Monthly Archives: February 2019

Big Star for Salyukov

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed out his Defenders’ Day promotion list yesterday with something unexpected.

Putin handed out the four-star rank of army general for the first time in a while. To Ground Troops CINC Oleg Salyukov.

Salyukov wearing general-colonel

Salyukov wearing general-colonel

Russian media outlets say Putin gave army general to Rosgvardiya chief Viktor Zolotov and Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Popov in 2015. But we’re not talking about cronies and creatures of Putin or Defense Minister Shoygu.

We’re not talking about Shoygu himself, who got his four-star rank as a politician and bureaucrat.

And we’re not talking about Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov, FSB man and associate of former defense minister Sergey Ivanov. (Pankov’s a fascinating and separate story. He’s the longtime éminence grise of the MOD. One might bet he’s always been Putin’s reliable spy in the high command. He’s also been officially retired from military service for some time.)

So here’s the short list of current Russian Armed Forces four-stars:

  • Army General Valeriy Gerasimov obviously. He became Chief of the General Staff when Shoygu became Minister of Defense. Gerasimov got his fourth star less than four months later — February 20, 2013.
  • Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of Material-Technical Support Dmitriy Bulgakov has been at his post since 2008. He became army general on February 23, 2011.

It’s safe to conclude then that Putin’s been quite parsimonious with the “big star.”

Recall Russia’s gone back and forth on four stars. For some time, army generals actually wore four stars. Now they wear a single “big star” like marshals, but on different epaulets.

The Russian army general rank, however, is equivalent to a full U.S. General (O-10) wearing four stars.

The last Ground Troops, Air Forces, and Navy CINCs to wear four stars were Vladimir Boldyrev in 2010, Vladimir Mikhaylov in 2007, and Vladimir Masorin in 2007.

So why promote Salyukov to four-star? It doesn’t buy him more service time; by law, he still has to retire in 2020. He’ll be 65 on May 21, 2020.

We should note also that Gerasimov will be 65 on September 8, 2020 and old man Bulgakov on October 20, 2019.

But like all Russian laws, the law on military service tenure can be ignored or changed easily if Putin wants.

A little more about Salyukov. He’s a tanker. He served in the old Kiev MD as a junior officer, and then the Moscow MD. He was deputy commander of the 4th Kantemir Tank Division. After the General Staff Academy, he went to the old Far East MD in 1996, serving from division commander to commander of the district in 2010.

When the MD system was reduced to just four MDs, Salyukov returned to Moscow for a four-year stint as deputy chief of the General Staff. In May 2014, he became Ground Troops CINC. His official bio says he’s a combat veteran, but it’s unclear where he was actually under fire.

P.S. Here’s the latest official photo of Salyukov.

Salyukov sporting big star

Salyukov sporting “big star”

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Death of a Conscript

Authorities are investigating the murder of a 19-year-old Russian conscript in his motorized rifle regiment near Voronezh. The Western MD at first reported he died of a heart attack, but he was apparently beaten to death.

The regiment is a troubled unit where other servicemen have been murdered, died under suspicious circumstances, or committed suicide in recent years. 

Stepan Tsymbal

Last fall Stepan Tsymbal was called up to the army from his home near Korenovsk, Krasnodar territory. He was sent to military unit 91711 — the 252nd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 3rd MRD in Boguchar, Voronezh region.

He served in the regiment’s material-support company, possibly as a cook. The regiment was deployed to a field encampment on the Pogonovo range for training in early February.

Tsymbal was found dead on February 10. The commanding officer informed his family the next morning. They were told his heart stopped. The Western MD initially and inexplicably reported no signs of violence on Tsymbal’s body. However, the death notice from his regiment even indicated he was the victim of a violent attack.

Stepan Tsymbal's death notice

According to Yuga.ru, the Investigative Department for the Voronezh garrison opened a murder investigation on February 11.

The military returned his body on February 13 but his family wasn’t allowed to view it completely. But they didn’t need to see much to see Stepan was beaten to death.

His stepfather Dmitriy told Yuga.ru:

“They didn’t show us the body fully. We saw his face a little. His mouth was all bloody, as if his teeth had been kicked in. It was also like he had no eyes, gauze was placed on them. And his entire face was wrapped [with gauze] and poured over with some kind of glue. In the temple area, we also saw a hematoma, a dent. And his hands were also very strange. Some kind of black like they hadn’t been washed.”

