Navy Command Swapped Out

At the outset of the May 8 MOD collegium, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu announced a shake up in the Russian Navy’s leadership.

Admiral Vladimir Korolev — Navy CINC for just three years — was retired by a May 3 presidential ukaz. He will be 65 next February 1. Shoygu was gracious saying in 46 years of service Korolev strengthened Russian defense capabilities, returned the fleet to the world’s oceans, and rationalized fulfillment of the shipbuilding program to 2050.

Northern Fleet Commander, Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov, who recently turned 57, replaced Korolev. Yevmenov’s a submariner and Pacific Fleet sailor generally.

Admiral Nikolay Yevmenov

Born April 2, 1962, Yevmenov graduated the Higher Naval School of Submarine Navigation (Leningrad) in 1987. He was assigned to the navigation department of a Soviet Pacific Fleet submarine. He completed his senior service school, the Naval Academy named for Kuznetsov in 1999.

Yevmenov then served as an executive officer before commanding Delta III-class ballistic missile submarines K-490 and K-506 Zelenograd. Following a stint as chief of staff for the Pacific Fleet’s 25th Submarine (SSBN) Division, he graduated the General Staff Academy in 2003.

He returned to the 25th as deputy commander and then commander before becoming chief of staff and commander of the 16th Submarine Squadron (all Pacific Fleet nuclear-powered ballistic missile, cruise missile, and attack subs). In 2012, the 16th was renamed simply Pacific Fleet Submarine Forces.

In September 2012, Yevmenov switched fleets with an appointment as chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Northern Fleet. He became Northern Fleet Commander in April 2016 as a vice-admiral (two-star). He was promoted to admiral in December 2017.

After a very brief stint as Black Sea Fleet commander, Vice-Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev replaces Yevmenov in the Northern Fleet. Moiseyev’s also an SSBN driver, and his career is very similar to Yevmenov’s but far more illustrious.

He wears two Orders of Courage and a Hero of the Russian Federation. One Order for helping to plant the Russian Federation flag in the North Pole seabed in 2007 and the second for the underice inter-fleet transfer of Delta III SSBN K-44 Ryazan to the Pacific Fleet in 2008.

Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev

Moiseyev’s Hero came in early 2011 after he’d commanded the Northern Fleet’s 31st Submarine (SSBN) Division. He was awarded for successfully testing new weapons and conducting a series of missile launches (probably tests of R-29RMU Sineva — SS-N-23A Skiff SLBMs).

He’s just two weeks younger than Yevmenov.

It’s difficult to see how Yevmenov got ahead of Moiseyev, but he did. There must be a logic obvious to the Kremlin in the choice of Yevmenov, it’s just not apparent to outsiders right now.

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Lonely Lama

Russian media covering the armed forces still have moments. Take Ulan-Ude’s Buryaad UnenHat tip to bmpd for covering dambiev who in turn covered this Buryat piece.

Lonely Lama

Buryaad Unen told the story of the Russian military’s only Buddhist “chaplain” — Bair Batomunkuyev. Bair Lama has served six years as “assistant to the commander for work with religious servicemen” (troop priest) in Kyakhta’s 37th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade.

He was a conscript repairing communications in a radar unit in Yakutia from 1988 to 1990. He wasn’t a very observant Buddhist as a youth although he went with his grandmother to pray at holy places and learned mantras from her.

While serving, he nearly froze to death in a snowstorm and is convinced he survived by thinking of his grandmother and repeating prayers she taught him. A search party rescued him.

He finished his military time and went to study at the Buddhist monastery in Ivolginsk, not far from Ulan-Ude. His grandmother was very happy.

In 2003-2004, Bair Lama answered a request from Kyakhta’s border guards detachment for “spiritual support.” In 2012, the MR brigade offered him a position.

He has met other “priests” working in his capacity, mainly Russian Orthodox of course. According to him, there are three Muslims serving as “assistant commanders for work with religious believers” but only one Buddhist. There are, he says, many Buddhist servicemen and they serve well. Buryat-tankers regularly win prizes in the annual Tank Biathalon, according to Bair.

Bair Lama says the situation in his formation is normal and orderly. He reports directly to the brigade commander, but also to the chief of the section for work with religious servicemen in the Eastern MD staff.

