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.

Taking Stock of Russian Acquisition

Novyye izvestiya interviewed Ruslan Pukhov last week.  He has some perspectives on Russian military procurement we’ve heard before, and some we haven’t.

NI asked the CAST director if the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Shayrat would hurt Russia’s exports of air defense systems.  He said no, for all the obvious reasons.

More interestingly, Pukhov said air defense equipment typically represents 10-20 percent of Russia’s annual arms exports.  This could rise in coming years, he stated, due to future sales of the S-400 to “China and other countries.”

Ruslan Pukhov

Ruslan Pukhov

Asked how Russian weapons have performed in Syria, Pukhov responded:

“The Syrian campaign has made a good advertisement for Russian arms, particularly for new types of Russian combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-35 and especially Su-34) and helicopters (Mi-28N and Ka-52), but also for precision munitions — cruise missiles and aircraft ordnance.  Therefore it’s possible to expect growing interest from foreign buyers and growing sales in these segments.  The negative side one can draw from the actions of the Russian grouping in Syria is, first and foremost, the insufficient capability of its technical reconnaissance systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles and space systems.  The quantity of precision weapons is still insufficient.  The precision arms themselves in a number of cases require additional development.  There is still a lot of work ahead, but the main thing is that the Syrian campaign has allowed for revealing these deficiencies and partially eliminating them.  Meanwhile the cost of acquiring this priceless experience has been relatively low.”

Of course, the cost is only low if you’re not in the crossfire in Syria.

NI asked Pukhov if Russian weapons are better today or are they still based on old Soviet ones.  He answered:

“There is progress, but a large part of equipment, including what is being produced and bought now, still depends precisely on the Soviet legacy.  The weapons systems of a really new generation (the T-50 fighter, ‘Armata’ tank, new generation armor) remain in development and still haven’t gotten to the serial production stage.  But we have to understand that the creation of new generation armaments in any case involves many years – the cycle is 10-15-20 years from the start of R&D to the real achievement of combat capability in series models in troop units.  Considering that in Russia significant financing of defense and the OPK began only after 2005, and on a really large-scale only after 2010, then you really can’t expect any other result.  If there’s success in financing at the necessary level, then after 2020 the arrival of platforms and systems of a really new generation will begin.”

And how have economic problems and sanctions affected the OPK?

“The crisis still doesn’t directly affect the OPK.  Even with a sharp contraction in federal budget revenue and eight years of economic stagnation, state defense order financing has been preserved at a high level, and it will begin to drop only from 2017.  But not because of economic difficulties, but in connection with saturating the troops with new and modern equipment.  From another side, sometimes the conditions of GOZ price formation turn out so severe for enterprises that it sometimes leads to GOZ contracts being fulfilled at the limit of profitability.”

“The full action of sanctions began to be felt from 2015.  Because the non-supply of a number of components from Ukraine and Western countries already caused a shift in the completion of a number of programs, the most well-known instances are connected with the construction of project 11356 and 22350 frigates, but also project 20385 corvettes, on which Ukrainian gas turbines and German diesels, in turn, were replaced.  In addition, sanctions complicated the purchase of Western-produced equipment by Russian enterprises, and, most importantly, its licensed maintenance. And as practice has shown, analogues from China and other countries don’t always meet the quality standards we need.  By 2018, the import substitution program will allow for covering 80-90% of imported items, and finally, imports will be replaced by 2020.”

More Mobile Strategic Air Defense

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo TASS Valeriy Sharifulin)

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo: TASS / Valeriy Sharifulin)

Izvestiya reports the Russian MOD plans to increase the mobility of its strategic air defenses.  The newly-established 24th Air Defense Brigade is the model. Formed in late 2016, this Abakan-based brigade just completed its first live firings of the S-300PS on the range in Astrakhan.

The brigade deployed 100 pieces of equipment over 4,500 km for practice in repulsing a “surprise mass air attack” by the notional enemy.

According to Izvestiya, new air defense brigades are supposed to be “highly mobile formations, capable of deploying hundreds of kilometers and establishing an insurmountable barrier against aircraft, cruise missiles, and UAVs in a matter of hours.” They will be equipped with S-400 and S-300 SAMs, Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and Nebo-M radars.  The mobile brigades will reportedly protect more territory while saving money.

Russia’s independent air defense regiments have traditionally been dedicated to particular facilities or regions.  They employ tactical maneuverability but only within the confines of a larger positional defense.