Dmitriy told the regional news agency that, in regular calls home, Stepan hadn’t complained about military service or mentioned any hazing or abuse.

His body came back without his documents, mobile phone, or the crucifix and glasses he wore, according to his stepfather.

His family said Stepan had no previous heart ailments. He passed through the normal  medical exams prior to entering the service and the doctors had found nothing to keep him out of the army, according to the Kuban edition of Komsomolskaya pravda.

According to KP-Kuban, Stepan’s other relatives said:

“His mouth was bloody, near the temple there was a dent and hematoma. It was like he didn’t have eyes, gauze was on them, and his entire face was simply wound with bandages poured over with some kind of glue. The impression is as if they tried to hide something.”

His hands were reportedly purple in color right up to the wrist.

KP-Kuban reported that it obtained part of an investigative report saying:

“They found Tsymbal in the dishwashing tent, on the floor. He was in a sitting position with legs and arms taped together and stretched out in front. And there was a plastic bag on his head, wrapped around his neck with adhesive tape.”

The news agency’s source said his head was beaten. There was a large abrasion on the back of the head, so it’s possible he died from a closed head injury.

Relatives said they’d heard a lot about his unit, and other guys who died there. So, they won’t let the case be hushed up and want the guilty to be found and punished to the extent of the law.

According to Lenta.ru, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers says two servicemen have already been arrested on suspicion of involvement in his death while four others who found the body are being detained by base security.

It seems likely the law and order situation in Russia’s military has improved over the past five or six years since the armed forces have received greater funding and political attention. But the savage killing of Tsymbal shows it’s still not exactly safe for young Russians to serve in the army.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to gauge how frequently conscripts are dying today because the Kremlin and MOD have made a concerted effort to suppress bad news whenever possible. Their next step will be to lean on Tsymbal’s family or pay them off to stay quiet about what happened to him.

Today’s press said Tsymbal’s parents have created a petition addressed to the MOD, Main Military Prosecutor, and Main Military Investigative Directorate demanding punishment for the unit’s commander and the disbanding of the regiment.

Reports on the condition of the boy’s body have become more graphic and gruesome saying that half his face was gone. It certainly sounds like something more than a murder in the heat of the moment. It seems like someone was trying to send other soldiers a message.

See this old post covering Gazeta.ru’s reporting about this troubled regiment where Stepan Tsymbal served.

Officers reportedly often extorted money from conscripts for the “needs of the unit.” They also used soldiers from the material-support battalion as enforcers to keep other troops in line. The unit canteen was supposedly used as a “mobile trading post” for the financial benefit of officers. Perhaps something akin to this had some part in Tsymbal’s death. But there are likely plenty of men in the unit who know what led to this if they aren’t afraid to talk and are allowed to.

The case of Stepan Tsymbal might be galvanizing like that of Andrey Sychev. At least, it could take considerable effort for the Kremlin and military to quash it.

Return of Neustrashimyy

Russian press reported recently that project 11540 frigate Neustrashimyy (SKR 712) will  rejoin the Baltic Fleet before the end of 2019.

The 26-year-old ship’s extended capital repairs began when it arrived at Yantar in Kaliningrad in early 2014.

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy looking worse for wear some years ago

Neustrashimyy is supposed to begin moored trials in May, underway tests in August, and return to service in November.

Delivery of the refurbished ship has been postponed for various reasons, including difficulties in repairing its Ukrainian gas turbine engines after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014.

That problem has been surmounted reportedly, and Yantar will receive the renovated engines from a Russian manufacturer (probably NPO Saturn) by spring. We’ll see.

The ship suffered a minor fire due to careless welding almost exactly one year ago. That also likely contributed to the delay.

Under a “medium repair” scheduled for completion by December 2016, Yantar is repairing Neustrashimyy’s hull, screws, and shafts. The ship’s water pumps, firefighting, fuel, electrical, and control systems are also being updated. The yard is reassembling equipment and preparing to relaunch the ship at present.

According to Flotprom.ru, the original deadline was pushed to November 2017, and then to November 2019.

Neustrashimyy in drydock

Neustrashimyy in drydock

The 3,800-ton frigate was laid down in 1987 and commissioned in 1993. It has participated in exercises with NATO countries and anti-piracy patrols off Somalia, operated in Russia’s Mediterranean ship group, and conducted many foreign port visits.

Project 11540 stopped at unit 2 Yaroslav Mudryy, which is also part of the Baltic Fleet. Instead of project 11540, the Russian Navy opted to build project 11356 Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates.