Category Archives: Military Leadership

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.

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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.

Scanning the Promotion List

RF President Vladimir Putin signed out his latest military promotion list on this eve of Defender of the Fatherland Day.

For the MOD, one general-colonel, four general-lieutenants, and 17 general-majors. Only a single rear-admiral (ouch).

A quick scan follows.

Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin — really a civilian and responsible for military-technical cooperation and arms sales — put on his third star.

Aleksandr Fomin

Aleksandr Fomin

The four new general-lieutenants:  Yuriy Korsachev worked in the General Staff’s Central Command Post as an O-6 just before he got his first star . . . Yuriy Lastochkin is Chief of EW . . . Vladimir Trishunkin is Deputy CINC of Aerospace Forces for Material-Technical Support (MTO, i.e. supply) . . . Igor Khristoforov worked in the GS CCP with Korsachev.

Some of the one-stars:

  • Igor Griban is from VTA;
  • Dmitriy Yevmenenko is chief of the higher military-engineering school in Tyumen;
  • Aleksey Kiyashko served in the Baltic Fleet’s material-support directorate in 2013;
  • Vladimir Koposov was Deputy Commander of the Pacific Fleet for MTO in 2014;
  • Sergey Pobirokhin once commanded the 385th Artillery Brigade based at Totskoye;
  • Vitaliy Razgonov is chief of the Novosibirsk higher military command school, known as the home of troop reconnaissance for the Russian Army;
  • Boris Stepa commands the 53rd Air Defense Division on Kamchatka;
  • Aleksandr Khanov is an armored vehicle service type;
  • Ivan Dubik might be Russia’s “naval hero” of the Five-Day War with Georgia in 2008.

Watch for a deeper look later on . . . .

P.S. The National Guard got 3 two-stars and 11 one-stars this go round.

Promotion List

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin signed out his Constitution Day promotion list on December 12. You can view it here.

The 19 MOD promotees included two three-stars, a two-star, and 16 one-stars.

By comparison, Putin’s National Guard got two three-star, seven two-star, and 15 one-star appointments.

For the MOD, newly-minted General-Colonel Khalil Arslanov heads the General Staff’s Main Communications Directorate.

General-Colonel Arslanov wearing two stars

General-Colonel Arslanov wearing two stars

Also granted his third star, Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov commands the Northern Fleet. He was the sole naval officer promoted on this list.

Nikolay Yevmenov as a vice-admiral

Nikolay Yevmenov as a vice-admiral

Airborne Troops deputy commander Vladimir Kochetkov became a general-lieutenant.

The 16 general-majors include the:

  • Head of the Ground Troops’ Combat Training Directorate;
  • Chief of the VDV’s EW Service;
  • Deputy commander of air and air defense forces in the Central MD;
  • Deputy commander of the Southern MD’s 8th CAA;
  • Chief of Naval Aviation for the BSF;
  • Commander of the 4th Kantemir Tank Division;
  • Chief of Operations, Deputy Chief of Staff for Space Troops, Aerospace Forces;
  • Chief of the Central MD’s EW Service;
  • Commander of the Eastern MD’s 303rd Composite Aviation Division;
  • Chief of air and air defense troops for the Eastern MD staff.

There were four new generals for whom no position could be identified at this time.

Other generals and admirals besides those noted above have been added or updated.

The promotion list file now covers about 450 Russian general and flag officers.

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.