Tag Archives: Syria

Gun Trucks on the Southern Border

Before the end of 2022, the Russian Army is supposed to field “sub-units” (battalions, companies, etc.) of gun trucks with its forces in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, an MOD source has informed Izvestiya.

KamAZ and Ural trucks will get armor and machine guns, automatic grenade launchers, or even ATGMs. They’re intended for fighting terrorists in armed pickups.

Izvestiya writes that gun trucks are a response to the increased threat to Russia and its allies in Central Asia as the U.S. departs Afghanistan. Moscow frequently cites concern that terrorists in Afghanistan will “break through” into Tajikistan or Russian Federation territory.

ZU-23-2 mounted on truck bed

ZU-23-2 mounted on truck bed

The paper notes that armed trucks have been effective against anti-Assad insurgents operating their own “gun wagons” (тачанки) or “jihad-mobiles.” In Middle East conditions, these armed trucks appear suddenly and attack defended positions with devastating results. As such, they’re a problem for even well-equipped regular armed forces.

Izvestiya quotes one expert:

Against “gun wagons” it’s desirable to have the very same “gun wagon,” but a more powerful one. Maneuver war and rapid movement are characteristic for militants: they pop up, shoot, fly off and so forth. It’s necessary to fight them with no less mobile means, and preferably better protected ones. The problem of equipping our army with armored trucks has been acute for a long time. Unfortunately, we’ve faced a peculiar paradox, we have either completely unprotected vehicles or heavier armored personnel carriers [BTRs].

BTRs aren’t much better protected than armored trucks, he continues, but they’re heavier and more expensive. Trucks can actually be armed better with several machine guns, grenade launchers, AA guns, and ATGMs. Trucks are faster as long as they aren’t on broken terrain or deep mud. In Central Asia’s steppes and deserts, they can go on or off road. They’re cheaper to produce and repair, and have twice the range of BTRs. 

Izvestiya writes that “gun trucks” have a long history. Soviet and Russian forces used them in the GPW, Afghanistan, and Chechnya.

The report on gun trucks is interesting. But Izvestiya doesn’t mention that the Russian MOD has been experimenting with its own unarmored “jihad-mobiles” for some time.

2S41 Drok

2S41 Drok

Similarly, the paper makes no reference to putting fire support on wheeled vehicles. Uralvagonzavod mounted a 120-mm gun (2S40 Floks) on a 6×6 Ural-4320 truck in the mid-2010s. KamAZ put an 82-mm mortar (2S41 Drok) on its four-wheeled Tayfun K-4386 (aka Tayfun-VDV). UVZ claims there are contracts to produce them. But it seems they won’t reach the troops soon.

“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.

Combat Experience

When Russian President Vladimir Putin got serious about modernizing his military in 2013, he lacked something: somewhere to flex those new muscles.

It’s a “chicken or the egg” paradox. Does a country really have military power if it doesn’t use it? Or does the process of employing the country’s military create that power?

The leaders of the world’s most bellicose nations don’t feel secure until they’ve seen their troops in combat, no matter how well manned, equipped, and trained they are. Supreme CINCs like to see the effect using their military power has on others.

The Kremlin watched while U.S. and NATO forces were used in many places around the globe in the 1990s and 2000s. There were some senior Russian officers who’d done a tour in Afghanistan during the 1980s. But Moscow’s soldiers — and precious few at that — had only Chechnya and Georgia, and the results weren’t encouraging.

So Putin’s modernized forces got their first real practice annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine in 2014. And though Moscow can’t advertise, its generals and units have been fighting alongside the Russian militias in Donetsk and Lugansk ever since.

Syria served as a bigger firing range.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015 provided not just a live proving ground for the new weapons and equipment Moscow procured. It created another opportunity for Russian officers and soldiers to acquire combat experience.

There have been various Russian media summaries capturing this, but Interfaks-AVN published one recently that seems pretty comprehensive.

According to Interfaks-AVN, the Russian MOD announced that 68,000 troops, including 460 generals, have received combat experience in Syria.

It indicated that the commanders of all four Russian military districts, all combined arms army and air and air defense army commanders, all division commanders, and also 96 percent of combined arms brigade and regiment commanders have served in Syria.

