Tag Archives: Chechnya

“Chekist” Matovnikov

On January 22, President Putin appointed General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Matovnikov to be Deputy CINC of the Ground Troops. He had been Polpred in the North Caucasus Federal District since mid-2018 and Commander of Special Operations Forces (SSO) from 2015 to 2018. 

Matovnikov as general-major next to Putin

54-year-old Matovnikov was born in Moscow, the son of a career KGB officer from the 7th Directorate (Surveillance). His father was retired after destroying incriminating KGB documents when the ill-fated August 1991 putsch against Gorbachev collapsed.

In 1986, the younger Matovnikov graduated from the KGB Border Guards Higher Military-Political School in suburban Moscow. At his father’s request, he received a highly desirable posting to the 7th Directorate’s Alfa anti-terrorist group. He served in a motorized Alfa unit operating with Soviet Border Guards reportedly to interdict weapons and drugs smuggled from Afghanistan into Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

Matovnikov served on Gorbachev’s security detail in Washington in 1987 and 1988. He went on to become first deputy chief of the FSB’s Directorate A (Alfa).

He fought in both Chechen wars, including involvement in hostage rescues in Budennovsk in 1995, Dubrovka in 2002, and Beslan in 2004. In Chechnya, he got the nickname “Chekist” (“state security man”).

Matovnikov was in charge of Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov’s security. Kadyrov was assassinated in a 2004 bombing. Matovnikov reportedly got on good terms with Kadyrov’s son Ramzan, the republic’s strongman and possible hitman against those who impugn Mr. Putin.

In 2013, Matovnikov transferred from the FSB to the Ministry of Defense as Deputy Commander, SSO, then Commander in 2015.

In 2018, news outlet Rbc.ru wrote:

Like many Alfa men, Matovnikov then went into a new structure attached to the General Staff — the Special Operations Forces (SSO), which unlike conventional armed forces sub-units could act in covert military operations abroad without the approval of the Council of the Federation. At first Matovnikov became Deputy Commander of the SSO, then headed them after the departure of Aleksey Dyumin in December 2015 for the post of Deputy Defense Minister. Matovnikov built the SSO structure in the image and likeness of Alfa — the equipping and requirements on personnel were the same as for officers in the former service . . . .

Matovnikov, Dyumin, and the SSO were instrumental in Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and likely also in the invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Matovnikov received his Hero of the Russian Federation from Putin in 2017 for his time in Syria. He became a two-star general on February 22, 2018.

In mid-2018, RF President Putin selected Matovnikov to be his Plenipotentiary Representative in the North Caucasus Federal District.

Rbc.ru continues:

. . . in the past he participated in specops in Syria, Africa and Ukrainie, but also parallel to his service in the SSO he was attached to the president [Putin] for special assignments, noted a former colleague of Matovnikov. “In [Matovnikov’s] circle, they talk about him as one of the siloviki close to the President — he regularly met Vladimir Putin at Vnukovo Airport and enjoyed his personal trust. It’s possible they decided to try the combat officer in civilian service [as Polpred], in economic work with the aim of a federal political career as they did with Dyumin in his time,” one Alfa veteran told RBK (Aleksey Dyumin at the beginning of 2016 was appointed Governor of Tula oblast). A source close to the Polpred in the SKFO [North Caucasus Federal District] confirmed for RBK that Matovnikov was an officer attached to the president for special assignments.

Matovnikov in mufti sporting his Hero of the Russian Federation

After just 18 months as Polpred, Putin sent him back to the MOD as Deputy CINC of Ground Troops, replacing 63-year-old General-Colonel Aleksandr Lentsov, who became Adviser to the RF Defense Minister — a familiar sinecure one step closer to retirement.

Matovnikov is married with two young children as well as an adult daughter from his previous marriage.

What do we make of the Mr. Matovnikov?

He’s an older, paler reproduction of Dyumin with differences. He’s seven years older and, though cut from the same KGB cloth, he’s Alfa not FSB-FSO-SBP — or Presidential Security Service — like Dyumin, who was Putin’s personal bodyguard and assistant. Many were quick to claim Putin was grooming Dyumin as his successor.

