Monthly Archives: January 2020

“Chekist” Matovnikov

On January 22, President Putin appointed General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Matovnikov to be Deputy CINC of the Ground Troops. He had been Polpred in the North Caucasus Federal District since mid-2018 and Commander of Special Operations Forces (SSO) from 2015 to 2018. 

Matovnikov as general-major next to Putin

54-year-old Matovnikov was born in Moscow, the son of a career KGB officer from the 7th Directorate (Surveillance). His father was retired after destroying incriminating KGB documents when the ill-fated August 1991 putsch against Gorbachev collapsed.

In 1986, the younger Matovnikov graduated from the KGB Border Guards Higher Military-Political School in suburban Moscow. At his father’s request, he received a highly desirable posting to the 7th Directorate’s Alfa anti-terrorist group. He served in a motorized Alfa unit operating with Soviet Border Guards reportedly to interdict weapons and drugs smuggled from Afghanistan into Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Matovnikov served on Gorbachev’s security detail in Washington in 1987 and 1988. He went on to become first deputy chief of the FSB’s Directorate A (Alfa).

He fought in both Chechen wars, including involvement in hostage rescues in Budennovsk in 1995, Dubrovka in 2002, and Beslan in 2004. In Chechnya, he got the nickname “Chekist” (“state security man”).

Matovnikov was in charge of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov’s security. Kadyrov was assassinated in a 2004 bombing. Matovnikov reportedly got on good terms with Kadyrov’s son Ramzan, the republic’s strongman and possible hitman against those who impugn Mr. Putin.

In 2013, Matovnikov transferred from the FSB to the Ministry of Defense as Deputy Commander, SSO, then Commander in 2015.

In 2018, news outlet Rbc.ru wrote:

Like many Alfa men, Matovnikov then went into a new structure attached to the General Staff — the Special Operations Forces (SSO), which unlike conventional armed forces sub-units could act in covert military operations abroad without the approval of the Council of the Federation. At first Matovnikov became Deputy Commander of the SSO, then headed them after the departure of Aleksey Dyumin in December 2015 for the post of Deputy Defense Minister. Matovnikov built the SSO structure in the image and likeness of Alfa — the equipping and requirements on personnel were the same as for officers in the former service . . . .

Matovnikov, Dyumin, and the SSO were instrumental in Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and likely also in the invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Matovnikov received his Hero of the Russian Federation from Putin in 2017 for his time in Syria. He became a two-star general on February 22, 2018.

In mid-2018, RF President Putin selected Matovnikov to be his Plenipotentiary Representative in the North Caucasus Federal District.

Rbc.ru continues:

. . . in the past he participated in specops in Syria, Africa and Ukrainie, but also parallel to his service in the SSO he was attached to the president [Putin] for special assignments, noted a former colleague of Matovnikov. “In [Matovnikov’s] circle, they talk about him as one of the siloviki close to the President — he regularly met Vladimir Putin at Vnukovo Airport and enjoyed his personal trust. It’s possible they decided to try the combat officer in civilian service [as Polpred], in economic work with the aim of a federal political career as they did with Dyumin in his time,” one Alfa veteran told RBK (Aleksey Dyumin at the beginning of 2016 was appointed Governor of Tula oblast). A source close to the Polpred in the SKFO [North Caucasus Federal District] confirmed for RBK that Matovnikov was an officer attached to the president for special assignments.

Matovnikov in mufti sporting his Hero of the Russian Federation

After just 18 months as Polpred, Putin sent him back to the MOD as Deputy CINC of Ground Troops, replacing 63-year-old General-Colonel Aleksandr Lentsov, who became Adviser to the RF Defense Minister — a familiar sinecure one step closer to retirement.

Matovnikov is married with two young children as well as an adult daughter from his previous marriage.

What do we make of the Mr. Matovnikov?

He’s an older, paler reproduction of Dyumin with differences. He’s seven years older and, though cut from the same KGB cloth, he’s Alfa not FSB-FSO-SBP — or Presidential Security Service — like Dyumin, who was Putin’s personal bodyguard and assistant. Many were quick to claim Putin was grooming Dyumin as his successor.

In fact, Putin is probably having auditions for men like Matovnikov and Dyumin to see if they are fit for bigger things. They are loyal KGB types who share Putin’s mentality. This may say more about Putin.

As Brian Taylor has concluded in his insightful The Code of Putinism, since 2015-2016, Putin has been shifting away from old, long-time colleagues who supported Team Putin for many years toward younger, less independent security service veterans who answer to him only. He may be seeking men willing to protect his freedom and fortune and keep him as president-for-life effectively. They could prevent Putin from becoming a future Ceausescu or Qaddafi.