The MOD said 87 percent of frontal aviation crews, 91 percent of army aviation crews, 97 percent of transport aviation crews, and 60 percent of strategic Long-Range Aviation crews have gotten combat experience over Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry added that it’s reducing its contingent in Syria now.

These are, of course, pretty remarkable claims, but one wonders: does Russia have 460 general officers in combat command positions from which they could be sent for a tour in a war zone?

The Dust Has Settled

General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin

General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin

On November 29, Krasnaya zvezda summarized the high command changes in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s November 22 decree. As anticipated, Ground Troops General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin is the new CINC of the Aerospace Forces (VKS). General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev has taken Surovikin’s place as Commander of the Eastern MD. And General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin replaced General-Colonel Zarudnitskiy in the Central MD.

General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev

General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev

Izvestiya called it the largest rotation of top military leaders in the last decade. It continued the Kremlin policy of advancing generals who’ve gotten real experience in command and control of combat actions in Syria.

While Commander of the Eastern MD, General-Colonel Sergey Vladimirovich Surovikin  served temporary duty as Commander of the Russian Group of Troops in Syria from May 2017 to present. KZ reported that Russian forces achieved “maximum success” in Syria under his command.

The 51-year-old VKS CINC was born in Novosibirsk. He is a combined arms officer who commanded the 42nd MRD in Chechnya and 20th CAA.  served as Chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff. He served as chief of staff and first deputy commander of the former Volga-Ural (now Central MD) and then of the Eastern MD beginning in late 2012. A year later he was appointed Commander of the Eastern MD.

No one would accuse Surovikin of being an uncontroversial figure. His biography features a number of incidents but nothing seems to stick to him.

As described on these pages in 2011 when he was reportedly considered to head the MOD’s new military police:

Kommersant gave details on Surovikin’s background.  As a captain in August 1991, he was acting commander of the Taman division motorized rifle battalion responsible for the death of three Yeltsin supporters.  He was arrested and investigated for seven months before charges against him were lifted.

As noted on these pages, he commanded the 34th MRD when one his colonels blew his brains out in front of the entire staff after an upbraiding from the commander.  And Surovikin had a very short tenure as Chief of the GOU.

He seems an odd choice to be responsible for the army’s new enforcers of law and order.  To be in charge of those charged with preventing dedovshchina and other barracks violence.

Not noted above is the fact that, as a major in 1995, he almost went to jail for the illegal possession and sale of a hand gun. This earned him one year of probation, and it later disqualified him from heading the MOD’s new military police force.

He always seemed like a strange choice for the head of MPs; it was almost as if someone was trying to sidetrack his career.

General-Colonel Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Zhuravlev moved from his post as a deputy chief of the General Staff to take over the Eastern MD from Surovikin. The tank troops officer was born in Tyumen Oblast in 1965. He commanded Russian forces in Syria in 2016.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Pavlovich Lapin became Commander of the Central MD after serving as chief of staff and first deputy commander to Surovikin in Syria. Also a tank officer, he was born in Kazan in 1964.

Former Central MD Commander, General-Colonel Zarudnitskiy has taken over the Military Academy of the General Staff, a sinecure for senior officers nearing retirement.

KZ reported two new deputy chiefs of the General Staff have been named: Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Alekseyevich Moiseyev previously served as chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Northern Fleet, and General-Major Gennadiy Valeryevich Zhidko commanded the 2nd CAA and served as chief of staff and first deputy commander in Syria.

According to Izvestiya, the Navy also got a new deputy commander for ground and coastal troops General-Lieutenant Oleg Makarevich. The paper claims he’s second only to Surovikin in his “experience and charisma.” The position was made necessary because the land-based components of the navy have grown with army corps added to the fleets. The Navy is looking to Makarevich to smooth out their force structure and combat training, particularly in Kaliningrad and Crimea.

Russia may be drawing down in Syria, but General-Colonel Surovikin was still in charge when President Putin visited the Russian command center a few days ago. So the question is when will Surovikin take up his VKS duties, and who will relieve him in Syria.

Taking Stock of Russian Acquisition

Novyye izvestiya interviewed Ruslan Pukhov last week.  He has some perspectives on Russian military procurement we’ve heard before, and some we haven’t.

