Category Archives: Military Leadership

Army Commanders

general-major andrey kolotovkin receives the 2nd caa standard

General-Major Andrey Kolotovkin receives the 2nd CAA standard

Seven new Russian combined arms (or tank) army commanders have been appointed since early 2017. Five old ones remain in place.

Eighteen months ago, only three were at post they held 18 months prior to that (i.e. in early 2016).

But two — General-Lieutenants Kuzmenko and Sevryukov — have now served in the same spot for three years or more.

The current rundown of armies, headquarters, MD/OSK, and commanders looks like this:

1st TA…Bakovka…Western…General-Major Sergey Kisel.

6th CAA…Agalatovo…Western…General-Lieutenant Andrey Kuzmenko.

20th CAA…Voronezh…Western…General-Major Andrey Ivanayev.

8th CAA…Novocherkassk…Southern…General-Lieutenant Sergey Kuzovlev.

49th CAA…Stavropol…Southern…General-Lieutenant Sergey Sevryukov.

58th CAA…Vladikavkaz…Southern…General-Lieutenant Yevgeniy Nikiforov.

2nd CAA…Samara…Central…General-Major Andrey Kolotovkin.

41st CAA…Novosibirsk…Central…General-Major Yakov Rezantsev.

36th CAA…Ulan Ude…Eastern…General-Major Mikhail Nosulev.

29th CAA…Chita…Eastern…General-Major Roman Berdnikov.

35th CAA…Belogorsk…Eastern…General-Major Sergey Chebotarev.

5th CAA…Ussuriysk…Eastern…General-Major Oleg Tsekov.

Kisel replaced General-Lieutenant Avdeyev who went to head the Combined Arms Academy. Ivanayev took the place of General-Major Peryazev who moved to the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate. 

There’s been considerable churn in the 2nd CAA. In early 2017, General-Major Zhidko was its commander. In less than two years, he served as chief of staff, first deputy commander for the Russian group of forces in Syria, deputy chief of the General Staff, and Commander of the Eastern MD.

General-Major Rustam Muradov replaced the meteoric Zhidko before being replaced himself by General-Major Kolotovkin. Muradov is now a deputy commander of the Southern MD.

General-Lieutenant Zavizon was relieved by Rezantsev. Zavizon is probably in Syria, or, less likely but possibly, even eastern Ukraine.

Followed by Nosulev, General-Major Kovalenko went to the unusual post of deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet for ground and coastal troops.

General-Major Poplavskiy became a deputy commander of the Central MD when Berdnikov replaced him.

Tsekov took over the 5th CAA after General-Lieutenant Asapov died in a mortar attack in Syria in 2017.

general-lieutenant asapov's grave

General-Lieutenant Asapov’s grave

An observer has noted a flag from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic on Asapov’s grave. According to some, he commanded the DNR’s “1st Army Corps” at one point. He reportedly also saw combat in Chechnya and Abkhazia as well.

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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?

Latest Promotions

RF President Vladimir Putin signed out his latest promotion list on December 12, 2018. For the MOD, it included two new three-stars, 10 two-stars, and 11 one-stars.

Against 23 MOD promotees, the National Guard had 13 (1 three-star, 3 two-stars, and 9 one-stars).

Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander of the Central MD Yevgeniy Ustinov became a general-colonel.

yevgeniy ustinov wearing two stars

Ustinov served as a conscript in 1979-1980 before becoming a career Airborne Troops officer. He earned combat experience in his two years in Afghanistan serving as a deputy battalion commander.

After mid-career assignments and graduating MAGS, he served briefly as commander of the 106th Airborne Division in 2007. In 2009, he became deputy commander of the former Leningrad MD, and then commanded its 6th CAA.

He became deputy commander of the Central MD in 2013. He was TDY in Syria during 2016-2017 when he participated in the second operation to reclaim Palmyra. He was one of the leading contenders to replace Vladimir Shamanov as VDV commander in 2016.

He was passed over when younger General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Lapin was brought in from the Eastern MD to command the Central MD in 2017.

Ustinov has been acting MD commander since October so Lapin is likely commanding Russian forces in Syria now. But what about when Lapin returns? A two-star with a three-star first deputy? Lapin is likely to get his third star in February before he returns to the Central MD.

VDV generals who’ve traded blue for green uniforms may experience jealousy and resentment from career Ground Troops colleagues. Ustinov could be the victim of some of this.

