Monthly Archives: October 2017

Putin: Russia Ending Conscription

President Vladimir Putin significantly changed the script for Russian military reform on October 24 by indicating intent to end the draft in favor of volunteer contract service.

Putin We are gradually going away from conscription

Putin: We are gradually going away from conscription

That day Putin told his young audience:

“While I don’t have a ready-made answer, in the same vein if we try to develop this practice further, then maybe we’ll come up with something, but in general we, of course, should keep in mind that we are gradually going away from conscript service in general.”

“We are doing this, unfortunately, at a slower pace than planned in connection with budget constraints, but we are doing it all the same and will continue to do so. So it will be a short time when in general this question will not be acute.”

The largest questions are why, and why now. The answer to both is the impending presidential election on March 18, 2018. It will be more a coronation keeping Putin formally in power for 20 of 24 years of the 21st century (but in reality for all 24). Still there’s no doubt ending conscription will provide an extra electoral boost for Putin. Cutting the draft term from two years to one gave Team Putin a lift ten years ago.

Russia’s generalitet has always said the military will never completely abandon conscripts for contractees. It fears the difficulty of conducting a big-war mobilization without hundreds of thousands of relatively young men with pretty fresh basic military training. Just like that, however, Putin changed a fundamental assumption of his generals.

Writing for Yezhednevnyy zhurnal, the inimitable Aleksandr Golts has pointed out the MOD’s flawed addition when it comes to contractees. Literally 11 days ago, General-Colonel Mikhail Mizintsev said the armed forces have 354,000 contractees. And Defense Minister said they had 384,000 at end of 2016, so the number is actually falling. At the end of 2017, they are supposed to have 425,000.

Golts concludes:

“Of course, it’s not excluded that once again military men have become confused in their own lie. Removed from any kind of control, they are at will to announce any data — it’s impossible to check it anyway. Meanwhile, Mizintsev is not simply a general. He is chief of the National Center for RF Defense Command and Control. They assure us that data on the condition of the Armed Forces flows right to him in real time. So, perhaps, he told the truth.”

For more on the Russian military muddle over contractee numbers, see also Denis Mokrushin’s entertaining “2×2=5. Maybe Even 6.”

Golts believes the number of contractees stalled at the 2015 level, with the 90,000 added since then cancelled by a similar number declining to renew their contracts after three years. So, he continues, one has to think the conditions of service in the army aren’t as attractive as depicted on MOD brochures. Contract pay hasn’t increased since 2012 (but inflation has by 44 percent). And the chance of injury or death in a “hot spot” like eastern Ukraine or Syria has gone up.

Regarding the reduced requirement for conscripts in the current draft campaign, Golts puts it down to the fact that the Russian Federation is at the very bottom of its demographic trough right now.  In 2017 and 2018 respectively, only 638,000 and 633,000 18-year-old men are available.

As a result of all this, Golts sees Russian Armed Forces manning at about 850,000 (250,000 conscripts, 354,000 contractees, 220,000 officers, and 30,000 military school cadets). This is well below President Putin’s recently authorized 1.13 million. The missing 160,000 or so troops has to affect Russia’s combat capability, according to him. He expects the generalitet to close gaps in the ranks with reservists to create leverage to convince Putin the draft must be preserved.

But maybe Putin isn’t even serious about ending the draft anyway.

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Command Rokirovka

Rokirovka (рокировка) appears often in the Russian press. Borrowed from chess, it means castling in the strictest sense. In political and administrative terms, it’s when people shift places in an organization or hierarchy.

The Russian military seems poised for a command rokirovka.

The rokirovka might have begun with General-Colonel Viktor Bondarev’s abrupt departure from the Aerospace Forces (VKS) to accept an appointment to the Federation Council. With over five years as the CINC of Russia’s air forces (and its air defense, missile defense, and space forces now as well), Bondarev is just shy of 58. A three-star, he could have served to age 65.

Senator Bondarev

Senator Bondarev

It’s interesting that he would leave just now. But entering the upper chamber of Russia’s national legislature provides immunity from prosecution.

Observers were confronted then with the surprising prospect that General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin — an army general — might be the leading candidate to replace Bondarev. Others seem like distant challengers at best. But we’re still waiting for the shoe to drop on Surovikin. Bondarev joined the FC on September 19, yet his picture remains on Mil.ru as CINC of VKS.

The complicating factor is that Surovikin’s been away from his permanent post as commander of Russia’s Eastern MD while commanding the Group of Russian Forces in Syria since early summer.

To give the VKS to Surovikin, the Russian MOD will have to settle on new commanders for both posts.

Syria is toughest. Although winding down, Moscow can’t send just anyone. It might send General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev back. He commanded the group for the last part of 2016. Perhaps the original commander — General-Colonel Aleksandr Dvornikov — might return from his post in the Southern MD. Commander of the Central MD General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy could go.