Dyumin was Deputy Minister of Defense for just weeks before moving to Tula where he’s been governor for about 3-1/2 years. Matovnikov’s stint as Polpred was brief for a region as complex as the North Caucasus. Perhaps his stay with the Ground Troops will be brief too before he moves to another fully political post.

The insertion of a former KGB man and SSO veteran into the Ground Troops makes one think Putin wants dramatic and decisive victories, not just plodding, predictable daily management of preparations for wars Russia isn’t likely to fight. As such, Matovnikov is probably pretty unwelcome where senior Russian Army officers have toiled their entire careers.

Toy Soldiers

Cadets at the Tula Suvorov Military School

Tula Suvorov Military School Cadets

In NVO, historian Stanislav Ivanov asks how much “cadetization” of Russia’s youth is justified? Even a good thing like military education for the young, he says, shouldn’t be taken to extremes.

A 2012 Duma roundtable concluded that cadet, Suvorov, and Nakhimov schools weren’t well-regulated legally, and lacked unified teaching plans, programs, and content, according to Ivanov who works as a researcher at IMEMO. Standard uniforms, diplomas, and professional qualification documents were absent except in the case of MOD-run Suvorov and Nakhimov schools.

There are, Ivanov writes, 31 educational institutions for boys and girls operating under MOD auspices, more than 3,500 other cadet-type organizations (cadet corps or cadet schools under different ministries, departments, and RF territorial components), 150 specially-named educational institutions, and 51,000 “cadet classes.” The latter are a cadet-type program run in a civilian school. Junior ROTC on steroids.

Ivanov notes that the concept of cadet education is supposed to be a unified, targeted process of indoctrination and learning in the historical tradition of Russian cadet corps. He continues:

But the time has come to bring order to the chaotic and fragmented system of cadet education, to bring it into some kind of standard and legalization in the relevant law.

As a 1964 Suvorov graduate, Ivanov says he wants to analyze the pros and cons of the accelerating large-scale “cadetization” and militarization of Russia’s young generation.

The first nine Suvorov Military Schools opened in 1943 as part of the answer to thousands of pre-school and school-age children left without parents or relatives during the Great Patriotic War. Soon there were 22, and students included not just orphans, but sons of military officers and CPSU officials. In 1975, however, they were reduced to just eight Suvorov schools and one Nakhimov school.

The military schools fulfilled their purpose, according to Ivanov. Many students became generals, thousands became senior officers, and still others occupied important state posts. They served in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Chernobyl, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Syria. Current General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov graduated from the Kazan Suvorov Military School. The end of the Cold War, however, took away many reasons for conflict with the West. So Ivanov writes:

In these conditions, the process of such large-scale militarization of the childhood and adolescence of Russia’s young generation does not seem entirely understandable. In fact, the number of children, boys and girls dressed in military uniform compared with wartime and post-war times has already grown not dozens or hundreds, but a thousand times. Some have to live in closed military-training institutions, practically in barracks conditions. From my own experience, I know how it is separating children from their families, from their homeland, friends, comrades, national customs and traditions. All early limits on freedom of movement and personal life, barracks life and drill don’t contribute to the harmonious development of an individual. And there are serious doubts about the possibility of picking up hundreds of thousands of decent officers, warrant officers, civilian teachers and educators for such a number of cadets. Local authorities and chiefs of cadet schools don’t always correctly understand the specifics of the child’s worldview. So at the cadet induction ceremony in Zlatoust they showed young students techniques for dispersing mass protests in a demonstration provided by FSIN [Federal Prison Service] Spetsnaz. Officials called the performance “vivid and spectacular,” noting that it was conducted in the framework of the program on “patriotic indoctrination of civilian youth.”

Ivanov is referring to the video below.

As Novaya gazeta described, the exhibition was primarily for the “benefit” of the fifth grade “cadet class” in uniform at right.

There are, Ivanov continues, many important and necessary professions besides military or government service. And in addition to normal school programs, those who dream of a military career can study military history, visit military museums and firing ranges, or participate in military games, without being isolated from their families. It’s not obligatory to go around constantly in military uniform or live in a barracks. So many prosecutors, investigators, police, baliffs, and customs officials are wearing military uniforms today that it has lowered the uniform’s significance in Russian society to some degree. Obviously, veterans of war and military service don’t altogether accept the sight of juveniles bedecked with medals and badges received for participating in parades or other ceremonial events.

