Tag Archives: Spetsnaz

20 Percent Undermanning and Declining Contract Service

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

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

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

Mukhin concludes:

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

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

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

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

Mukhin’s ex-general says:

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

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

Khaki-Colored Narcomania

FSKN Chief Viktor Ivanov and Russia's Narco-Apocalypse

On 2 December, Rossiyskaya gazeta covered a “coordinating conference” of the Federal Narcotics Control Service (FSKN) held the previous day in Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Oblast.  At the meeting, FSKN Director Viktor Ivanov reported:

“The preliminary results of our investigation attest to the apocalyptic scale of the country’s narco-tragedy.  More than 100,000 of those dying [from illegal narcotics use] every year in Russia are young people from 15 to 30.”

Newsru.com said the FSKN previously acknowledged only 30,000 deaths annually from narcotics in this age group.  The media outlet also noted that the FSKN said Russia currently has 2.5 million heroin addicts, and 3 million other illegal drug users.  Russia alone represents the world’s second leading region for heroin consumption, according to a recent U.N. study.  It consumes 21 percent of the world’s supply, while Europe is number one at 26 percent.

Main Military Prosecutor Fridinskiy

Main Military Prosecutor Sergey Fridinskiy participated in the FSKN meeting.  He said:

“Growth in the number of narcotics crimes among servicemen is notable in the course of the last five years.  In 2009, the number of serious and very serious crimes connected with narcotics almost doubled.”  

Izvestiya indicated Fridinskiy said 1.7 times, to be exact.

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Fridinskiy said all drug-related crime increased by four times.

The “most complex” situation with illegal narcotics in the army, according to Fridinskiy, is found in the Southern and Eastern MDs.  In the first nine months of this year, 345 crimes involving narcotics trafficking were registered in the armed forces.  Fridinskiy also said more than two-thirds of narcotics trafficking crimes are committed by contract servicemen, and one-fifth by officers.

But he said narcotics crimes represent only three percent of all army crime, according to Krasnaya zvezda.  Still, he noted that the relatively small number of narcotics crimes in the army and medical statistics do not reflect “how much this problem has grown.”

The Defense Ministry daily quoted him:

“Despite the fact that these figures aren’t so large, the problem of narcotics distribution in the troops is significantly broader.  It’s essential to develop coordinated measures to provide warning of illegal narcotics trafficking in the troops and military formations.  If we don’t take any action now, the situation will only worsen in the future.”

Fridinskiy also said the danger of narcotics use is greater in the military than in the civilian world, given the availability of vehicles, combat equipment, and weapons.

ITAR-TASS reported Fridinskiy’s statement that 3,000 young man are declared unfit for army service each year due to narcotics use. 

Krasnaya zvezda provided more Fridinskiy remarks:

“The facts of the discovery of the use of narcotics in training institutions [VVUZy] and, unfortunately, in elite units and sub-units are a graphic example.”

In such places, “even a group of several people using narcotics is quite a serious problem.”

Komsomolskaya pravda focused on this first-time admission of narcotics use and narcotics crimes among Spetsnaz troops, in the special designation sub-units of the “power” ministries [i.e. not just the Defense Ministry].  It also repeated ITAR-TASS saying, “in some Defense Ministry units officers even organized ‘shooting galleries’ where narcotics are prepared and used, including by conscript soldiers.”

The FSKN and Fridinskiy information appeared a week after ITAR-TASS reported that the RVSN will start drug screening for its personnel in 2011.  The RVSN said it would use testing systems that can detect the presence or traces of narcotics even a year after the fact.  It said “security sub-units” would be checked twice a year, and all others once.  Testing might be extended to cover the RVSN’s civilian workers as well.

News items on drug busts in the Russian military are not really frequent or rare.  There are occasional stories.  Just a casual look shows investigators broke up two drug rings in the Moscow MD in August.  They reported investigating 60 drug trafficking cases in 2009.  There were drug busts in both Baltic and Pacific Fleets back in March of this year.

