Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.

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Makarov’s Press-Conference (Part III)

Army General Makarov (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskiy)

Still plumbing General Staff Chief Makarov’s Monday press-conference . . .

Makarov indicated Russia’s Israeli-made UAVs will be used in the Tsentr-2011 exercise.  According to Krasnaya zvezda, he once again worked Vega over for wasting years and money without meeting the military’s requirements, forcing it to turn to Israel to obtain unmanned aircraft.

According to Interfaks, the General Staff Chief asserted Russia won’t buy anything but PGMs for its combat aircraft:

“The purchase of conventional [unguided] means has stopped.  We are buying only highly-accurate means.”

“Western countries conduct military operations almost without ground forces.  Aircraft operate outside the air defense zone and sustain minimal losses.”

Izvestiya noted, however, replacing Russia’s dumb bombs with smart weapons won’t be cheap.  Tens of thousands of rubles versus millions.  But one of the paper’s interlocutors concluded:

“The Defense Ministry believes there’s money for buying them, contracts for the first deliveries of new munitions have already been concluded.”

He estimates they will comprise perhaps half of Russia’s aviation weapons inventory by 2020.

Izvestiya quoted Ruslan Pukhov to the effect that guided ASMs made up only 1 percent of Russia’s stockpile in the five-day war with Georgia, and Russian aircraft had to brave Georgia’s air defenses on most missions, losing four Su-25, two Su-24, and a Tu-22M3.  He added, however, that a Su-34 employed an anti-radar Kh-31P to destroy a radar in Gori.

Lenta.ru recalled General-Lieutenant Igor Sadofyev’s late 2010 comments about plans for a radical increase in PGMs and UAVs in the Air Forces by 2020.  You can refresh your memory here.

Some military commentators and news outlets managed to tie together Makarov’s comments on Arab revolutions, Central Asian exercises, snipers, and sniper rifles in interesting, but not always accurate, ways.

KZ summarized Makarov pretty simply as saying the armed conflicts in Arab countries were difficult to predict, and similar events can’t be ruled out in Central Asia.  In its replay of his remarks, he said:

“. . . we should be ready for everything, therefore we are working on this in the exercises.”

So, Moscow’s pretty obviously looking at the possible repetition of a Libyan or Syrian scenario somewhere in Central Asia . . . no surprise there . . . makes sense.

Komsomolskaya pravda said:

“Our military isn’t hiding the fact that current exercises are directly linked to the probable export of military aggression from Afghanistan into the Central Asian republics after NATO troops withdraw from there.”

It cites Makarov:

“[The exercises] envision developing variants for localizing armed conflicts on the territory of these countries.”

That doesn’t really sound Libyan or Syrian, does it?  It’s not internal.  It’s good old external spillover.  Oh well, as long as it’s “localized” on someone else’s territory, and doesn’t cross Russia’s borders.

ITAR-TASS’s version of Makarov got people more spun up:

“The world situation is complex, quickly changing, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East.  It was difficult to forecast what happened in a number of countries of this region, events developed with great speed.  Now no one can say what will happen next.  But this is a signal for all states.  We military men need to be prepared for the worst scenarios.”

This led a few outlets to take the next step on their own, i.e. a repeat of the Arab scenario inside Russia.

You can read likely exaggerations of what Makarov really said in Gazeta.ru or Rbcdaily.ru.  In its version, the latter claimed Makarov didn’t exclude internal unrest following the Arab example in Russia, and the army has to be ready for the worst case scenario of political developments inside the country.

Pouring gas on the fire it lit, Rbcdaily introduced the sniper issue here.

Of course, snipers are great for urban warfare or urban unrest.  Rbcdaily’s Defense Ministry source says Makarov plans to put independent sniper platoons in every brigade.  They’ll be armed with British rifles, of course.  And the snipers themselves will have to be long-term professionals – contractees, so that’ll have to wait until the middle of next year.

Igor Korotchenko tells Rbcdaily:

“A sniper is a piece of work, he can’t be trained in a year, therefore they must absolutely be professional contractees.  We can’t count on conscript soldiers here, like in the old days when there were enough gifted guys who learned to fire the SVD well among the conscripts.”

KZ didn’t mention Makarov talking about snipers.

Just to finish this off, Makarov’s Syrian comments weren’t construed or misconstrued as much.  KZ said simply that he said Russia is not planning a military presence in Syria, nor the introduction of extra security measures at its material-technical support base in Tartus.

ITAR-TASS put it this way:

“This base remains in our hands.  Besides it, our advisors work in Syria.  That’s enough.  We don’t intend to adopt any preventative measures.  . . . we have to watch closely those forces opposing the government.  There are legal demands, and there are opposition demands which, in our view, need to be ignored because they are illegal.”