Ivanov concludes:

. . . the mass “cadetization” or militarization of Russia’s children today is not justified by anything and is rather temporary, the state is simply trying to simplify the indoctrination process. It seems officials have found in cadets a replacement for the Young Pioneers and Komsomol and suggest to society through the media and education system that enemies once again surround Russia and are preparing to conquer it from without. So they’ve dressed millions of little Russians in military uniforms and are trying to indoctrinate them in the spirit of devotion to the authorities.

If a law on cadet educational institutions were adopted, Ivanov says it should strictly limit them in number, regulate their programs, uniforms, and rules for wearing them. A more limited number of schools could even improve the quality of the students. Meanwhile, other “military-applied” activities could be upgraded so youth can participate without having to leave their families for the dorm or barracks of a cadet school.

A thought-provoking article. One wonders if some parents resort to cadet schools because of underfunding and poor conditions in civilian schools. Education, like health care, isn’t exactly a regime priority. Interesting too that Ivanov doesn’t even mention Putin’s 600,000-strong Yunarmiya including both cadets and many students not enrolled in cadet schools.

What They May Get, 2020

S-350 Vityaz launcher

S-350 Vityaz launcher

In his year-end report, Russian Defense Minister Shoygu not only publicized what the MOD received by way of arms and other equipment in 2019, he also mentioned what the military is supposed to get this year.

According to Shoygu, it will receive:

  • Twenty-two ICBM launchers with RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) and Avangard “hypersonic glide vehicles.” The latter is the long-in-development weapon that will be placed on “dry” SS-19 ICBMs Moscow received from Kyiv in the early 2000s.
  • Six modernized Tu-95MS strategic bombers.
  • The first “series produced” project 955A Borey-A SSBN Knyaz Oleg. (But the very first 955A Borey-A Knyaz Vladimir wasn’t accepted in 2019. It’s now scheduled for delivery during the first quarter of this year.)
  • 565 “modern” (presumably new or modernized) armored vehicles, 436 missile and artillery systems, two battalion sets of Buk-M3 SAMs to round out 11 formations and units. (565 doesn’t go too far — perhaps six motorized rifle regiments, but 436 is a lot — maybe 24 artillery battalions, enough for eight MR brigades.)
  • 106 new and modernized aircraft.
  • Four regimental sets of S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) SAMs.
  • Six battalion sets of Pantsir (SA-22 Greyhound) gun-missile systems.
  • One Kupol early warning satellite (fourth overall).
  • 14 surface combatants of varying size, three submarines, and 18 other vessels. (Not real precise.) One Bal (SSC-6 Sennight) coastal missile system.

Shoygu said the RF Armed Forces will have 70 percent “modern” arms and equipment in 2020, fulfilling the order given by President Putin in 2012.

He also noted that the Defense Ministry signed long-term contracts for 76 Su-57 Felon (PAK FA) fighters (although the first series model crashed) and more than 200 combat helos in 2019. He reported that 22 ships for the “distant ocean zone” are under construction and eight more will be laid down in 2020.

On January 13, Krasnaya zvezda quoted Shoygu saying procurement will be about 1.5 trillion rubles ($25 billion), about the same as 2019, with 68 percent going to purchase new equipment. Nearly 4,000 new armored and other vehicles (i.e. trucks, etc.) will arrive in 2020 along with 1,700 artillery and missile systems. (How does that track with the 436 above?? Perhaps it includes slightly modernized or repaired?)

RIAN offered its own list of what the Russian military is supposed to get this year. It noted that the MOD and OPK signed about 50 contracts in 2019 worth more than 1 trillion rubles of weapons and equipment. Not all for delivery in 2020 of course.

According to the official news agency, the Russian Navy will receive the second project 636.3 Improved Kilo Volkhov for the Pacific Fleet, the second project 677 Lada Kronshtadt also for the Pacific, and the second project 885M Yasen-M Novosibirsk. (But in 2020 the Navy is still awaiting the first Yasen-M Kazan and expects renovated project 949A Belgorod that will carry Moscow’s doomsday torpedoes.) 

Kronshtadt

Kronshtadt

RIAN says the Russian Navy will get its second project 11711 LST Petr Morgunov in the first quarter of the year. The Black Sea Fleet will accept 16 new ships and other vessels. And the Baltic Fleet will be content with catamaran-type hydrographic survey vessels (project 23370).

The Aerospace Forces will acquire new Su-35S fighters, six Mi-28NM helos, S-400 SAMs, and more S-350 Vityaz SAMs. (These initial deliveries are for troop testing and training. Series production of this system is slated for 2021-2027.)