In fact, Putin is probably having auditions for men like Matovnikov and Dyumin to see if they are fit for bigger things. They are loyal KGB types who share Putin’s mentality. This may say more about Putin.

As Brian Taylor has concluded in his insightful The Code of Putinism, since 2015-2016, Putin has been shifting away from old, long-time colleagues who supported Team Putin for many years toward younger, less independent security service veterans who answer to him only. He may be seeking men willing to protect his freedom and fortune and keep him as president-for-life effectively. They could prevent Putin from becoming a future Ceausescu or Qaddafi.

Dyumin was Deputy Minister of Defense for just weeks before moving to Tula where he’s been governor for about 3-1/2 years. Matovnikov’s stint as Polpred was brief for a region as complex as the North Caucasus. Perhaps his stay with the Ground Troops will be brief too before he moves to another fully political post.

The insertion of a former KGB man and SSO veteran into the Ground Troops makes one think Putin wants dramatic and decisive victories, not just plodding, predictable daily management of preparations for wars Russia isn’t likely to fight. As such, Matovnikov is probably pretty unwelcome where senior Russian Army officers have toiled their entire careers.

But We Make Rockets

Yes, Russia is making rockets now.

Vladimir Putin came to power on the eve of the 21st century promising (among other things) to remake Russian military power.  But progress was slow.  The economy struggled to emerge from the default and devaluation of 1998.  A poor, unready army found itself mired for several years in the Second Chechen War.

Not until after an uneven military performance in the August 2008 five-day war with Georgia — and not until after the 2009 economic crisis, perhaps in 2012 or 2013 — did the funding necessary for significant improvements in combat readiness and larger procurement of weapons and equipment reach the Russian Armed Forces.

Then came war in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and Syria.  Blowback from Syria could make Central Asia or the North Caucasus Russia’s next front. But questions about recent Kremlin bellicosity already bear close to home — on Russia’s domestic political and economic circumstances.

Consider a Gazeta.ru editorial from October 26.

“But we make rockets”

“Can the army and navy replace everything else for citizens”

RS-24 Yars ICBMs on Parade (photo: AP / Ivan Sekretarev)

RS-24 Yars ICBMs on Parade (photo: AP / Ivan Sekretarev)

“Often it’s easier for people to accept growing financial hopelessness to the sound of bold military marches.  Not for the first time in Russian history the army is beginning to replace the nation’s economy, life, general human values, and becoming the new old national idea and practically the only effective state institution.”

“Not everywhere in Russian industry are orders shrinking and demand falling.  There is production that is very much in demand.  In the ‘Tactical Missile Weapons’ corporation, for example, they’ve gone to three shifts of missile production for the Syrian front, a source in the defense-industrial complex has told the publication ‘Kommersant-Vlast.’  Against this backdrop, an article appeared in The Independent newspaper about how in Russia, after the events in Crimea and Syria, the army is again becoming the ‘departure point of Russian ideology’ — that very national idea for which they searched so long and unsuccessfully in post-Perestroika Russia and here now, finally, have found.”

“‘Russia has only two reliable allies — the army and navy.’  These famous words of Emperor Aleksandr III (who, incidentally, went down in history we would say now under the nickname Peacemaker) have once again in our history acquired a literal meaning. Other reliable allies of whom Russia was evidently sure over the last year-and-a-half or two years clearly no longer remain with us.”

“In a time of economic crisis, the temptation among Russian authorities to make the army one of the leading state institutions grows even greater.  The remaining institutions are emasculated or work as badly as ever.  In the end, to do this is sometimes simply useless:  the impoverished voter will say — why are your institutions here, is my life improving?  The expenditures are great, but the effect will be, probably, negative.”

“How much better the army is:  there is discipline, and pay, and achievements, and a plan of development.  The share of military expenditures in the budget is growing, but a cut in its absolute size has affected it to a lesser degree than civilian sectors like education and health care.”

“All hope is now on defense — as in ‘peace time’ we placed hope on oil and gas.”

“The army again is a lovely testing ground for demonstrating one more innovation — import substitution.  Not all Russians can understand why it’s necessary to burn up high quality foreign goods. But hardly anyone would object that Russia didn’t buy any aircraft, tanks or missiles abroad.  The president at a session of the Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation Issues announced that thanks to import substitution the country’s defense industrial enterprises are ‘becoming more independent of foreign component supplies.’”