NI asked the CAST director if the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Shayrat would hurt Russia’s exports of air defense systems.  He said no, for all the obvious reasons.

More interestingly, Pukhov said air defense equipment typically represents 10-20 percent of Russia’s annual arms exports.  This could rise in coming years, he stated, due to future sales of the S-400 to “China and other countries.”

Ruslan Pukhov

Ruslan Pukhov

Asked how Russian weapons have performed in Syria, Pukhov responded:

“The Syrian campaign has made a good advertisement for Russian arms, particularly for new types of Russian combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-35 and especially Su-34) and helicopters (Mi-28N and Ka-52), but also for precision munitions — cruise missiles and aircraft ordnance.  Therefore it’s possible to expect growing interest from foreign buyers and growing sales in these segments.  The negative side one can draw from the actions of the Russian grouping in Syria is, first and foremost, the insufficient capability of its technical reconnaissance systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles and space systems.  The quantity of precision weapons is still insufficient.  The precision arms themselves in a number of cases require additional development.  There is still a lot of work ahead, but the main thing is that the Syrian campaign has allowed for revealing these deficiencies and partially eliminating them.  Meanwhile the cost of acquiring this priceless experience has been relatively low.”

Of course, the cost is only low if you’re not in the crossfire in Syria.

NI asked Pukhov if Russian weapons are better today or are they still based on old Soviet ones.  He answered:

“There is progress, but a large part of equipment, including what is being produced and bought now, still depends precisely on the Soviet legacy.  The weapons systems of a really new generation (the T-50 fighter, ‘Armata’ tank, new generation armor) remain in development and still haven’t gotten to the serial production stage.  But we have to understand that the creation of new generation armaments in any case involves many years – the cycle is 10-15-20 years from the start of R&D to the real achievement of combat capability in series models in troop units.  Considering that in Russia significant financing of defense and the OPK began only after 2005, and on a really large-scale only after 2010, then you really can’t expect any other result.  If there’s success in financing at the necessary level, then after 2020 the arrival of platforms and systems of a really new generation will begin.”

And how have economic problems and sanctions affected the OPK?

“The crisis still doesn’t directly affect the OPK.  Even with a sharp contraction in federal budget revenue and eight years of economic stagnation, state defense order financing has been preserved at a high level, and it will begin to drop only from 2017.  But not because of economic difficulties, but in connection with saturating the troops with new and modern equipment.  From another side, sometimes the conditions of GOZ price formation turn out so severe for enterprises that it sometimes leads to GOZ contracts being fulfilled at the limit of profitability.”

“The full action of sanctions began to be felt from 2015.  Because the non-supply of a number of components from Ukraine and Western countries already caused a shift in the completion of a number of programs, the most well-known instances are connected with the construction of project 11356 and 22350 frigates, but also project 20385 corvettes, on which Ukrainian gas turbines and German diesels, in turn, were replaced.  In addition, sanctions complicated the purchase of Western-produced equipment by Russian enterprises, and, most importantly, its licensed maintenance. And as practice has shown, analogues from China and other countries don’t always meet the quality standards we need.  By 2018, the import substitution program will allow for covering 80-90% of imported items, and finally, imports will be replaced by 2020.”

Killed in Syria

the-funeral-of-aleksandr-prokhorenko

The funeral of Aleksandr Prokhorenko

Sadly for their loved ones, four Russian military advisers died on February 16 when a radio-controlled IED destroyed their vehicle.

This week TASS published a backgrounder on Russians killed in action since Moscow joined the Syrian conflict in September 2015.

Twenty-seven Russians have died in Syria, and Russian forces have lost two Mi-8 and one Mi-28N helicopters, and one Su-24 fighter-bomber.

Click here for the essential details of the news agency’s report.  Some names and info not given by TASS are provided.

The first death was a non-combat casualty.  TASS didn’t mention the 64 members of the MOD’s Aleksandrov Ensemble who perished in a plane crash en route to Syria on December 25.  They didn’t die in Syria, but might not have died if Russian troops weren’t in Syria.