More random notes on 2020:

  • Mil.ru says the Ground Troops in 2020 will get more than 300 tanks and armored vehicles. Its Moscow-based 1st Tank Army will receive more than 250 weapons systems and other pieces of equipment.
  • Interfaks-AVN indicated some will be BMP-3, BMP-2, and BMPT armored vehicles with new unmanned turrets.
  • The Russian Army is supposed to receive 40,000 new AK-12 assault weapons.
  • The VDV’s 76th DShD in Pskov already got a battalion set of BMD-4M and BTR-MDM armored vehicles.
  • The Central MD reports it’ll acquire more than 850 new or modernized items including 19 aircraft, 10 radars, 145 armored vehicles (30 T-72B3M tanks), four battalion sets (two regiments) of S-400 SAMs.
  • Ilyushin had to bounce two of five new Il-76MD-90A transports it couldn’t finish in 2019 to this year.

Story of the Year

What was the Russian military story of 2019? Here are some possibilities:

  • The July 1 fire aboard the AS-31 “Losharik” — a secret deep-diving nuclear-powered submarine — which cost the lives of fourteen Russian Navy officers, two of whom were already Heroes of the Russian Federation.
  • The August 8 explosion near the Nenoksa test range in which seven Russian nuclear technicians died and others were severely irradiated, apparently while salvaging a nuclear-powered 9M730 Burevestnik (SSC-X-9 Skyfall) cruise missile that fell into Dvina Bay.
  • The December 12 fire aboard aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov caused by careless welding that killed two and injured 12 and could cost 95 billion rubles to repair. The ill-fated ship is already in an expensive overhaul and was damaged when it pulled away from its massive floating drydock in 2018.

But the real story — the tragedy — of the year is Ramil Shamsutdinov’s rampage. On October 25, the conscript killed eight fellow servicemen and wounded two more at his unit in Gornyy.

Ramil Shamsutdinov

Ramil Shamsutdinov

His unit belongs to the MOD’s 12th GUMO — Russia’s nuclear weapons custodian. Gornyy is a “closed administrative-territorial entity” (ZATO) — a high-security area off-limits to all but personnel working in the facility.

He shot down officers, contractees, and conscripts at the end of his guard shift while they were unloading their weapons.

Only contractees are pulling guard duty there now, and, according to NVO,  the unit will be disbanded and another will take its place.

NVO reported in early December that the MOD is extending its investigation into the case, and moving off its initial assertion that Shamsutdinov suffered a nervous breakdown because of “personal circumstances unconnected with his military service.”

Then the General Procuracy announced on December 24 that military prosecutors are investigating more than 40 units in Russia’s Transbaykal region following Shamsutdinov’s shooting spree. The procuracy spokesman said:

Simultaneously with overseeing observance of the law in the investigation of this crime, Main Military Procuracy, together with the RVSN’s military procuracy, in coordination with the task group established by the RF Minister of Defense for this crime, has organized joint investigative measures covering more than 40 military units.

He added that “making final conclusions about why Shamsutdinov committed the crime, and also about the conditions leading to it would be premature before the end of the investigation.”

According to his lawyer, Shamsutdinov committed the crime because of criminal hazing by his commanders and fellow servicemen. He and several other soldiers in his unit were victims of violence and dedovshchina [the rule of the ‘grandfathers’ or senior soldiers, officially known as non-regulation relations between servicemen]. At least one of their reported tormentors is alive and has been formally charged.

This account of the Shamsutdinov case appeared in the MOD newspaper Krasnaya zvezda. So the Russian high command is pretty much on-board with these facts to date. It’s surprising the MOD would decide to look into another 40 units where similar grievous events could occur. 

As Paul Goble observed the day after the murders at Gornyy, dedovshchina and violence in the ranks hasn’t receded into the past with the institution of one-year conscription making the difference between old and new draftees less pronounced or with the influx of “professional” contract soldiers.

He pointed to Ura.news which reported that the Transbaykal is an extremely remote backwater where bad officers often turn up. The same might be said of the entire Eastern MD. The distance to headquarters, poor communications and transportation, especially in winter, also weaken the chain of command. However, this happened in a unit with a critically serious mission.

An MOD source told Izvestiya in November the military will try to uncover problems in units by establishing a “sociological center” in each MD. Its personnel will assess the “moral-political situation” or MPS of units. Commanders reportedly will be accountable for a unit’s poor MPS up to and including dismissal.