“In general, we found by experience that we didn’t quite succeed in finding any other nation-binding idea over 25 years of not very consistent attempts to draw close to the Western world.  The simple national idea ‘state for the sake of man’ didn’t take root, including, alas, because man somehow didn’t value it very much; attempts to raise free citizens and form a civic nation, bound by common human values, failed.  There were neither citizens, nor values…”

“Being that there wasn’t demand for a free citizen not only above, but even below.  It is precisely therefore that we don’t have normal trade unions, strong nongovernmental organizations, and independent civil initiatives.  It’s not just the state that doesn’t need ‘all this.’  It’s society too.”

“Therefore one year before State Duma elections there isn’t even opposition in political parties to the openly military-oriented budget.”

“Distinct from this is that America which we love to accuse of aggressiveness, but in which military expenditures and their share in the budget are steadily falling in recent years.  In fact, legislative control over the military budget is one of the main forms of civilian society’s control over the army in the USA.  Though in America there were times when the military tried to decide both for society and for politicians.  Considerable force and time was required to put the military under control, but the States succeeded in this.”

“In Russia the easiest and quickest means of unifying the nation turned out to be the bloodless victory in Crimea and the somewhat bloody events in the Donbass.  The idea of abstract imperial power, and the image of ‘the country rising from its knees’ were substantiated, as the man in the street perceived it, and they were near and comprehensible to him.  Like, we lead a miserable life ourselves (when was it otherwise?), but we are a ‘great power’ again.”

“Polite green people, capable quickly without noise and dust of ‘deciding questions,’ create in the multimillion-person army in front of the television an illusion of their own significance.”

“It’s not only the missile corporation that’s working ‘in three shifts’ now, but also the factory of national pride, based exclusively on military victories.”

“Firstly, we are proud of past victories, in which, besides the live heroes of that war, there is no one alive today who isn’t, in essence, a participant:  St. George’s banners and inscriptions on foreign-made cars ‘To Berlin!,’ ‘Thanks granddad for Victory,’ ‘Descendant of a Victor’ flash at every step.  Secondly, they actively urge us to pride in new military victories.”

“Meanwhile the war in distant Syria works for such military-patriotic PR even better than the war in Ukraine.  And further from the borders, pictures of Russian aircraft bombing terrorists a world away inspire the people more than the sullen ‘militiamen’ of which the masses have had enough already.”

“What’s fashionable in war and militancy also enters official political discourse.  Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu has firmly become the second most popular politician and most successful top-manager in the country.  And the president not without some internal pride calls himself the ‘dove with iron wings,’ telling foreign guests directly at a Valday Club session that he was still in the Leningrad courtyard when he learned to ‘strike first’ if a fight is inevitable.”

“And it’s still necessary to remember:  even a war far from the borders, if it’s protracted, requires not  only military, but also great financial resources.”

“So if the economic collapse in Russia continues, pride in the army still cannot fully make up for people the absence of conditions for a normal life.  But for now — in a situation where the authorities live by tactics and not by strategy, — the army and military mobilization of the nation really look like a national idea, and a panacea for the crisis, and a means of supporting a high rating.”

“Polite green people are already capable of becoming not simply a symbol of the Crimean operation, but a symbol of an entire epoch. But they usually don’t solve all the accumulated social, economic, and human problems of a large country.”

Simmering War

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Not Crimea, the North Caucasus (photo: RIA Novosti)

Russian news agencies marked the 15th anniversary of the Unified Group of Troops (Forces) — OGV(s) or ОГВ(с) — in the North Caucasus on September 23.

The OGV(s) was, and is, the inter-service headquarters established at Khankala, Chechnya to command all Russian “power” ministry (MOD, MVD, FSB) operations at the start of what became the second Chechen war in 1999.

The war that would bring Vladimir Putin to prominence and the presidency, and preoccupy him during his first years in power.

The ITAR-TASS headline proclaimed:  “The OGV in the Caucasus has killed more than 10,000 fighters over 15 years.”

Fighters means insurgents or terrorists from Moscow’s perspective.