No Rest for the Weary

Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (TAKR 063) will be more of a fixture in the Mediterranean than anyone outside the Russian MOD and Navy Main Staff supposed.

admiral-kuznetsov-photo-ria-novosti

Admiral Kuznetsov (photo: RIA Novosti)

The ship will not enter Zvezdochka shipyard for a “repair with modernization” until 2018, according to RIA Novosti.  The news agency cited state-owned conglomerate OSK’s vice-president for naval shipbuilding.

Until yesterday, it was widely assumed that Kuznetsov would operate in the Mediterranean until spring 2017 at the latest, then return to Northern Fleet waters to begin a much-needed upkeep and upgrade period.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military have decided instead to have Kuznetsov as part of their Syrian operations for at least one extra year.  The ship will likely return to its homeport at some point in mid-2017 for crew leave, swapping out fighters, and minor repairs.  At least, the Russian Navy hopes only minor repairs will be needed.

Then the cycle will start again…Kuznetsov will deploy to the Med in the fall, and return home in the first half of 2018 when an overhaul might begin.  Once that starts though, the carrier won’t be available for two years minimum, and probably much longer. Hence, the reluctance to begin the process when the MOD wants additional firepower on Syrian targets.

But Russia’s Syrian intervention is really just as much (possibly more) about the opportunity to test its men and weapons in live combat as it is about propping up its friend Assad, fighting “terrorists,” or making itself a Middle East power broker and superpower again. 

MOD Collegium on 2015

Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a year-ending expanded meeting of the MOD Collegium.  Below are highlights from his speech, and from Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s.  Putin also met separately with Russia’s Military District (MD) commanders, but no transcript was made available.

Putin Addresses the Expanded Meeting (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin Addresses the Expanded Meeting (photo: Kremlin.ru)

According to Kremlin.ru, Putin told the Collegium that Russia’s intervention in Syria was prompted not by “incomprehensible abstract geopolitical interests,” nor by the “desire to train [military forces] and test new weapons systems,” although he called the latter “important.”  Rather Putin insisted Russian operations in Syria aim to stop the immediate threat ISIL terrorists pose to the Russian Federation.

Putin told his audience Russian assistance has enabled Damascus to take the offensive in several regions.  As far as other claims of success, the Supreme CINC said only:

“. . . the systematic employment of the forces of the VKS [Aerospace Forces] and Navy, and the use of the newest highly-accurate weapons systems has enabled us to deliver serious damage to the infrastructure of the terrorists, and therefore qualitatively change the situation in Syria.”

He vowed to protect Russian troops saying, “Any targets threatening the Russian grouping or our ground infrastructure will be destroyed immediately.”

Putin then turned to Russian Armed Forces developments and training.  He urged the military not to consider this year’s wartime preparation training by civilian authorities in 14 Russian Federation subjects to be a “secondary” mission.  He mentioned five (not surprising) points of emphasis about this year and next:

  • The updated five-year defense plan (2016-2020);
  • Rearmament and the effective use of the budget;
  • Strategic nuclear forces and aerospace defense;
  • Increasing the intensity of operational and tactical training;
  • Greater cooperation with allies, the CSTO in particular.

Again, he paused to note the need to eliminate shortcomings in territorial defense training in Russia’s regions.

Before turning the mic over to Shoygu, the president stated that the MOD has provided permanent or service housing to 146,000 servicemen over the last four years.

Defense Minister Shoygu outlined first the threat to Russia from an expanding NATO, then from ISIL.  He made the following significant points about 2015:

  • Russia’s armed forces are manned at 92 percent of their authorized level, including 352,000 contractees (i.e. more than the number of conscripts).
  • Six RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) regiments were put into service.
  • The share of modern armaments in the RVSN is 51 percent.
  • Two Tu-160, three Tu-95MS, and five Tu-22M3 bombers were modernized.
  • SSBNs carry 56 percent modern weapons.
  • Overall, Russian strategic forces are 55 percent modern.
  • Eight new brigades of various types were formed in the Ground Troops.
  • The Ground Troops acquired 1,772 tanks and armored vehicles, 148 missile and artillery systems, 2,292 vehicles, and two brigade sets of Iskander-M.
  • Ground Troops’ arms and equipment are 35 percent modern.
  • The VKS acquired 243 aircraft of various types, 90 SAM and 208 radar systems.
  • The VKS are 52 percent modern.
  • The VKS operate 1,720 UAV systems against only 180 in 2011.
  • The Navy received two submarines and eight surface ships.
  • The Navy’s modern equipment constitutes 39 percent of its inventory.
  • The VDV’s modern arms are 41 percent of its total.
  • Overall, the armed forces now have 47 percent modern weapons and other equipment, surpassing the goal of 30 percent by 2015.
  • The in-service rate of equipment is 89 percent.
  • There were nine candidates for every seat in MOD VVUZy this year.