Also getting his third star is Baltic Fleet Commander Admiral Aleksandr Nosatov who got his current post when his predecessor was dismissed for deficiencies in combat training and for distorted reports about the state of his command.

The two-star promotions include:

  • Chief of the command center of the Main Command of Ground Troops;
  • Commander of the RVSN’s 27th Missile Army;
  • Chief of Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense (RKhBZ) Troops;
  • Commander of the 58th CAA;
  • Chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Northern Fleet;
  • Chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet;
  • A senior air forces officer serving as a deputy chief of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate;
  • A duty general from the National Defense Command and Control Center;
  • Deputy commander for material-technical support, Northern Fleet;
  • Deputy chief of the material-technical support directorate, Aerospace Forces.

The one-stars include:

  • Chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Primorsk Flotilla;
  • Commander of the RVSN’s 7th Missile Division;
  • Commander of the 32nd Air Defense Division;
  • Commander of the 76th Air Defense Division;
  • Commander of the 8th Special Designation Aviation Division;
  • Deputy chief of the Military-Academy of Communications;
  • Chief of the Military-Orchestra Service.

Four new general-majors could not be identified in a post at present.

Future NGSh on the Horizon?

Has a future Chief of the General Staff (NGSh or НГШ) appeared on the Russian military leadership horizon? Is it Aleksandr Zhuravlev?

RF President Vladimir Putin appointed General-Colonel Zhuravlev (zhu-rav-LYOV) Commander of the Western MD sometime prior to November 10. For more than a year, he’s been a rapidly rising star of the Russian Army.

Zhuravlev shaking hands with Putin in 2017

Zhuravlev shaking hands with Putin in 2017

Zhuravlev replaced General-Colonel Andrey Kartapolov who became Deputy Minister of Defense and Chief of the Main Military-Political Directorate of the RF Armed Forces back in mid-summer.

Putin made General-Colonel Zhuravlev a Hero of the Russian Federation for commanding Russian forces in Syria in 2017 (he was also previously chief of staff in Syria). He served a stint as a deputy chief of the General Staff. He also briefly commanded the Eastern MD and led its troops during Vostok-2018. Those “strategic maneuvers” likely delayed his appointment to the Western MD.

Born in Tyumen oblast on December 2, 1965, Zhuravlev’s not quite 53. He graduated from the Chelyabinsk Higher Tank Command School in 1986. He served in the USSR’s Central Group of Forces (Czechoslovakia) for about eight years before returning to mid-career training at the Military Academy of Armored Troops.

In 1996, he was posted to the Far Eastern MD where he was a tank regiment and motorized rifle division commander.

He completed his senior training at the Military Academy of the General Staff in 2008. Upon graduation, he became Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the 58th CAA in the North Caucasus (now Southern) MD.

In 2010, Putin appointed him to command the 2nd CAA in the Volga-Ural (now Central) MD. He became Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Central MD in early 2015. That posting led to Zhuravlev’s duty in Syria. The Central MD has been responsible for Russian operations in Syria.

Zhuravlev was chief of staff for Russia’s forces from the start. He commanded them during the second half of 2016 and for most of 2018. He basically never got settled in the Eastern MD before being moved to the Western.

General-Colonel Zhuravlev looks like he’s checked all boxes to become Chief of the General Staff at some point. A Hero of the Russian Federation . . . command of forces in combat . . . command of MDs . . . chief of staff assignments in Syria, Central MD, 58th CAA. Perhaps all he needs to spend a couple years actually commanding the Western MD.

But what of the current NGSh Army General Valeriy Gerasimov? He just turned 63. By statute, he can serve until he’s 65, but there are cases where general officers serve beyond established limits. A lot could depend on how long Putin intends for Sergey Shoygu to be Minister of Defense. Shoygu picked Gerasimov right away to replace his predecessor’s NGSh — Nikolay Makarov — in 2012. It’s hard to say when Gerasimov might go.

The current list of Russian three-star officers has less than 20 men. General-Colonel Sergey Surovikin is Zhuravlev’s most obvious competition. But is he a stronger candidate now that he’s getting the unusual chance to command Russia’s air forces, or was he shunted aside?

Among the others, at least five are specialists lacking experience commanding large-scale ground forces. Two are career staff officers without recent command experience. About six are so close in age to Gerasimov that they don’t really make sense.