General-Colonel Zhuravlev

General-Colonel Zhuravlev

We can’t say who’ll be picked, but the choice is complicated by Defense Minister Shoygu’s announcement that the endgame has begun. The Kremlin won’t jeopardize its final push there.

A new Eastern MD commander is easier. Here are some possibilities:

General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev…only 52…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander, then briefly commander of the Russian Group of Forces in Syria…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD…deputy chief of the General Staff.

General-Lieutenant Viktor Astapov…55…VDV officer…commanded a division, then an army…deputy commander of Southern MD…now chief of staff, first deputy commander of Western MD.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Chayko…46…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of resurrected 1st Tank Army…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD.

General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin…53…commander of 20th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Eastern MD…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Russian Group of Forces in Syria.

General-Lieutenant Mikhail Teplinskiy…48…VDV officer…Hero of Russian Federation in First Chechen War…chief of staff, first deputy commander of 20th CAA…commander of 36th CAA…chief of staff, first deputy commander of Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Ustinov…57…VDV officer…combat veteran of Afghanistan…deputy commander of former Leningrad MD…commander of 6th CAA…deputy commander of Central MD…chief of staff and first deputy commander of Central MD.

No matter who gets the Eastern MD, these generals are worthy of notice. They’ve punched the right tickets, and if they don’t advance now, they will later. But Zhuravlev seems most ready and he has the third star customary for MD commanders. But inside-trackers have a way of getting side-tracked in the Russian military. It could happen to Zhuravlev.

A wild card scenario might be built around 59-year-old General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin. He’s serving as assistant to Shoygu after a long tenure as commander of the Southern MD. It might not be safe to rule him out appearing in Syria or the Eastern MD.

Some generational change could be coming to the top Russian MOD posts typically occupied by army generals. The Chief of the General Staff — Army General Valeriy Gerasimov — has been in place since late 2012. He’s 62.  Ground Troops CINC — General-Colonel Oleg Salyukov — is also 62 this year.

The current MD commanders might really hope for Gerasimov’s job. General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov in the Western MD and General-Colonel Dvornikov in the Southern MD would seem to have the best shot, with the runner-up becoming Ground Troops CINC instead. A little older, General-Colonel Zarudnitskiy in the Central MD could be the odd man out.

Moves by the MD commanders would open spaces for the rising group of mostly two-stars introduced earlier.

The future of the commander of Airborne Troops — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — is a bit uncertain after his car crash last month, even though he’s only 55. If available, his post might be attractive to the three youngish generals with VDV backgrounds highlighted above.

But this entire rokirovka might unravel if General-Colonel Surovikin doesn’t move to the VKS for some reason. Still major command and leadership changes, driven inexorably by the passage of time and aging of the incumbents, are coming to Russia’s military.

New 36th Army Commander

On October 14, Mil.ru announced the appointment of General-Major Mikhail Yakovlevich Nosulev as the new commander of Russia’s 36th Combined Arms Army in Ulan Ude.

General-Major Nosulev

General-Major Nosulev

Born in Labinsk, Krasnodar in 1964, Nosulev was commissioned out of the Ulyanovsk Higher Tank Command School. He served with a Soviet tank army in the GSFG as a junior officer.

Nosulev commanded a regiment of the 42nd MRD during the Second Chechen War, according to BaikalFinans. He was deputy chief of staff of the 58th CAA during Russia’s Five-Day War with Georgia in August 2008. Most recently, he was chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD’s 49th CAA.

He apparently replaces General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko who just last month conducted bilateral exercise Selenga-2017 with Mongolian Army units in the Gobi Desert.

Where Kovalenko is headed is anyone’s guess. However, it’s possible he might remain in the Eastern MD and take command of the Ussuriysk-based 5th CAA. Its commander, General-Lieutenant Valeriy Asapov, was killed on September 23 while serving as senior military advisor to the Syrian Army.

More Airborne

The Russian MOD has announced that the Eastern MD’s 83rd Independent Air-Assault Brigade will conduct the first large-scale parachute drop in its history on October 18.

Recall the 83rd transferred from Ground Troops to VDV control almost exactly four years ago. It apparently spent the interval preparing and training to be more airborne than air mobile.

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

According to the MOD, the Ussuriysk-based brigade will drop combat equipment and personnel. It will proceed to a standard scenario involving seizure of a notional enemy airfield. About 2,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment will be deployed.

Ussuriysk

Ussuriysk

In the evolution’s second phase, the brigade’s airborne and air-assault battalions will conduct a march with a pontoon bridge crossing and combat firings in a mobile defense.

The MOD didn’t indicate how many troops will parachute into the exercise. But the 83rd likely now has a parachute battalion to air-drop from Il-76 transports. VDV air-assault brigades traditionally also have two air mobile battalions. When the 83rd arrived from the army in 2013, it likely had three air-assault battalions.

The ex-army 56th ODShBr in the Southern MD may also have a parachute battalion already, but it seems less likely that the 11th in Buryatia has one.

OOB

Some OOB updates . . . .