And it’s worth noting that surveys of conscripts typically show that 10 percent or less of new draftees fall into the undesirable category of “drug and alcohol abusers or those who have a police record.”  Drug users are some portion of that 10 percent, and that seems to track roughly with what Fridinskiy says about the fairly low profile of narcotics in the army.  But, as said above, he’s concerned that it’s growing.

Goodbye GRU Spetsnaz, Hello Army Spetsnaz

Writing in last Friday’s Stoletiye.ru, Rossiyskaya gazeta correspondent Sergey Ptichkin says that, practically on its 60th anniversary, GRU Spetsnaz have landed in a most unexpected place – the Ground Troops.  His piece is full of bitter sarcasm.

Ptichkin concludes:

“The GRU Spetsnaz brigades have transferred into the Ground Troops structure.  Several units have disbanded altogether.  Ranks for duties have been lowered.  Now a senior lieutenant will command a reconnaissance group, and that’s the ceiling.  All warrant officers have been dismissed – there’s no longer such a rank in the army.  And it’s strange that professional sergeants haven’t magically appeared in place of full-grown warrants.  The issue of halting parachute training for reconnaissance men is on the agenda.  Really, why parachutes if they’ve become ‘pure infantrymen?’  They can deliver them to any rebellious village in the mountains or forests on trains or in KamAZes.”

According to Ptichkin, professional Spetsnaz believe:

“. . . it’s simply impossible to train an eighteen-year-old boy into a genuine reconnaissance man-saboteur in one year.  In Afghanistan, Spetsnaz soldiers were sent out only after a year of intensive combat training.  That is real service, when a professional military reconnaissance man was born even at the very lowest level, began a year after callup, but now they’re dismissed into the reserves where they forget everything they learned after a few months.”

Ptichkin recalls the GRU Spetsnaz’ anniversary ten years ago.  Even though their relations with the Spetsnaz were tense, the Defense Minister and General Staff Chief came and paid their respects.

But this year:

“Neither the Defense Minister, nor the Chief of the General Staff, not even their current chief – the Ground Troops CINC came.”

“Many veterans and even serving officers consider this day a quiet farewell to the GRU Spetsnaz, born 60 years ago.  It’s possible something more mobile, combat ready, and effective will take its place.”

So he’s thrown Putin and Medvedev’s own description of the kind of army they want back at them.  Of course, the Spetsnaz have always considered themselves the ultimate fighting force.

Ptichkin says the Defense Minister didn’t even issue a traditional order of recognition for the day of Spetsnaz troops.

“There is still the symbol of military reconnaissance – the bat [literally, ‘flying mouse’].  But very soon it’ll be possible to boldly replace this silent night hunter on the emblem with a grey field mouse.  A sweet and inoffensive ground-pounder.”

ITAR-TASS’ coverage of the Spetsnaz anniversary also clearly identified them as subordinate to the Ground Troops, CINC General-Colonel Aleksandr Postnikov, and his Chief of Reconnaissance, Deputy Chief of Staff for Reconnaissance, Colonel Vladimir Mardusin.

The press service said Mardusin indicated that:

“. . . at present, army Spetsnaz are organized in independent brigades of special designation, which exist in every military district, and battalions in several combined arms formations of the Southern Military District.  Within the formation of the new profile of the armed forces, independent brigades of special designation were transferred to the Ground Troops and are in direct subordination to military district commanders / unified strategic commands.”

Izvestiya’s Dmitriy Litovkin predicted the GRU Spetsnaz’ transfer from the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) to the Ground Troops last November on the day of military intelligence (6 November).  This was after the 67th, 12th, and 3rd Spetsnaz brigades were disbanded, and even the 16th was in danger of the same.

Igor Korotchenko told Litovkin:

“It’s possible to judge what’s happening in the GRU only through open information.  For example, one of the results of the reform is taking the force component from the GRU and resubordinating Spetsnaz to the military district commanders.  Only space, radioelectronic, and agent reconnaissance, and also the analytic service remain in today’s ‘Aquarium.’”