The interviewer asks Bair if the army contradicts his religious convictions given Buddhism’s principles of non-violence and compassion for all living things. He responds:

“The security of my family and relatives, our peoples and state is in the balance. As Napoleon Bonaparte said: ‘A people not wishing to feed its own army will soon have to feed a foreign one.'”

“Absolute pacifism is not characteristic of Buddhism for a follower of Buddha’s Teaching will not remain a passive and passionless bystander of evil and violence, but actively opposes it with compassion for all living things. One of the manifestations of this principle closest to us in time is the participation of Buddhists in the Great Patriotic War. Not just lay Buddhists but even ordained monk-lamas who’d received a Buddhist education without reservation took up weapons and went to war. By the same token, Buddhist Teaching doesn’t impose restrictions on carrying out military service in peacetime. The weapon in itself is not terrible and the nature of the action (peaceful or wrathful by necessity) is not important, but the motivation (compassion toward living things), the essence (goodness) and the purpose of the action (the good of living things).”

How many Russian Federation citizens are Buddhist? Hard to say. Maybe as few as 700,000 or as many as 1.5 million. The Kremlin may not even have an accurate estimate.

The largest concentrations are in Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia. Their combined populations are about 1.5 million. Obviously not all their residents are Buddhists, and, similarly, not all Buddhists in the Russian Federation live those regions.

The number 700,000 is likely an underestimate; 1.5 million might be correct or just somewhat inflated.

Recall that former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov started putting clergymen in MOD units to promote better order, discipline, and inter-ethnic accord. They were somewhat intended to replace deputy commanders for “socialization” work — old zampolits — that Serdyukov dismissed to shrink the officer corps.

The first Russian Orthodox priests became “assistant commanders for work with religious believers” in 2010. In 2017, the ROC reported there were 176 priests attached to military units with another 45 in the pipeline.

But only three mullahs? One lama? No rabbis?

From the outset the Russian MOD said clergy would be appointed, probably to brigades and divisions, on a proportional basis. That presupposed (probably unreasonably) comprehensive knowledge of the beliefs of Russian Federation soldiers as a group.

The numbers 3, 1, and 0 are clearly not proportional. In 2009, the MOD figured 90 percent of clergymen in the ranks would be Orthodox priests. But with 20 million Muslims living in the RF, Muslim troops are certainly underserved with just three mullahs in the ranks. The Eastern MD itself said 8 percent of its spring conscripts in 2016 were Muslim and 4 percent Buddhist.

But the MOD’s avoidance of mono-ethnic (and mono-religious) units and its extraterritoriality policy (not allowing draftees to serve in their home regions) have mixed conscripts from many areas and ensured that Russians (and Orthodox Christians) predominate in any military unit. Hence, if there’s any priest, he’s ROC.

Taking it further though, three mullahs and one lama tells us there may be, at least, three predominately Muslim units and one “Buddhist” (Buryat or Tuvan) unit in the RF Armed Forces.

Under Serdyukov, the MOD toyed with forming mono-ethnic units to end frequent conflict between Russian troops and soldiers from Dagestan. Perhaps some majority Muslim units were formed. Which ones are hard to say. But under Sergey Shoygu, the MOD definitely formed a majority Tuvan (likely majority Buddhist) formation — Kyzyl’s 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain), but it doesn’t have its own lama.

Bair Lama’s position tells us the 37th IMRB in Kyakhta is a majority Buryat, majority Buddhist formation. Kalmykia, though majority Buddhist, basically has no MOD units.

It seems safe to conclude the Russian MOD doesn’t have much intention to go further with mono-ethnic or mono-religious units, or to put more clergymen out among the troops except Orthodox priests.

OOB Notes

Here’s a link to a new version of the OOB notes. It has several pages of new info and other changes and corrections. It’s a short version of a longer spreadsheet you can view here.

The longer file has formation honorifics, military unit  (в/ч) numbers, four levels of subordination, some info on weapons and equipment holdings, and bitlinks to good sources.

Defenders’ Day Promotions

RF President Putin signed out his promotion list for Defenders’ Day on February 22. He was generous to the MOD.

Twenty-seven officers were promoted to or within the general and flag ranks: one four-star, two three-star, six two-star, and 18 one-star promotions were handed out.

Putin’s National Guard got few promotions this time.

The big news, already discussed, was Ground Troops CINC Salyukov’s new army general (O-10) rank.

Main Combat Training Directorate Chief Ivan Buvaltsev and Central MD Commander Aleksandr Lapin became general-colonels.

Four new general-lieutenants included new 8th CAA Commander Andrey Sychevoy, 11th Army Corps Commander Yuriy Yarovitskiy, 68th Army Corps Commander Dmitriy Glushenkov, and 45th Air and Air Defense Army Commander Aleksandr Otroshchenko.

Just shy of 50, Sychevoy seems to be a mover. But he also appears to be camera shy, so no photo.

Yarovitskiy in the Baltic Fleet’s 11th Army Corps served in the First Chechen War and was chief of staff, first deputy commander of the 1st Tank Army, according to one bio.

Yuriy Yarovitskiy as a one-star

Yuriy Yarovitskiy as a one-star

New vice-admirals are Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet Sergey Lipilin and a deputy chief of the NTsUO.

Lipilin wearing rear-admiral

Lipilin wearing rear-admiral

New one-stars included the:

  • Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander, 5th CAA;
  • Commander, 4th Air Defense Division;
  • Commander, 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division;
  • Commander, 57th Motorized Rifle Brigade;
  • Chief, Recce Directorate, Central MD;
  • Chief; Organization-Mobilization Directorate (OMU), Eastern MD;
  • Chief, Combat Training Directorate, Southern MD;
  • Chief, EW Service, Eastern MD;
  • Chief, OMU, Northern Fleet;
  • Chief, 9th Directorate, MOD;
  • Deputy Chief, Military Academy of Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense (RKhBZ) Troops.

Headed by newly minted General-Major Sergey Parshin, the MOD’s 9th Directorate is one of the Russian military’s more secretive elements. It designs and builds silos, launch positions, command, control, and communications networks, and underground command posts and bunkers for the RVSN and Russia’s missile defense system.

Parshin as a colonel

Parshin as a colonel

There were seven promotees for which a position couldn’t be identified at this time.

Russia’s “Strategy of Limited Actions”

Army General Valeriy Gerasimov

Saturday Russia’s quasi-governmental Academy of Military Sciences conducted its annual conference on military strategy. General Staff Chief Valeriy Gerasimov made the keynote address, but only drips and drabs of his speech have been publicized thus far.

Russian news agencies focused on his remarks about an alleged Pentagon “Trojan Horse” strategy to weaken and overthrow anti-U.S. regimes around the world.

More interesting, perhaps, were Gerasimov’s comments about a new strategy for foreign intervention and limited war in defense of Russian interests.

The General Staff Chief reportedly told his audience that the experience in Syria had allowed the MOD to distinguish this new, practical area of Russian strategy.

According to Interfaks-AVN, Gerasimov said:

“This is carrying out missions to defend and advance national interests beyond the borders of Russian territory in the framework of a ‘strategy of limited action.'”

“The foundation for implementing this strategy is the creation of self-sufficient troop groupings on the base of formations from one armed service which has high mobility and is capable of making the greatest contribution to carrying out the missions set forth. In Syria such a role was given to the formations of the Aerospace Forces.”

“The most important conditions for implementing this strategy are winning and maintaining information superiority, anticipatory readiness of command and control and comprehensive support systems, and also covert deployment of the necessary grouping.”

He didn’t mention them but Russia’s invasion of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine also qualify as examples of Russia’s new “strategy of limited action,” its new limited war doctrine if you will. Or the deployment of ChVK Vagner mercenaries and MOD trainers in Africa.

Surprise and covert deployment are what Moscow has been best at lately.

But the Russian military is not as ready for expeditionary warfare in the Third World as it was politically, diplomatically, and militarily in the 1970s or 1980s. And a one-service operation abroad goes against the grain of traditional Soviet and Russian military thinking.

With ideology (beyond opposing alleged U.S. domination of the world order) gone from the equation, which Russian interests will be supported by the “strategy of limited actions?” The interests of the Kremlin-sponsored political and financial elite? The Putin regime’s interest in distracting Russia’s attention from its domestic problems?

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”

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.