In Memory of Soldiers-Internationalists

Departing Afghanistan

OK, “internationalist-soldiers” is less awkward.  “Internationalist” was the CPSU’s way of describing Soviet advisors and troops abroad assisting or fighting on behalf of various regimes during the Cold War.

Tuesday’s Moskovskaya pravda had a very interesting news-essay by Natalya Pokrovskaya on the 22nd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.  It’s entitled “The Newest History.  The Soldier Doesn’t Pick the War.” 

The completion of the Afghan withdrawal on February 15, 1989 has the same resonance for Russians as April 30, 1975 for Americans:  it represents the collapse of a crusade conducted in the context of a global ideological and military confrontation called the Cold War.  And as Pokrovskaya implies, whether sent by Leonid Brezhnev or Lyndon Johnson, Soviet and American soldiers didn’t choose the conflicts they fought in.

Pokrovskaya reports that, though long celebrated, Tuesday marked the first time Russia officially celebrated the Day of Memory of Internationalist-Soldiers:

“For too long, the Fatherland didn’t want to recognize those who defended its interests in far-away countries, fulfilling their internationalist duty.”

She notes, in 2002, the federal law on veterans was changed and participants in local wars and conflicts received the status of combat veterans.  And then late last year the law on military memorial dates was amended, and 15 February is now the Day of Memory of Russian Citizens Who Fulfilled Their Service Duty Beyond the Boundaries of the Fatherland.

Pokrovskaya says Russians typically associate “internationalist-soldier” only with those who fought in Afghanistan, but, in fact, after 1945, Soviet officers and soldiers shed their blood in the interests of their Homeland in 18 wars in 14 countries.  She includes:

  • Algeria (1962-1964).
  • Egypt (October 1962-March 1963, June 1967, 1968, March 1969-July 1972, October 1973-February 1975).
  • Yemen (October 1962-March 1963, November 1967-December 1969).
  • Vietnam (1961-1974).
  • Syria (June 1967, March-July 1970, September-November 1972, October 1973).
  • Angola (November 1975-November 1979).
  • Mozambique (1967-1969, November 1975-November 1979, March 1984-April 1987).
  • Ethiopia (December 1977-November 1979).
  • Afghanistan (April 1978-February 1989).
  • Cambodia (April-December 1970).
  • Bangladesh (1972-1973).
  • Laos (January 1960-December 1963, August 1964-November 1968, November 1969-December 1970).
  • Syria and Lebanon (June 1982). 

Soviet participation in these wars was generally a closely guarded secret, but the Afghan war was too burdensome to keep secret.  More than half a million Soviet troops passed through Afghanistan, and more than 14,000 died in nine years of fighting.

Pokrovskaya describes the end – the withdrawal of the 40th Army over the Friendship Bridge from Hairaton to Termez, five Border Guard groups providing security for the departing column, the weary-faced General-Lieutenant Boris Gromov.

She recalls bloodletting after the Soviet withdrawal [again, not unlike Vietnam], a soldier’s memories of his first time in battle, and the life of Soviet Army convoy drivers.

But Pokrovskaya saves her best for the end:

“But back Home there was sketchy news of voyenkomaty and burials which, with a few exceptions, all regions of a huge country got – a little less, others – more.  But the information vacuum didn’t allow a chance for drawing a conclusion, for citizens of a big country to realize the essence of what was happening with their sons beyond the bounds of the Fatherland.  The total ban on the truth worked impeccably during practically all ‘foreign’ campaigns.”

She thinks people began to learn about the war about four years after it began, mainly via veterans, from “Afgantsy.”  About them today, she says:

“Each of them who, in peacetime, endured the hardships and privations of war for the sake of their native state’s interests, also lives every day with the memories and pain of his combat past.  They say that the war ends on the day when the last soldier who returned from it dies.”

Pokrovskaya says the Soviet internationalists, who are now generally between 40 and 50 with families and kids, understand how thin the border between war and peace, between senseless cruelty and a peacekeeping mission is.

One hero from the Afghan war tells Pokrovskaya a story about last Victory Day when he gathered with close buddies and sang some Afghan songs with them.  He said suddenly a bunch of skinheads jumped from the bushes.  They said, “Old men we respect you!  Let’s drink, you are heroes, you killed the ‘black ones’!”

The reader can substitute whatever racist term he or she chooses for чёрные –  n*****, wog, kaffir, etc.  Again not different from the unfortunate American experience in dehumanizing enemies as slopes or gooks.

Pokrovskaya’s war hero goes on to say he was knocked unconscious in battle in 1986:

“Guys, a Tajik and an Uzbek, dragged me more than ten kilometers to a chopper.  I owe them my life!  And these ones who’ve never seen a battle, but after hearing every idea about racial supremacy, try to cozy up to me?!  We weren’t restrained to put it mildly . . . .  We conked them on their heads and sent them home to mama and papa . . . to learn their lessons.  History, for example.  They don’t even know how many Heroes of the Soviet Union we have who aren’t Slavs.  Georgians, Chechens, Tatars, Uzbeks . . . .”

