Monthly Archives: April 2017

His Greatest Achievement?

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin chairing Military-Industrial Commission session in Rybinsk on April 25, 2017 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

In the most recent iteration of what is basically an annual poll, Levada asked respondents to select one answer to the following question:  “What would you call the main achievement of Vladimir Putin during his years in power?”

Some 17 percent of those polled picked “Increasing combat capability and reform of the armed forces.”  It was the top response in this year’s poll.

Below find the reaction to this response over time.

Putin's Greatest Achievement The Military.

Positive reaction to this choice scuffled along for years.  Just three percent of those polled picked it in the waning months of Anatoliy Serdyukov’s tenure as minister of defense.  It jumped, however, to 8 percent in August 2014, following the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It reached 14 percent a year after Moscow intervened in the Syrian civil war.

External events greatly influence this particular Levada poll.

For instance, in early 2008, 21 percent of respondents said Putin’s greatest achievement was “Economic development of the country.”  Two years later, following the recession of 2008-2009, only 12 percent could agree with this.  And, seven years later, that number is still 12.

Even in mid-2009, 22 percent said Putin’s greatest trick was “Increasing the standard of living of citizens, growth of wages and pensions.”  That number now stands at 8 percent.

Unfortunately, some responses seem eternal.

Typically only 1 percent or less of those polled pick “Defense of democracy and political freedoms of citizens” or “Improving relations between people of different nationalities in Russia.”

In this iteration of the poll, 8 percent indicated that they don’t see any achievements and 4 percent found it hard to say.

The 17 percent response on the military is good news for Putin.  As for many regimes, it’s an easy place to score points with the average citizen.  Other arenas are more complicated.  But the Kremlin has successfully managed a turnaround in the perception of the armed forces.

The problem is events can erode high poll numbers.  For the Russian military, they could include things like a large-scale attack on Russian forces in Syria, widespread arrears in military pay, a submarine sinking, a huge ammo depot fire, or the death of soldiers in a collapsing barracks.  

In isolation, none is enough to dent a prevailing opinion strongly underwritten by the steady drumbeat of a Defense Ministry PR campaign.  But, over time, they accumulate and can change attitudes.  Like everything else, poll numbers that go up usually come down.

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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.”

More Mobile Strategic Air Defense

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo TASS Valeriy Sharifulin)

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo: TASS / Valeriy Sharifulin)

Izvestiya reports the Russian MOD plans to increase the mobility of its strategic air defenses.  The newly-established 24th Air Defense Brigade is the model. Formed in late 2016, this Abakan-based brigade just completed its first live firings of the S-300PS on the range in Astrakhan.

The brigade deployed 100 pieces of equipment over 4,500 km for practice in repulsing a “surprise mass air attack” by the notional enemy.

According to Izvestiya, new air defense brigades are supposed to be “highly mobile formations, capable of deploying hundreds of kilometers and establishing an insurmountable barrier against aircraft, cruise missiles, and UAVs in a matter of hours.” They will be equipped with S-400 and S-300 SAMs, Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and Nebo-M radars.  The mobile brigades will reportedly protect more territory while saving money.

Russia’s independent air defense regiments have traditionally been dedicated to particular facilities or regions.  They employ tactical maneuverability but only within the confines of a larger positional defense.

Izvestiya quotes former SAM troops commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Gorkov:

“The appearance of the S-300 and S-400 seriously changed the situation.  These SAMs gave air defense high mobility.  New brigades could be deployed on a threat axis not just by their own means of transport, but also by ships or by VTA aircraft.”

Not to mention by rail too.

Gorkov claims the idea for more mobile strategic defense dates to the early 1990s when the S-300 was widely deployed.  He states that the 14th Mobile Air Defense Division, based in Ruza to the west of Moscow, deployed as far as Rzhev, Pskov, Smolensk, and Novgorod before it disbanded.

Abakan is capital of Khakasiya in Western Siberia.  Pretty remote as possible theaters of war go.  Its closest neighbors are Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.  It’s not even on the Transsib, but it connects via Tayshet. 

A VKS Main Staff source says the next mobile air defense brigade will be Tiksi in Russia’s Far North.  Road and rail are, of course, not good options for Tiksi.

A push for more mobile air defenses is logical given the Russian military’s increased emphasis on strategic reinforcement in recent years.

Abakan may be off the beaten track, but it makes some sense because the Central MD is Moscow’s reserve for potential conflicts in the east, west, and south.