Izvestiya quotes former SAM troops commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Gorkov:

“The appearance of the S-300 and S-400 seriously changed the situation.  These SAMs gave air defense high mobility.  New brigades could be deployed on a threat axis not just by their own means of transport, but also by ships or by VTA aircraft.”

Not to mention by rail too.

Gorkov claims the idea for more mobile strategic defense dates to the early 1990s when the S-300 was widely deployed.  He states that the 14th Mobile Air Defense Division, based in Ruza to the west of Moscow, deployed as far as Rzhev, Pskov, Smolensk, and Novgorod before it disbanded.

Abakan is capital of Khakasiya in Western Siberia.  Pretty remote as possible theaters of war go.  Its closest neighbors are Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.  It’s not even on the Transsib, but it connects via Tayshet. 

A VKS Main Staff source says the next mobile air defense brigade will be Tiksi in Russia’s Far North.  Road and rail are, of course, not good options for Tiksi.

A push for more mobile air defenses is logical given the Russian military’s increased emphasis on strategic reinforcement in recent years.

Abakan may be off the beaten track, but it makes some sense because the Central MD is Moscow’s reserve for potential conflicts in the east, west, and south.

Korolev on New Submarines

At today’s launch of Russia’s first proyekt 885M or Yasen-M SSN Kazan, Navy CINC Admiral Vladimir Korolev said the third Yasen-M, Krasnoyarsk, will be launched in 2019.  But he didn’t mention the second, Novosibirsk.

According to RIA Novosti, Korolev also indicated that the sixth Yasen-M (seventh Yasen overall) will be laid down this summer, and will be named Ulyanovsk.

Korolev also said the first modernized proyekt 955A or Borey A SSBN Knyaz Vladimir will be launched this summer.  It will be the fourth Borey overall, and will carry the improved Bulava-M SLBM.

At the launch ceremony for Kazan, the Navy CINC reported that:

“Last year we reached the same number of underway days which existed before the post-Soviet period.  That is more than 3,000 days at sea for Russia’s submarine fleet.  It’s a wonderful indicator.”

While launch is a very significant milestone in submarine production, Kazan still faces a lengthy period of pierside fitting out, factory trials, and state testing.

Handshake and Photo

Never discount the potential significance of a handshake and photo with the supreme commander-in-chief.

On March 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin received Ministry of Defense general and flag officers (along with some from the FSB, FSO, MVD, etc.) in the Kremlin’s Georgiyevskiy Hall.

The meeting is a regular affair where Putin addresses men in uniform elevated to new positions of responsibility.

Putin starts with the MOD three-stars (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin’s greets MOD three-stars (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin started down the row with MOD three-star generals — General-Colonels Sergey Rudskoy, Aleksandr Zhuravlev, and Gennadiy Zibrov.  Rudskoy is Chief of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate.  Zhuravlev commanded Russian forces in Syria in the last half of 2016 while serving as Chief of Staff, First Deputy Commander of the Southern MD.  He’s now a deputy chief of the General Staff. Zibrov heads the Air Force Academy named for Zhukovskiy and Gagarin.

Putin greets General-Lieutenant Zavizon (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin greets General-Lieutenant Zavizon (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Fourth-in-line is General-Lieutenant Mikhail Teplinskiy, the fast-burner replacement for Zhuravlev in the Southern MD.  He’s followed by new LRA Commander General-Lieutenant Sergey Kobylash.  Then General-Lieutenant Aleksey Zavizon who reportedly fought in the Donbas and commands the Central MD’s 41st Army.  Lastly, the MOD’s principal spokesman General-Major Igor Konashenkov who’s in charge of the military’s Information and Mass Communications Department.  He’s been there awhile but the organization was called a directorate until recently.

Putin shakes with Rear-Admiral Yakushev (photo Kremlin.ru)

Putin shakes with Rear-Admiral Yakushev (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Next is Chief of Staff of the Pacific Fleet’s Primorsk Composite Forces Flotilla, Rear-Admiral Vladimir Yakushev.  To his right might be General-Major Denis Lyamin, commander of the Central MD’s new 90th Tank Division.

The full line-up (photo Kremlin.ru)

The full line-up (photo: Kremlin.ru)

After Lyamin is General-Major Tagir Gadzhiyev of the 1st Composite Aviation Division in the Southern MD.

The balance are difficult to identify, excepting the second to last naval officer who is Rear-Admiral Oleg Krivorog of the Black Sea Fleet’s 30th Surface Ship Division.

TVZvezda’s coverage of the ceremony is in the video below (starting at 1:25).

