Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.

Third Iskander-M Brigade in Far East

The Eastern Military District’s third brigade of Iskander-M SRBMs is set to deploy to its base after initial training on the range in Astrakhan Oblast.  Interfaks-AVN and RIA Novosti covered the story yesterday.

The recipient is the Ussuriysk-based 5th Combined Arms Army’s 20th Missile Brigade at Spassk-Dalniy, Primorskiy Kray.

The first Iskander-M brigade in the Far East was the 35th Army’s 107th Missile Brigade in Birobidzhan in 2013.  The 36th Army’s 103rd Missile Brigade in Ulan-Ude got the Iskander-M last December.

The Russian Defense Ministry has said it intends to field two brigades of Iskander-M missiles each year until it replaces older Tochka / Tochka-U SRBMs.

Spies, Spetsnaz, and Snipers

In Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer on 10 February, Aleksey Mikhaylov gives us details on the career of new GRU Chief General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov, and perspective on issues he needs to resolve for GRU Spetsnaz forces.

Mikhaylov writes that Korobov’s appointment continues a tradition from the end of the 1990s:  the first deputy chief for strategic [agent] intelligence becomes the new head of the GRU.  His immediate predecessors — the late Igor Sergun and Aleksandr Shlyakhturov — were both “strat guys.”

As for Korobov, he matriculated at the Stavropol Higher Air Defense Aviation School in 1973 (making him about 61).  Graduating with distinction in 1977, the new lieutenant headed north to serve at Talagi airfield near Arkhangelsk in the 518th Interceptor Regiment — part of the 10th Independent Air Defense Army.

Korobov’s regiment flew large, long-range Tu-128 / Fiddler interceptors with the mission of engaging U.S. B-52 bombers in the Arctic.

Tu-128 Fiddler

Tu-128 / Fiddler

In 1981, according to Mikhaylov, Korobov was accepted into the Military-Diplomatic Academy — the GRU’s training ground.

It’s worth noting that bmpd.livejournal.com ran a lengthy item on 7 February with several photos from Korobov’s days in Stavropol and Talagi.  It adds that he served in the 2nd squadron of his regiment.  

In 1980, a “buyer” arrived from Moscow to talk to the regimental commander and review files of young officers.  He picked two candidates — Viktor Anokhin and Korobov.  Anokhin demurred because he wanted to fly, but Korobov accepted.  The former went on to become a two-star in the Air Forces.  The latter began his career in the GRU.

All this explains how Korobov came to have blue piping on his dress jacket and epaulettes.

But back to Mikhaylov . . . .  The GRU, he writes, is associated primarily with “illegals” and “foreign residencies” which acquire information on the latest developments in the military-industrial complex of the “probable enemy,” the deployment and armament of his forces, and “nuclear secrets.”  It also has directorates specializing in electronic and space reconnaissance, cryptanalysis, etc.

He continues:

“At the same time, the GRU also answers for the deployment and TO&E structure of army reconnaissance sub-units subordinate to the reconnaissance directorate of the Ground Troops.”

“After special designation [Spetsnaz] brigades that transferred to the Main Command of the Ground Troops during the transition to the new profile [under former Defense Minister Serdyukov] returned to the GRU, the Command of Special Operations Forces [SSO] also went into the structure of the directorate [GRU], according to some reports.  So besides strategic, electronic, and space intelligence, the head of the GRU and his subordinates have to work with Spetsnaz units and sub-units, and SSO Centers, and participate in the reorganization of the reconnaissance elements of the Ground Troops, Navy, and VDV.”

Mikhaylov asked Spetsnaz officers about the problems of their branch, and ways to solve them.  The majority, he writes, think the Spetsnaz still suffer from reforms instituted by Serdyukov.  Its commanders know how to lead, but not necessarily how to conduct reconnaissance operations.

Experienced Spetsnaz commanders lost in Serdyukov’s time have been replaced by officers who don’t understand reconnaissance, according to Mikhaylov’s interlocutors.  They call for better cooperation between the GRU and Main Command.

At present, in Ground Troops brigades, force reconnaissance sub-units are being established — companies in reconnaissance battalions of combined arms brigades and Spetsnaz battalions in army reconnaissance brigades.  But it’s not just structure, but also the particulars of employing these new Spetsnaz sub-units that need to be developed, Mikhaylov writes.

Several of his sources say Spetsnaz units and sub-units have become too numerous, at the expense of electronic reconnaissance.