Just a reminder, this would mean they were taken even before the six old MDs were reformed into 4 MDs / OSKs.  The poor performance of the GRU generally and the Spetsnaz specifically in the 2008 Georgian conflict may have provided impetus for the change.  Litovkin and others have reported that the GRU and Spetsnaz received an ‘unsatisfactory’ for their efforts in that brief war.   Meanwhile, subordinating Spetsnaz to warfighting MD CINCs on different strategic directions would seem to make sense, the angst of the GRU, its officers, and veterans notwithstanding.

We should, however, get back to the original Ptichkin article.  It has a lot of interesting stuff you might want to peruse.  Some is hyperbolic though, so take it with a grain of salt . . .

He describes all details of their formation from 24 October 1950.  The Spetsnaz were subordinate to the General Staff (GRU) because they were first and foremost strategic, and strategic nuclear, warfighting assets designed to disrupt U.S. and NATO capabilities – nuclear weapons, logistics, transport, communications, etc. – in deep rear areas, including even North America.

And, according to Ptichkin, they were supermen capable of singly accomplishing missions not even combined arms sub-units could handle.  And the Spetsnaz were more secret than Soviet nuclear weapons; not even all generals or marshals knew about more than their general outlines.

Everything changed with Afghanistan and glasnost.  Every power structure wanted its own special forces.  And the GRU Spetsnaz were thrust into the forefront of a war they weren’t created for.  But through the skill of their commanders they adapted and were successful.  Ptichkin claims a single Spetsnaz detachment could pacify an entire province.  And, according to him, if the Spetsnaz had been unleashed fully, the Afghan war would have been won and the country under Soviet control by the mid-1980s.

He says Tajikistan in 1992 proves this isn’t a fantasy.  The 15th Spetsnaz brigade under Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, one of the accused in the Chubays’ assassination attempt, was given a free hand there and pacified the country. 

Ptichkin says Spetsnaz weren’t so involved in the First Chechen War, and the results were bad of course.  But they were used more extensively in the Second Chechen.  And he claims the Chechen Spetsnaz battalion under Sulim Yamadayev prevented Georgian saboteurs from blowing the Roki tunnel in August 2008.

And so, says Ptichkin, for 30 years, Spetsnaz have fought in places they weren’t intended to be, but have fought beautifully anyway.  Instead of landing in he main enemy’s rear areas, they are sitting on their own territory prepared, in extreme circumstances, to be sent to the next hot spot in the CIS, and not further afield.

As proof of how they’ve been used, it’s interesting to note the holiday press which says 8 Spetsnaz became Heroes of the Soviet Union in 40 years, but 44 have become Heroes of the Russian Federation in less than 20 years.

VDV Rotation at Kant

Last Friday ITAR-TASS indicated that two companies from the VDV’s 45th Independent Reconnaissance Regiment of Special Designation (Spetsnaz), based at Kubinka near Moscow, were the units sent to reinforce Russian military facilities in Kyrgyzstan on 8 April.

Two companies from the VDV’s Ulyanovsk-based 31st Independent Air-Assault Brigade rotated in on Friday to relieve those from the 45th.  The VDV’s spokesman has said the contingent numbers 160 contract personnel.

Moscow has been low-key on the deployment of extra troops, denying plans to evacuate dependents, and downplaying threats posed by the political unrest there.

But the Russians must have taken the situation seriously, sending the ‘elite of the elite’ to Kant in the first days of unrest in Kyrgyzstan.

Fifty Percent Cut in GRU Reportedly Frozen

Today’s Argumenty nedeli cites an unnamed Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) representative who says a decision to cut GRU personnel by 50 percent has been ‘frozen’ for an indefinite period.  According to the article, the decision on the cut was made recently within the bounds of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s reform of the military.

Serdyukov and General Staff Chief Makarov were going to announce the elimination of several GRU ‘sub-units’ in the first half of March.  But GRU Chief General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Shlyakhturov managed to convince the country’s highest leadership not to take these steps yet.

Argumenty nedeli noted that three GRU Spetsnaz brigades–the 67th in Berdsk, 12th in Asbest, and 3rd in Samara–were disbanded last year.  It maintains that now even the part of the GRU that works with ‘secret agents’ abroad has fallen ‘under the knife.’

As to whether the top echelon believes this would seriously weaken the country’s defense capability, the article says we’ll have to wait and see.