Category Archives: Military Leadership

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.

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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.

VDV Commander Injured

Russia’s Airborne Troops Commander — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — was hurt in a September 15 car crash, but the extent of his injuries is not exactly clear. Russian news media reported the accident, but the MOD has not.

General-Colonel Serdyukov

General-Colonel Serdyukov

The accident occurred near Pechenga in Murmansk Oblast. The video shows Serdyukov’s motorcade speeding up the middle of a two-lane highway led by a police escort before his van gets clipped by a car headed in the opposite direction. The driver of that vehicle reportedly died.

According to most accounts, Serdyukov was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and reported to be in satisfactory condition.

One of Serdyukov’s deputies, General-Major Vladimir Kochetkov, was a passenger in his van along with two other VDV servicemen.

Lenta.ru reports that Serdyukov suffered serious head injuries and fractured vertebrae. It says Kochetkov has multiple fractures. 

Recall that former VDV commander Vladimir Shamanov was injured in a serious late 2010 crash, and spent several months recovering before returning to duty. The retired Shamanov chairs the State Duma’s Defense Committee.

The 55-year-old Serdyukov took over command of the VDV in October 2016. The fast-burning career airborne officer held important field commands in the VDV and Ground Troops before serving as chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD between 2013 and 2016. He is apparently no relation to disgraced former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Army Commanders

Time to update the leadership lineup for Russia’s army-level ground formations. Few commanders remain in place since last look in early 2016.

Russia's twelve ground armies

Russia’s twelve ground armies

The Russian Army expanded from seven to ten ground armies in 2010 by resurrecting or adding the 6th, 49th, and 29th CAAs.  More recently, it went to 12 by standing up the 1st TA and 8th CAA.  The process of filling out these armies with personnel and equipment is likely a challenge for their commanders.

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

1st TA…Bakovka…Western…General-Lieutenant Aleksey Avdeyev.

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

20th CAA…Voronezh…Western…General-Major Aleksandr Peryazev.

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

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

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

2nd CAA…Samara…Central…General-Major Gennadiy Zhidko.

41st CAA…Novosibirsk…Central…General-Major Aleksey Zavizon.

36th CAA…Ulan Ude…Eastern…General-Major Dmitriy Kovalenko.

29th CAA…Chita…Eastern…General-Major Yevgeniy Poplavskiy.

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

5th CAA…Ussuriysk…Eastern…General-Lieutenant Valeriy Asapov.

After his long tenure in the Transbaykal, General-Lieutenant Avdeyev replaced General-Lieutenant Chayko as commander of the new 1st TA.  Chayko is now Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Eastern MD.

General-Major Zhidko was acting commander of the 2nd CAA, but he now appears to be permanent.

General-Major Chebotarev replaced Avdeyev in the 29th CAA.

Only General-Lieutenants Kuzmenko and Sevryukov and General-Major Kovalenko remain where they were 18 months ago.

General-Major Yevgeniy Nikiforov

General-Major Yevgeniy Nikiforov

Numerous former army commanders made the next traditional career step as deputy MD commanders.  Currently, they include General-Lieutenants Tsilko, Romanchuk, Gurulev, Seritskiy, Kaloyev, Solomatin, and Turchenyuk.

Others may have fallen off the promotion track.  General-Colonel Tonkoshkurov got his third star at the General Staff’s Main Organization-Mobilization Directorate (GOMU). He’s likely to remain a long time, but it’s usually a terminal post.  General-Lieutenant Yudin is the chief of the Organization-Mobilization Directorate (OMU) of the Western MD staff. General-Lieutenant Salmin is now reportedly serving in some capacity under Admiral Avakyants in the Pacific Fleet.

The jump from one- to two-star rank is not so difficult for these senior Russian officers. They’ve already held important field commands.  It’s expected that they should make general-lieutenant.

Their third star, however, is not so routine. They have to be tapped, or in line, for more significant responsibilities.  Responsibilities that are strategic or operational-strategic in essence or that concern the defense of the entire country.  

Besides MD commander, some include chief, chief of staff, or deputy chief of an armed service, chief of a major service branch, or chief of an MOD or General Staff main directorate.

Russia Day Promotions

As noted earlier, there were relatively few Russia Day promotions in the MOD, possibly because President Vladimir Putin handed out a lot of new brass to his personal National Guard.

But to review, there was a single three-star promotion, and five two-star promotions for MOD officers.

Eleven men received their first stars including the:

  • Commanders of the 29th and 60th Missile Divisions of the RVSN;
  • Commander of the 136th Motorized Rifle Brigade;
  • Deputy Commander of Space Troops, Aerospace Forces;
  • Chief of Communications, Eastern MD;
  • Chief of the Personnel Directorate, Northern Fleet;
  • Chief of “Resource Support,” Western MD;
  • Director of the Transportation Support Directorate, MOD; and
  • An associate professor in the Strategy Department of MAGS.
General-Major Shulyak as a colonel.JPG

General-Major Shulyak as a colonel

The latter — 48-year-old General-Major Viktor Shulyak — received his Hero of the Russian Federation award as a young Naval Infantry officer in Chechnya in January 1995.  He commanded a Northern Fleet air-assault company in the fight for the Council of Ministers building in central Groznyy.  He personally destroyed five enemy firing positions and was pretty severely wounded.

He went on to command a battalion, serve in a directorate of the General Staff, and graduate from the Military Academy of the General Staff where he remains a faculty member.

Two new general-majors were not identified precisely, but one is probably in the Aerospace Forces and the other might be a deputy chief of staff for the Central MD.

The promotion list now contains names of more than 400 generals and admirals against the 730 the MOD says it has.

Russia Day Promotions Preview

Yesterday Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin issued a decree with a short list of 17 MOD general and flag officer promotions.  Tomorrow those promoted can toast themselves along with the 27th anniversary of the RF’s declaration of state sovereignty.

Space Troops Commander Aleksandr Golovko became a three-star general-colonel.

Colonel-General Aleksandr Golovko wearing his old two-star rank

General-Colonel Aleksandr Golovko wearing his old two-star rank

The Southern MD’s 58th CAA Chief of Staff and First Deputy Commander Sergey Kuzovlev was promoted to general-lieutenant with a second star, as was the Western MD’s 6th CAA Commander Andrey Kuzmenko.  Commander of the Eastern MD’s 11th Air Forces and Air Defense Army Yevgeniy Tuchkov also became a general-lieutenant.  The chiefs of the MOD’s сommunications and troop air defense academies also got their second stars.

Eleven one-star general-major and rear-admiral promotions rounded out the MOD list.

Somewhat surprisingly, Putin’s National Guard got its own ukaz yesterday containing two three-star, six two-star, and four one-star promotions.

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.