That’s a lot.  On average, even through today, over 600 per year, or at least a couple every day.  Earlier this year, a news headline read “Russian MVD has killed more than 350 fighters in 4 months.”

Six Killed in Makhachkala (photo: ITAR-TASS)

The body count isn’t the only metric.

The MVD noted that OGV(s) units have conducted more than 40,000 “special measures,” destroyed 5,000 bases and caches, confiscated 30,000 weapons, and disarmed 80,000 explosive devices.

The Hero of the Russian Federation has been awarded to 93 MVD servicemen in the OGV(s) (including 66 posthumously).  More than 23,000 MVD troops have received orders and medals.

And the disparate North Caucasus insurgency still simmers.

No One to Call (Part II)

Let’s continue our look at the just-completed fall draft before returning to the issue of contract service.

In Nezavisimaya gazeta, Sergey Konovalov counts 220,000 officers and 180,000 contractees at present, then quotes retired general Yuriy Netkachev:

“If we add the number of men called into the troops in the spring and fall of last year (135,900 [sic] and 218,000 lads respectively), then with authorized manning of the army and navy at one million men, undermanning is not less than 15%.  Given such indicators, it doesn’t do to talk about the full combat readiness of the troops.”

With due respect to Netkachev, this adds up to just over 750,000 men in the RF Armed Forces.  That would be 25 percent undermanning against a million-man army. 

Konovalov cites KSMR’s Valentina Melnikova on legal violations in the recent draft.  The fall call-up possibly set a record for rights violations even though it was the smallest post-Soviet draft.  Melnikova claims 6,000 violations were reported — one for every 20 men inducted.  And, according to Konovalov, prosecutorial data seems to support her number.  The main violation was simply drafting guys not fit to serve.  Melnikova believes commissariats did this consciously because it was the only way they could reach even relatively low target numbers.

Konovalov turns to military sociologist Colonel Eduard Rodyukov who worries that, following a precedent set in Chechnya, the Defense Ministry is not inducting men from Dagestan.  Only 121 were inducted against the republic’s plan for 3,320.  And those few entering the army appeared to be Slavs rather than Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, etc.

Rodyukov concludes:

“This is unjust.  In Moscow, to fulfill the call-up plan, they shave everyone for the army – both lame and near-sighted, but in Dagestan and Chechnya potential recruits are sent into the reserve [without serving as conscripts].  A peculiar Slavicization of military collectives is occurring, the structure of which doesn’t correspond to the country’s population.  But the Russian Army is not an imperial army.  It should be international [i.e. interethnic].”

Konovalov believes conscription’s been cut in other “hot” republics of the North Caucasus as well.

Let’s come back to a larger point where we started.  If conscription of Caucasians has been pared for fear of having them in the ranks, overall conscription has been cut in favor of having 425,000 professional volunteers in the army by 2017. 

The Defense Minister recently said he’d go as far as 90 percent contractees and only 10 percent conscripts in the Armed Forces if the budget allowed for it.

Viktor Baranets addresses, in understated fashion, the difficulty of going from about 180,000 contractees today to 425,000:

“But this requires enormous expenditures.  A soldier or contract-sergeant also needs, besides uniforms, weapons, and corresponding social benefits, to be given good housing (and among them there are also many who are married).”

Yes, housing was a huge downfall of the 2003-2007 contract service effort.  So was failure to recruit the right men, and make contract service truly different from being a conscript.

Baranets goes on to suggest G.I. bill-type benefits (privileged VUZ admittance, government hiring preferences, etc.) for Russia’s contractees.

But pay can’t be underestimated as the primary factor in whether the Russian Army can attract contractees this time.

In 2004, a newly-signed contractee might have gotten 10,000 rubles a month.  After accounting for inflation, the Defense Ministry will have to pay at least 20,000 today to give enlisted the same deal. 

General Staff Chief Makarov has talked about minimum pay of 23,000 — not much more than what was offered in 2004 after inflation.  As always, much depends on the supplements and bonuses an individual serviceman receives. 

Contract pay may be better than it was.  But it’s going to be, as Baranets said, an enormous expense.  We’ll have to see if it’s an affordable and sustainable one.