33rd in Dagestan and 34th in North Ossetia.

This brigade will number 1,500 men, recruited, somewhat unusually, exclusively among ethnic Tuvans.  They will be contractees signed up for 30-35,000 rubles per month.  TASS indicated the brigade already has 900 candidates.  Their garrison will be near Kyzyl on the right bank of the Yenisey.  According to the news agency, the MOD will also move a railroad troops battalion to Tuva from Krasnoyarsk.

The regional government anticipates the construction will bring 10 billion rubles and 1,000 jobs, while adding communications, energy, and social infrastructure to the Tuvan capital.  Not surprisingly, Tuva’s chief said he expects the stand-up of the new formation to have a positive impact on the local “social-economic situation.”

Kara-ool told his government to remove all contradictions and impediments to fulfill these short-suspense military construction projects.  He added that, should problems outside his competence arise, he won’t hesitate to turn directly to fellow Tuvan Sergey Shoygu to resolve them.

The Russian military is investing more today in infrastructure to house personnel and weapons than at any time in the post-Soviet era.

But establishing the Tuvan brigade and its facilities has to be an expensive project in an impoverished region that never had much, if any, military presence.  Any number of abandoned Russian bases might have been reactivated more cheaply for this purpose.

The brigade will serve, in one of its capacities, as a peacekeeping (or intervention) force in Central Asia.  The Tuvans in the brigade will have a degree of ethnic and  linguistic affinity with Kazakhs and Kyrgyz at least.

Otherwise, stationing it along the remote Russian border with Mongolia seems to be a case of Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu taking care of his boys back home.

Getting the new brigade running is likely to entail some prime opportunities for corruption since that’s how business gets done in Sholban Kara-ool’s fiefdom.

Tsar-Boat

Russian military television, TV Zvezda, not long ago ran a 35-minute show on the construction and acceptance of Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh in Severodvinsk.  Pretty interesting footage showing test launches of Bulava SLBMs and engineers checking design specs on reams of paper documents.  Props to someone for putting the video on YouTube.

The program follows MOD military representatives, civilians, and crew through the final process of delivering and accepting the new submarine into service.  It also has footage from Votkinsk showing the manufacture of Bulavas for the Borey-class.