Shoygu’s annual report contained many other details summarizing the MOD’s activities this year.

In 2016, he expects the following:

  • Steps to strengthen groupings in the western, south-western, and Arctic strategic directions.
  • Five RVSN missile regiments will go on duty with modern missiles.
  • Two Tu-160 and seven Tu-95MS bombers will be modernized.
  • Two brigade sets each of Iskander-M and Tornado-S MLRS, and one of Buk-3M SAMs will reach the Ground Troops.
  • Six battalions will receive new tanks and BMPs.
  • VKS and Navy will get more than 200 new or modernized aircraft.
  • Five regiments will receive S-400 SAMs.
  • Three Voronezh-DM and Voronezh-M radars will enter service.
  • The Navy will get two submarines and seven surface ships.
  • The armed forces will conduct strategic CSX Kavkaz-2016.

The reader may wish to look back to this 2014 year-ender to make some year-on-year comparisons.

Turning to Putin’s meeting with his top regional commanders, we don’t know what was discussed, but it’s a good pic and a chance to update the lineup and face recce.

Putin's Meeting with MD Commanders (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin’s Meeting with MD Commanders (photo: Kremlin.ru)

From the extreme left around the table with Putin in the center, attendees included Unified Strategic Command North Commander Admiral Vladimir Korolev, Southern MD Commander General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin, Eastern MD Commander General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin, Defense Minister Shoygu, Putin, General Staff Chief Army General Valeriy Gerasimov, Central MD Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy, and new Western MD Commander General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov.

But We Make Rockets

Yes, Russia is making rockets now.

Vladimir Putin came to power on the eve of the 21st century promising (among other things) to remake Russian military power.  But progress was slow.  The economy struggled to emerge from the default and devaluation of 1998.  A poor, unready army found itself mired for several years in the Second Chechen War.

Not until after an uneven military performance in the August 2008 five-day war with Georgia — and not until after the 2009 economic crisis, perhaps in 2012 or 2013 — did the funding necessary for significant improvements in combat readiness and larger procurement of weapons and equipment reach the Russian Armed Forces.

Then came war in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and Syria.  Blowback from Syria could make Central Asia or the North Caucasus Russia’s next front. But questions about recent Kremlin bellicosity already bear close to home — on Russia’s domestic political and economic circumstances.

Consider a Gazeta.ru editorial from October 26.

“But we make rockets”

“Can the army and navy replace everything else for citizens”

RS-24 Yars ICBMs on Parade (photo: AP / Ivan Sekretarev)

RS-24 Yars ICBMs on Parade (photo: AP / Ivan Sekretarev)

“Often it’s easier for people to accept growing financial hopelessness to the sound of bold military marches.  Not for the first time in Russian history the army is beginning to replace the nation’s economy, life, general human values, and becoming the new old national idea and practically the only effective state institution.”

“Not everywhere in Russian industry are orders shrinking and demand falling.  There is production that is very much in demand.  In the ‘Tactical Missile Weapons’ corporation, for example, they’ve gone to three shifts of missile production for the Syrian front, a source in the defense-industrial complex has told the publication ‘Kommersant-Vlast.’  Against this backdrop, an article appeared in The Independent newspaper about how in Russia, after the events in Crimea and Syria, the army is again becoming the ‘departure point of Russian ideology’ — that very national idea for which they searched so long and unsuccessfully in post-Perestroika Russia and here now, finally, have found.”

“‘Russia has only two reliable allies — the army and navy.’  These famous words of Emperor Aleksandr III (who, incidentally, went down in history we would say now under the nickname Peacemaker) have once again in our history acquired a literal meaning. Other reliable allies of whom Russia was evidently sure over the last year-and-a-half or two years clearly no longer remain with us.”