Mikhaylov adds that Spetsnaz operations in the enemy’s rear areas require aviation assets, helicopters in particular.  But it’s unclear who will provide this air support. Other officers, however, contend that modern specialized armored vehicles like the Tigr are sufficient for most operations in which Russian forces are likely to find themselves.  But reconnaissance battalions and brigades need more UAVs, and greater numbers of advanced electronic reconnaissance systems, another Ground Troops officer told Mikhaylov.

Combined arms reconnaissance has one more headache — recently formed sniper companies for which the brigade’s chief of reconnaissance is responsible.  One sniper officer told Mikhaylov that these companies already exist though without guidance, regulations, or combat training plans.

In conclusion, Mikhaylov concedes that new GRU Chief Korobov won’t have to deal with these problems personally, but his subordinates will.

This all becomes even more interesting if you consider that the GRU, SSO, and army reconnaissance Mikhaylov describes have probably deployed on battlefields in Ukraine and Syria without sorting out their unresolved organizational and operational issues first.

So It’s Korobov

On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry announced that General-Lieutenant Igor Valentinovich Korobov (KOR-uh-buv) is the new chief of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.

General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov

General-Lieutenant Igor Korobov

Mil.ru carried a sparse press release.

News agencies didn’t have much beyond that.  But TASS provided an official photo of Defense Minister Shoygu and Korobov with the GRU standard.

Shoygu and Korobov

Shoygu and Korobov

It’s clear General-Lieutenant Korobov is no spring chicken.  He’s experienced.  And he’s a career (кадровый) intelligence officer.

We don’t know how long he will head the GRU or when the next transition will occur.  Few can say what (if any) difference it makes who’s in charge.  Fears an outsider from a rival “power” ministry or intelligence service would take over the GRU were apparently exaggerated.

TASS, and a couple other press services, carried one additional note.  They reported Korobov was previously first deputy chief, or second-in-command, of the GRU and chief of strategic intelligence.

The chief of strategic intelligence is in charge of collection, fusion, and reporting of intelligence on military threats to the security and survival of the Russian Federation.  But it’s like one word is so implicit, or regarded as so secret, that it’s left out — agent.  Chief of strategic agent intelligence.

So Korobov managed all GRU human intelligence (HUMINT) collection resources, except its most critical and productive “illegals” and their agents which the Chief of the GRU personally controls, according to Viktor Suvorov (Vladimir Rezun).

While it has capable technical intelligence-gathering means, the GRU relies on HUMINT.  It is focused on information collected from agent operations abroad.  That’s its tradition and its forte.

At its best, Soviet / Russian HUMINT means GRU “illegal” Richard Sorge practically handing Stalin the date of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR months before Operation Barbarossa began.  At its worst, Stalin, for whatever reason, ignoring Sorge’s information.

At its best, it means the USSR defeating the U.S. in just one facet of the Cold War — espionage.  At its worst, GRU officers in the 1990s inventing agents and reports to satisfy their bosses.

We may not learn much about General-Lieutenant Korobov, and it really doesn’t matter.  There’s a new first deputy chief of the GRU and chief of strategic agent intelligence reporting to Korobov now.  Just another turn of the personnel wheel.

What matters more is what it says about Russian intelligence culture.  The Kremlin and the Defense Ministry have never abandoned Soviet (perhaps historically Russian) paranoid mirror-imaging about their enemies.  They believe their enemies have secret diabolical plans to destroy them because they have such plans for their enemies.  Of course, these plans are so secret that no satellite could ever photograph, detect, or eavesdrop on them.  They can only be discovered by human agents, hence the HUMINT emphasis.

Failure to ferret out these hostile plans doesn’t mean they don’t exist; it only means the officers in charge have failed.

And whatever information agents deliver to their handlers, and handlers send back to headquarters, and headquarters prepares and presents to the leadership better fit the latter’s predilections.  Headquarters probably wouldn’t even put forward a story that didn’t track with the leadership’s mindset.

Still Awaiting New GRU Chief

On 13 January, Kommersant’s Ivan Safronov wrote that late GRU Chief General-Colonel Igor Sergun’s successor will be one of the military intelligence directorate’s current deputy chiefs:  Vyacheslav Kondrashov, Sergey Gizunov, Igor Lelin, or Igor Korobov.

General-Lieutenant Vyacheslav Viktorovich Kondrashov reportedly headed a Russian delegation that went to Cairo on an arms sales mission in late 2013.  He is likely a Middle East specialist and Arabic linguist.  He’s an old hand at the GRU headquarters.  It looks like he put on his first star over 20 years ago.  He seems like a timely choice from the GRU’s perspective, but he might not serve much longer.

Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov is probably a computer expert or mathematician from the GRU SIGINT apparatus.  He was chief of the Moscow-based 85th Main Center of Special Service which deciphers foreign military communications.  He’d be an unusual pick for an intelligence service that likes experienced field operators at the top.

General-Major (???) Igor Viktorovich Lelin was Russian military attache to Estonia and served for a time as deputy chief of the Defense Ministry’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK).  He only returned to the GRU in 2014.  Lelin doesn’t seem to have much to recommend him, at least based on what little is known of his background.

Igor Korobov seems to have no information in the public domain.  Safronov’s sources call him a “serious person” and the most probable candidate to take Sergun’s chair.  Although it’s ironic, one has to agree that the lack of data on Korobov makes it utterly impossible to dismiss him as a strong possibility.

According to Safronov, the GRU bureaucracy feared having an outside chief (from the FSO or SVR) imposed upon it following Sergun’s untimely death from a heart attack in the Moscow suburbs on 3 January.  Speculation focused on one former presidential bodyguard named Aleksey Dyumin who quickly turned up as a deputy minister of defense.  So the worry may have passed.  The Genshtab and Defense Ministry now believe the PA will settle on an insider to keep continuity in this important agency.

Ten days ago an ukaz indicating President Putin’s choice was expected “soon,” but no sign of it yet.

Safronov makes the point that the GRU has been busy because of Russia’s operation in Syria.  Its IMINT and SIGINT systems, not to mention its human agent networks, have been working overtime to support Russian military and political decisionmakers.  The GRU also played a critical part in Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Just as post-script, we’ve seen in the last day the Financial Times report that Sergun visited Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to relay Putin’s request that he consider stepping down.  Of course, the Kremlin denied it, but remember Putin said earlier this month that giving Bashar asylum would be easier than Edward Snowden.

Army Commanders

General-Major Aleksandr Chayko

General-Major Aleksandr Chayko

Time to update the leadership lineup for Russia’s army-level ground formations.

Here’s the rundown of armies, headquarters, MD/OSK, and commanders:

1st TA…Bakovka…Western…General-Major Aleksandr Chayko.

6th CAA…Agalatovo…Western…General-Major Andrey Kuzmenko.

20th CAA…Voronezh…Western…General-Major Sergey Kuzovlev.

49th CAA…Stavropol…Southern…General-Major Sergey Sevryukov.

58th CAA…Vladikavkaz…Southern…General-Lieutenant Andrey Gurulev.

2nd CAA…Samara…Central…General-Major Igor Seritskiy.

41st CAA…Novosibirsk…Central…General-Lieutenant Khasan Kaloyev.

36th CAA…Ulan Ude…Eastern…General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko.

29th CAA…Chita…Eastern…General-Major Aleksey Avdeyev.

35th CAA…Belogorsk…Eastern…General-Lieutenant Sergey Solomatin.

5th CAA…Ussuriysk…Eastern…General-Lieutenant Aleksey Salmin.

The newly organized 1st TA has General-Major Chayko in command.  He previously commanded the 20th CAA.

Four commanders turned over since last check.  General-Major Kuzmenko is new to the 6th CAA.  General-Major Kuzovlev, who reportedly commanded Russian fighters in Lugansk, is reorganizing the 20th CAA on the Ukrainian border. General-Major Kovalenko now commands the 36th CAA and General-Major Avdeyev the 29th CAA.

Where have former commanders gone?

General-Lieutenant Sergey Kuralenko

General-Lieutenant Sergey Kuralenko

General-Lieutenant Sergey Kuralenko, late of the 6th CAA, served in Moscow’s Baghdad anti-IS “information center,” and became a deputy commander of the Western MD in December.  He had already commanded the 49th CAA.  He seems destined to rise higher.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin is now chief of staff, first deputy commander in the Eastern MD.

General-Lieutenant Mikhail Teplinskiy departed the 36th CAA for an unspecified post in the Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Romanchuk is the Russia’s representative to the Joint Control and Coordination Center in eastern Ukraine.

General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Ustinov and General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Zhuravlev were both, at last word, deputy commanders of the Central MD.

General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov is perhaps the fastest burner of recent army commanders.  After a brief stint as GOU Chief, he moved quickly to command the Western MD.

General-Colonel Vasiliy Tonkoshkurov is now GOMU Chief.

General-Lieutenant Vladimir Tsilko is a deputy commander of the Eastern MD.

General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov is chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Igor Turchenyuk is a deputy commander in the Southern MD.  He commanded the invasion of Crimea, and is on the U.S. list of sanctioned Russian individuals.

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