 Ms. Pokrovskaya sums it all up:

 “Can it be that the state was silent for nothing, didn’t remember for so long those who honorably fulfilled their duty to the Homeland for nothing?  And is today’s gift of memory which we are giving the present-day children of the internationalist-soldiers really to teach the most recent history of a country now split by the contradictions of inter-ethnic discord?”

Yes, a grunt’s a grunt.  And the grunts and their loved ones often ask what they’re fighting for.  Or did they die for nothing.

Afghan War Memorial in Chistopol

6 Boys from Chistopol

28 Guys from Petrozavodsk

27 More

Dollar’s Inevitable Collapse Threatens Russia

Segodnia.ru recently publicized a report entitled Armed Forces:  Year 2010, prepared by the Center for Strategic Assessments and Forecasts (TsSOiP or ЦСОиП).  It interviewed one of the report’s authors – retired Colonel and Doctor of Technical Sciences, Aleksandr Fomin – about the state of Russia’s military and threats to Russia.

How does one characterize Colonel Fomin?  In this interview, his thoughts range from a little far right to far left / neo-Marxist.  Yet he sounds like President Medvedev in 2009 calling for a new world financial order to break the dollar’s hold on the international economy.  But that resemblance disappears once he starts excoriating Russia’s elite — co-conspirator in U.S. domination of Russia.

He generally argues the dollar’s inevitable collapse will lead to conflict or war, for which Russia is poorly prepared.  His arguments will appeal to some, but they represent a somewhat simplistic view of international economics and finance.  The rest is a short geopolitical treatise we’ve heard many times about how Russia arrived in its current condition.

Take heart, however, the analytical report is more interesting and original, but it’s 40-odd pages, so some patience on your part will be required.

By way of foretaste, on with Fomin’s interview . . .

Asked simply what’s going on in the Russian Army, Fomin answers:

“There’s a myth that the incredible militarization of the country and rebirth of its military might almost to the level of the Soviet Union has happened in recent years.  This doesn’t correspond to reality – in reality, as the analysis shows, the Russian Armed Forces have degraded.”  

“If we look at the trend of general financing of the Armed Forces for the last 10 years , adjusted for inflation, then we get as a true expression of the financing volume are 4% increases per annum on average.  At such a growth rate, it’s possible only to offset depreciation, but not guarantee the development of the armaments system.  Now recall corruption, and you find that in reality the Armed Forces didn’t develop, but degraded.”

“Today, in the spirit of political correctness, it’s believed that Russia’s main military enemy is international terrorism. They’re ashamed to identify the U.S., NATO, and China as the real potential enemies.  But if we call things by their names, then today Russia is inferior to these probable enemies in the size of its Armed Forces by 20 times in the West and 35 times in the East.”

We’ll have to read his full report to figure out how he came up with these numbers. 

Fomin goes on to say that Russia’s nuclear weapons won’t save it either, since Moscow’s elite keep its money, and educates its children, in the West.  He concludes flatly:

“It is very probable that Russian nuclear weapons will never be employed.”

Next Fomin constructs his scenarios for future wars and threats to Russia:

“In the coming decades, and possibly, years the U.S. and EU’s problems with China will inevitably sharpen, the cause of them is the struggle for energy resources.  Iran, Pakistan and . . . Russia will be drawn into this confrontation.  They will start to use our country as a buffer in the military resolution of the China problem.”

The interviewer asks Fomin what threatens Russia externally, what geopolitical positions has it lost, which ones does it still hold?

“The main threat not just to Russia, but also the world as a whole comes from the virtual world financial system, based on the American dollar, which for a long time already hasn’t been supported by real assets and is held up only by U.S. military might, the potential of which allows them to oppose everyone else in the world.  But sooner or later this system will collapse, for internal reasons.  But however the collapse occurs, its agony (possibly the current financial crisis is the beginning of this agony) could plunge the world into the Third World War.”

“As already said above, today Russia is practically undefended.  Its political leadership, like the appanage princes of Rus in the 12th -13th centuries, are trying to hold off threats  by means of multibillion tribute payments allegedly into international reserves.  However, in Russia the easily accessible oil, could soon be gone:  according to expert evaluations, 30% of wells are already unprofitable.  Then Russia will simply be of no interest to the rest of the world . . . .”

“If we talk about Russia’s lost geopolitical positions, then of course – this is NATO’s expansion to the East, the reinforced U.S. role to Russia’s south (Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Georgia).  It’s possible to add the real threat of losing the Far East and Siberia to this.  They [NATO and U.S.] managed to spoil [Russia’s] relations with Ukraine, Belorussia, and Iran.”