“In a time of economic crisis, the temptation among Russian authorities to make the army one of the leading state institutions grows even greater.  The remaining institutions are emasculated or work as badly as ever.  In the end, to do this is sometimes simply useless:  the impoverished voter will say — why are your institutions here, is my life improving?  The expenditures are great, but the effect will be, probably, negative.”

“How much better the army is:  there is discipline, and pay, and achievements, and a plan of development.  The share of military expenditures in the budget is growing, but a cut in its absolute size has affected it to a lesser degree than civilian sectors like education and health care.”

“All hope is now on defense — as in ‘peace time’ we placed hope on oil and gas.”

“The army again is a lovely testing ground for demonstrating one more innovation — import substitution.  Not all Russians can understand why it’s necessary to burn up high quality foreign goods. But hardly anyone would object that Russia didn’t buy any aircraft, tanks or missiles abroad.  The president at a session of the Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation Issues announced that thanks to import substitution the country’s defense industrial enterprises are ‘becoming more independent of foreign component supplies.’”

“In general, we found by experience that we didn’t quite succeed in finding any other nation-binding idea over 25 years of not very consistent attempts to draw close to the Western world.  The simple national idea ‘state for the sake of man’ didn’t take root, including, alas, because man somehow didn’t value it very much; attempts to raise free citizens and form a civic nation, bound by common human values, failed.  There were neither citizens, nor values…”

“Being that there wasn’t demand for a free citizen not only above, but even below.  It is precisely therefore that we don’t have normal trade unions, strong nongovernmental organizations, and independent civil initiatives.  It’s not just the state that doesn’t need ‘all this.’  It’s society too.”

“Therefore one year before State Duma elections there isn’t even opposition in political parties to the openly military-oriented budget.”

“Distinct from this is that America which we love to accuse of aggressiveness, but in which military expenditures and their share in the budget are steadily falling in recent years.  In fact, legislative control over the military budget is one of the main forms of civilian society’s control over the army in the USA.  Though in America there were times when the military tried to decide both for society and for politicians.  Considerable force and time was required to put the military under control, but the States succeeded in this.”

“In Russia the easiest and quickest means of unifying the nation turned out to be the bloodless victory in Crimea and the somewhat bloody events in the Donbass.  The idea of abstract imperial power, and the image of ‘the country rising from its knees’ were substantiated, as the man in the street perceived it, and they were near and comprehensible to him.  Like, we lead a miserable life ourselves (when was it otherwise?), but we are a ‘great power’ again.”

“Polite green people, capable quickly without noise and dust of ‘deciding questions,’ create in the multimillion-person army in front of the television an illusion of their own significance.”

“It’s not only the missile corporation that’s working ‘in three shifts’ now, but also the factory of national pride, based exclusively on military victories.”

“Firstly, we are proud of past victories, in which, besides the live heroes of that war, there is no one alive today who isn’t, in essence, a participant:  St. George’s banners and inscriptions on foreign-made cars ‘To Berlin!,’ ‘Thanks granddad for Victory,’ ‘Descendant of a Victor’ flash at every step.  Secondly, they actively urge us to pride in new military victories.”

“Meanwhile the war in distant Syria works for such military-patriotic PR even better than the war in Ukraine.  And further from the borders, pictures of Russian aircraft bombing terrorists a world away inspire the people more than the sullen ‘militiamen’ of which the masses have had enough already.”

“What’s fashionable in war and militancy also enters official political discourse.  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has firmly become the second most popular politician and most successful top-manager in the country.  And the president not without some internal pride calls himself the ‘dove with iron wings,’ telling foreign guests directly at a Valday Club session that he was still in the Leningrad courtyard when he learned to ‘strike first’ if a fight is inevitable.”

“And it’s still necessary to remember:  even a war far from the borders, if it’s protracted, requires not  only military, but also great financial resources.”

“So if the economic collapse in Russia continues, pride in the army still cannot fully make up for people the absence of conditions for a normal life.  But for now — in a situation where the authorities live by tactics and not by strategy, — the army and military mobilization of the nation really look like a national idea, and a panacea for the crisis, and a means of supporting a high rating.”

“Polite green people are already capable of becoming not simply a symbol of the Crimean operation, but a symbol of an entire epoch. But they usually don’t solve all the accumulated social, economic, and human problems of a large country.”