Soon to be 57, Airborne Troops Commander Andrey Serdyukov is a possibility but he never commanded an MD. He was, however, Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Southern MD, and slated to command in Syria in late 2017 when a serious car accident derailed that plan. Andrey Kartapolov seems sidelined with Russia’s resurrected political officers, but he’s only 55, so it might be early to count him out. Similarly, Aleksandr Dvornikov is 57, was the first commander of Russia’s troops in Syria, is a Hero of the Russian Federation, and currently commands the Southern MD.

There are younger rising stars but, as general-lieutenants, most haven’t yet held a large command. But two are new MD commanders — Aleksandr Lapin in the Central and now Gennadiy Zhidko in the Eastern. At 53, Zhidko was a chief of staff in Syria, served a year as a deputy chief of the General Staff, and is a Hero of the RF. Lapin and Zhidko will probably get their third stars in December.

From what we can tell externally, it doesn’t appear NGSh Valeriy Gerasimov is going anywhere soon. But a change in the MOD’s top uniformed officer will probably happen overnight and take us by surprise. When it does, General-Colonel Zhuravlev might be best positioned to succeed him.

Promotion List

President Vladimir Putin issued his latest general and flag officer promotion list on June 11 for Russian Federation Day.

The MOD promotees included six two-stars (5 general-lieutenants and a vice-admiral) and 17 one-stars (14 general-majors and three rear-admirals).

Putin’s rebranded National Guard (ex-MVD Internal Troops) got three two-stars and 8 one-stars.

General-Lieutenant Zhidko wearing his previous rank

General-Lieutenant Zhidko wearing his previous rank

The MOD promotions included:

  • General-Lieutenant Gennadiy Zhidko, now a deputy chief of the General Staff. He served not long ago as chief of staff for the Russian group of forces in Syria. He got his first star in early 2016.
  • General-Lieutenant Yuriy Grekhov, deputy commander of Air and Missile Defense Troops of VKS.
  • General-Lieutenant Igor Krasin, deputy commander of the Southern MD’s 8th CAA. He got his first star exactly three years prior to this one.
  • Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov, chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet. He became a one-star three and a half years ago. He’s just 45.
Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov

Vice-Admiral Igor Osipov

Also among the promotees are the chief of the General Staff’s topographic directorate, deputy chief of staff of the Eastern MD, and commanders of the 41st and 44th Air Defense Divisions, and Novorossiysk Naval Base. Others include the deputy commander for logistics of the Group of Forces and Troops in the North-East (Kamchatka), and personnel chiefs for the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

As usual, several military educators were promoted; notably the chief of the MOD’s Military University received his second star.

Five promotees could not be identified in a specific billet at present.

GRU Deputies

Deputy (or First Deputy?) Chief of the GRU Vice-Admiral Igor Olegovich Kostyukov surfaced to give a speech on Asian regional security at the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security (April 4-5).

Habitually fearing to say intelligence, most Russian media attributed him to a “main directorate of the RF Armed Forces General Staff.”

His speech boiled down to an anti-American diatribe against U.S. policy and alliances in Asia. There’s a Mil.ru wrapup as well as a transcript on the MCIS site.

Kostyukov criticized not just the U.S. but the Trump administration specifically for using any means, including military ones, to preserve its hegemony in international affairs, and expand its foreign trade and control of world markets.

He sounded quite the Soviet ideologist, or perhaps the ideology hasn’t changed. Does the U.S. really control world markets now?

The GRU admiral said recent U.S. policy documents don’t hesitate to declare that America will rely more on military power to stem international trends it doesn’t like. Its penchant for seeking “peace through strength” leads to military conflict, and:

“This contradicts the views of many states, including the Russian Federation, which will not accept diktat and are for a just world order, equal rights and partnership between countries, the collective search for solutions to ensure security and preserve peace.”

“The Russian Federation is convinced that the only effective means of ensuring regional security is political dialogue and taking each other’s interest into account.”

One supposes Russian actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria don’t count. They must have come from a different page of the Kremlin playbook.

Still, there’s no doubt his views resonated with some countries willing to attend MCIS.

But the true intent here is to catch up on the GRU leadership lineup.

The MOD refers to Vice-Admiral Kostyukov as a deputy to GRU Chief General-Colonel Igor Valentinovich Korobov. But Russian press sources often report him as a first deputy.