The 8th Combined Arms Army

Izvestiya reports this morning on the formation of a new 8th Combined Arms Army in Russia’s Southern MD.

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

The paper reports the new army’s staff and C3 brigade are standing up in Novocherkassk.  Units will be based in Rostov and Volgograd Oblasts.

The 8th CAA will include the new 150th MRD, also at Novocherkassk, and the 20th MRB in Volgograd.  The establishment of the new army was long rumored in the Russian media, but there was speculation it would be a tank army.

The 8th will be Moscow’s twelfth numbered army, and the third in the Southern MD.  The 49th and 58th armies are based in Stavropol and Vladikavkaz respectively.

The 8th CAA is a major reinforcement in Russia’s “southwestern strategic direction,” and comes against a backdrop of continued fighting between Ukraine and Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The 8th descends from the GPW-era 62nd Army at the Battle of Stalingrad.  It fought to Berlin.  The successor 8th Army occupied East Germany, and returned to the North Caucasus MD in 1992.  A downsized 8th Army Corps disbanded in 1998.

Promotions for Defenders’ Day

In early February, the MOD’s Main Personnel Directorate (GUK) Chief held a special conclave.

A featured guest was Chief of the State Service and Personnel Directorate of the RF President’s Administration, Anton Fedorov.  He and his subordinates maintain President Vladimir Putin’s nomenklatura of general and flag officer appointments in the RF Armed Forces.

Anton Fedorov

The GUK forwards names to fill general and admiral positions.  It recommends candidates for promotion to the “highest officer” (O-7 and above) ranks.  But Mr. Fedorov’s group ultimately vets people and frames decisions on lists that Putin issues.

Professional competence is verified by the GUK.  In the Kremlin, however, they are more concerned about reliability and loyalty to Putin.  No doubt the FSB provides input from its channels in the military, through its headquarters, to Fedorov in the PA.

At the recent GUK assemblage, Fedorov declared there are 730 general and admiral duty posts in the armed forces.  Thirty-eight are vacant, but 15 are in the process of being filled.

So let’s call it a general or admiral for every 1,370 Russian troops (a million authorized).  The U.S. number is 1 per 1,467 (886 for 1,300,000 active personnel).

Moscow reportedly had 1,100 in the “highest officer” ranks early in former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov’s ill-fated tenure.  If memory serves, the number was reduced to 1,300-1,400 from 1,700-1,800 in the early 2000s while the Russian military was still authorized at significantly more than a million men.

Thus endeth the digression….

Below find a close look at the promotion list Putin signed out on the eve of Defenders’ Day 2017.  The updated list of 395 Russian generals and admirals is here.

The media made much of the promotion of officers connected to operations in Syria.

Chief of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate Sergey Rudskoy got his third star. Rudskoy is frequently the MOD’s spokesman on the situation in Syria.  His deputy, Stanislav Gadzhimagomedov, who has been the Russian military representative in talks with the Syrian opposition, got his second star.

Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Aleksandr Zhuravlev became a general-colonel.  He served first as chief of staff for the Russian group of forces in Syria, then as commander in the second half of 2016.

Sergey Kobylash, commander of Russia’s LRA which has bombed Syrian territory, became a general-lieutenant.

Many promotees, however, are connected to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, or serve in the Southern MD and Black Sea Fleet.

One-star rank went to commanders or chiefs of the following:

  • 1st Composite Air Division
  • 30th Surface Ship Division
  • Crimean Naval Base
  • Black Sea Higher Naval School
  • 12th Reserve Command
  • 31st Air Defense Division

41st Combined Arms Army Commander Aleksey Zavizon, who reportedly led Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, became a two-star.

The head of the Russian contingent of ceasefire monitors in Donbas — Andrey Kozlov — became a general-major.

The General Staff’s representative in Normandy format negotiations Yaroslav Moskalik got his first star.

Other Promotions

NTsUO Chief Mikhail Mizintsev got his third star; one of his deputies got his first.

Shoygu got a star for his “special assignments” assistant who previously served with him in MChS.

Airborne Troops got a couple one-star promotions for Vladimir Shamanov’s old military assistant and the VDV’s personnel chief.

The chief and deputy chief of the Military Academy of Aerospace Defense were both promoted, to general-lieutenant and general-major respectively.  The academy just celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Other promotions to one-star rank included the commanders or chiefs of the following:

  • Ground Troops Main Staff
  • Navy Main Staff
  • 4th Combat Employment and Retraining Center, Aerospace Forces
  • 62nd Missile Division, RVSN
  • 90th Tank Division, Central MD