Ivashov on the Army and Putin

Leonid Ivashov

Leonid Ivashov recently talked to Narodnyy politolog on a variety of army topics including reforms, the possibility of a big war, rearmament, president-elect Vladimir Putin, and his military program.  Segodnia.ru also printed the interview.

Once Russia’s top military diplomat, now avowed geopolitician, the former three-star thinks Putin fears externally-driven regime change and is improving the army to forestall such an eventuality.  Ivashov sees a U.S.-led West depriving Russia of allies before focusing on Russia itself.

Asked about army reforms, Ivashov says they have succeeded in cutting forces, but not in rearming them or improving their social conditions.  Reforms have degraded and weakened the army.  Military men mock the New Profile reforms saying, “There’s a profile, but not armed forces.”  Ivashov calls reforms craziness, and says it’s like servicemen have lived in a house under continuous repair for 25 years.

Following up his comment on mobilization reserves cut to the bare minimum, NP asked the retired general-colonel if a big war is possible today.

Ivashov says yes.  Citing how “they” are beating up Russia’s strategic allies (Syria and Iran), he says “What is this if not war?”

Ivashov foresees a large conflict between the U.S. and China and possible spinoff regional and local wars.  He cites a Chinese specialist who calls for a Russian-Chinese alliance to deter a big war and curb the appetite of the West and international oligarchs.

Is Russia ready for such an eventuality?  Ivashov answers:

“I think Putin understands perfectly how military weakness and the absence of strategic allies can be the end for Russia.  Clearly, the Libyan situation ‘helped’ him understand this, just like what is happening now in Syria, and what they are preparing for Iran.  If you can’t defend the country, you are subjecting yourself to a great risk personally.”

“Now Putin is making a sharp turn to the side of strengthening defense capability.  One can only welcome this.  Because today they don’t simply beat the weak, they destroy them.”

Ivashov calls Putin’s military program ambitious, if not systematic.  The regime’s been in a “light panic” since Libya.

He intimates that more than 20 percent of the state armaments program will be stolen since the amount of theft cited by the military prosecutor covers only cases under investigation, not all corruption.

Ivashov suggests lobbying has replaced forecasts of future military actions as the driver of arms procurement.

The case of Mistral, which one wonders where it will be built and how it will be used, Ivashov says well-connected lobbyist structures ensure what gets produced is exactly what their enterprises make.  He was somewhat encouraged that Putin, at Sarov, entertained turning to specialists and experts to examine the army’s requirements.

On GPV 2020, Ivashov concludes it’ll be a serious step forward if only half of what’s planned gets produced, but it can’t be equipment designed in the 1970s and 1980s.  He sees OPK production capacity problems too.  He questions whether Votkinsk can produce 400 solid-fueled ballistic missiles by 2020.

Returning to the big war, he questions a focus on defensive operations for Russian conventional forces, saying offensive capabilities are needed to deter potential enemies.  He claims reduced force structure and mobilization capability have become a joke in the General Staff:

“The main problem for the Chinese in a conflict with us is not defeating our brigade, but finding it.”

Ivashov’s just a little up in arms over the armor situation.  He all but accuses the General Staff Chief of being a paid (or bribed) lobbyist for foreign tank and armored vehicle makers.  He suggests that Army General Makarov should be placed in cuffs if he says the Leopard-2 is better than the T-90 [what about Postnikov then?], and the Main Military Prosecutor should investigate him.

So what is to be done first and foremost to strengthen the country’s defense capability today?

Ivashov replies get rid of Serdyukov and Makarov who have done great damage, and strengthen cadres in the OPK and military by replacing “managers” with those who can apply military science (as Ivashov was taught) to the problem of developing new weapons.

The always provocative Ivashov doesn’t venture whether he thinks  the current emphasis on defense capability will continue or have the intended results.  He seems sincerely to believe in a possible Western intervention in Russia’s internal affairs.  But it’d be more interesting to hear him talk about whether the army would fight for Putin’s regime in something less than that maximal contingency.  Ivashov, unlike some critics of Russia’s defense policy, shies away from blaming the once-and-future Supreme CINC for at least some of the current military state of affairs.