It’s interesting that the MOD trotted Kostyukov out. The U.S. has sanctioned him for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine and for interference in America’s electoral process. He was a military attaché to Greece as an O-6 in the early 2000s. Otherwise he’s little known. His name didn’t pop as a contender before General-Colonel Korobov became GRU Chief. It’s not even clear when Kostyukov appeared in the GRU leadership.

A similarly sanctioned Russian officer, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Stepanovich Alekseyev, reportedly became a First Deputy Chief of the GRU in 2011. [Only in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation has it been common to have two or three first deputies of this or that.] Commissioned as a VDV officer, Alekseyev served as chief of intelligence for the old Moscow and Far East Military Districts before coming to headquarters to lead the 14th (Spetsnaz) Directorate, according to Moskovskiy komsomolets.

Neither Kostyukov nor Alekseyev was really known prior to U.S. sanctions in late 2016. See Vedomosti for reference.

They weren’t part of the equation as possible successors to the late General-Colonel Sergun in January 2016. At the time, only Korobov, and deputy chiefs Vyacheslav Viktorovich Kondrashov (a general-lieutenant and deputy since 2011) Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov (rank unclear and a deputy since 2015), and Igor Viktorovich Lelin (a general-lieutenant and deputy since 2014) seemed to be contenders.

Information on these three can be found in this old post.

This source notes that Gizunov headed the “operational group” that successfully identified the “Anonymous International” or “Shaltay-Boltay” hackers, including two FSB computer security experts, who stole and published embarrassing documents and emails from Russian government officials. Gizunov’s often listed just as general. The lack of a specific rank raises some questions about his exact status.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s unlikely all GRU deputies have been identified above. 

We have an assortment of deputies and first deputies including officers who served in legal GRU residencies abroad or in troop reconnaissance and Spetsnaz or in cryptography and information security. It seems we’re missing that first deputy for strategic agent intelligence about whom nothing is known publicly. That general who personally controls the operations of the GRU’s illegal residencies and most important agents in foreign countries.

The last three GRU chiefs — Korobov, Sergun, and Shlyakhturov — each served in that capacity. Another turnover is never far away. Korobov looks tired and old, and he’ll turn 62 on August 3.

Promotion List

A more detailed look at the MOD’s Defender’s Day promotees . . . .

General-Colonel Aleksandr Fomin is in charge of the MOD’s Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation (GU MVS) and the Directorate for Monitoring Treaty Fulfillment (National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center). He was director of FSVTS before coming to the MOD.

General-Lieutenant Lastochkin is Chief of Electronic Warfare for the RF Armed Forces. General-Lieutenant Trishunkin is Deputy CINC of the VKS for Material-Technical Support (MTO). General-Lieutenant Khristoforov is or was a duty general in the RF NTsUO.

Vitaliy Razgonov is chief of the MOD's school for training troop recon officers

Vitaliy Razgonov, chief of the troop recon officer commissioning school

Among the general-majors:

  • Oleg Vladimirovskiy is a deputy chief of the NTsUO.
  • Igor Griban is a deputy commander of VTA.
  • Aleksey Ivanovskiy commands the 93rd Air Defense Division (Vladivostok).
  • Boris Stepa commands the 53rd Air Defense Division (Yelizovo).
  • Andrey Vinogradov is Chief of Engineering Troops, Eastern MD.
  • Vladimir Koposov is Deputy Commander of the Pacific Fleet for MTO.
  • Aleksey Kiyashko is chief of staff of MTO for the Northern Fleet.
  • Dmitriy Yevmenenko is Chief, Tyumen Higher Military-Engineering Command School.
  • Vitaliy Razgonov is Chief, Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School.
  • Boris Novikov is a deputy chief of the Military Academy of Troop Air Defense.
  • Sergey Yegorov is a deputy chief of the Mikhaylovskiy Military Artillery Academy.

The sole flag officer promotee — Rear-Admiral Ivan Dubik — is known as the naval hero of Russia’s five-day war with Georgia in August 2008. He was a captain third rank (LCDR) in command of the BSF’s Mirazh (Nanuchka III-class) missile corvette. It apparently sank a Georgian patrol boat with an SS-N-9 / Siren ASCM. His current posting is unclear.

In all, eight promotees could not be identified in a particular billet at present.