Asked about the threat that Russia is becoming ensnared in U.S. “anti-Iran” policy, Fomin responds:

“. . . the U.S., economy of which is based on proliferating the dollar throughout the world and managing oil prices, has a very painful relationship to [Iran’s] nuclear energy development – to oil’s energy competitiveness.  Especially in the Near East.  In its relationship with Iran, Russia turns out to be hostage to its own financial system:  if the country holds its reserves in other countries’ hard currency, then it can’t oppose them on their main positions in the military-political sphere.  Some disagreements are possible, but there can’t be a lengthy tendency toward the complication of relations – in the case of a sharp worsening it would be easy to block hard currency accounts.”

“And, Russia for 20 years already has been unable to conduct an independent foreign policy, since it is tightly integrated into the world economic system dominated by the U.S.”

“Russia risks losing the remains of its authority among Muslim countries, after abrogating its earlier agreed supply of defensive weapons (in the first place, S-300 surface-to-air missile systems) to Iran.” 

Asked again about threats, Fomin says:

“External threats have been discussed above.  To this it’s possible to add that, as a result of the actions of the financial authorities of the G20 countries, the fundamental bases of the current crisis haven’t been eliminated.  Because of the fact that some paper (toxic assets) has been traded for others (newly printed dollars, euros, and pounds), the situation hasn’t changed principally.  The disease has been driven inside and its symptoms are still appearing to a lesser degree.  But it definitely will crawl outside again.  Therefore, the financial-economic crises will continue further.  Sooner or later the American dollar unsupported by real assets, as a world currency, must collapse.  Several types of dollar exist already now — for internal and external demand.  The Americans are trying to do everything possible meanwhile to ‘save face.’  Provoking situations to create the objective appearance of a reason for the collapse of the dollar are possible:  a terrorist attack on the U.S., war in the Near East, aggravation of the situation in the Far East.  A new world war which will be catastrophic for Russia as an extreme case.”

“Now about internal threats.  For clarity, in every case, we are distinguishing two understandings:  country and state.  It’s possible to love your country while being critical toward the state, which imagines itself as society’s management apparatus.”

“If we talk about the country as a whole, then the main internal threats are well-known:  complex demographic situation, a lopsided well-developed raw materials economy, low labor productivity, conditioned by the low wage level of labor, proliferation of narcotics, brain drain abroad, degradation of science, culture, education, health care, pensions, national defense, law and order, agricultural economy, neglected transportation and ecological problems, corruption.  In the coming decade, the aggravation of energy problems, connected with the exhaustion of easily accessible supplies of Russian oil.”

“But there is still one more serious problem which is the source of all the rest.  This is the multibillion outflow of capital from Russia, including into so-called international reserves (it’s simpler to say into the financial systems of Western countries).  It bleeds the entire economy, and doesn’t allow for moving off a dead stop in solving the majority of urgent problems.  If there were no capital outflow, many internal Russian threats would be eliminated in some time.”

Fomin goes on to argue that current capital outflow (legal and otherwise) is more burdensome and damaging to Russia’s economy than tribute paid to the Mongols centuries ago.  He says international reserves accumulated in 2010 could have plugged the gap in Russia’s pension fund.

Fomin now turns to internal threats to the state.  Number one is the populace’s increased protest activity.  He says the average Russian understands clearly that the state exists not to improve his welfare, but only the quality of life of 1 percent of Russians, without, of course, provoking large-scale protests from the other 99 percent. 

Among other threats, he cites hypertrophic centralization and underdeveloped local government, inflation caused by capital outflow, low wages, and unemployment all leading back to protest activity.

Fomin notes that Russia dropped to 154th (from 146th) on TI’s international corruption index this year.

He observes that the Russian government failed the test of August’s forest fires, causing a mortality spike equal to the number of men lost by the USSR in Afghanistan.  He calls Prime Minister Putin’s web cameras for monitoring the rebuilding of housing a symptom of the level of Russia’s corruption and ungovernability.

Fomin goes on to label major internal problems — education, health care, agriculture, housing, national defense, culture, science, ecology — the first four he notes are ‘national projects.’  Agriculture he puts on the level of military security in importance.  But rather than develop it, the country’s elite chooses to buy food abroad with oil and gas profits.  Agricultural imports support the livelihood of many middlemen in the process.

Fomin has one last assessment of Russia’s current elite class:

“At present, Russian state authorities and the so-called ‘elite’ view the country as a private firm working solely to get profits and the sooner, the better.  Profit is the main goal of the private firm.  It’s not for the realization of long-term goals.  Its main mission:  collect capital, send money abroad, make itself comfortable, and invest the money in a profitable business.”