Tag Archives: Crimea

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.”

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Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man

Last week KZ ran a piece titled “Fifth Generation Reconnaissance Man.”  Easy to overlook, it turned out to be about the Black Sea Fleet’s new 127th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade based in Sevastopol, Crimea.

The article informs us that the brigade was formed after last year’s invasion.  It has the latest and greatest in weapons and equipment, including mobile EW and ELINT systems and Orlan and Leyer UAVs.  But its men, the article says, are the main thing.

The new brigade is 100 percent contract-manned, according to the article, but it is less than clear on the point.  Is it fully manned and all personnel are contractees or is it less than 100 percent manned but men on-hand are all contractees?  The article offers no other information on the brigade’s TO&E.

KZ notes that the commander and sub-unit commanders have combat experience and medals.  Colonel Aleksandr Beglyakov commands the 127th.  But there’s precious little about him.  What looks like a fragment of an Odnoklassniki profile appears below.

Beglyakov's Odnoklassniki Profile?

Beglyakov’s Odnoklassniki Profile?

If it’s him, he’s young at 37, but not exceptionally so for a Russian O-6.  He attended the Novosibirsk Higher Military Command School — cradle of Russian Army reconnaissance men.  He’s completed his mid-career school — VUNTs SV “Combined Arms Academy of the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”

The brigade’s recon men appear to be organized into groups like GRU Spetsnaz. At least one sergeant came from an independent Spetsnaz regiment in Stavropol. He says we are the “most polite” of all “polite people.” We come quietly, fulfill our mission, and leave quietly, according to him.

The KZ author describes another soldier as a “fifth generation reconnaissance man” — physically strong, equally skilled with weapons and modern digital systems.

This article brings us to the independent reconnaissance brigade, the ORBr — what it is, its origin, and what its future will be.

The first modern Russian Army ORBr, the 100th Independent Reconnaissance Brigade, is based in Mozdok.  It was formed in 2009 under former defense minister Serdyukov and was branded “experimental.”  There have been reports it would disband, but it apparently hasn’t.

One apparently knowledgeable observer shared this description:

“The 100th Experimental Independent Reconnaissance Brigade (Mozdok, North Ossetia) was formed in the summer of 2009 on the basis of the 85th Independent Spetsnaz Detachment [ooSpN] of the 10th Independent Spetsnaz Brigade:”

“command, air-assault battalion, reconnaissance battalion (two reconnaissance companies + a tank company), SP howitzer battalion, SpN detachment, UAV detachment, anti-aircraft missile-artillery battalion, EW company (expanding into an independent ELINT battalion), engineer company, maintenance company, material-technical support company, medical company, in the future its own helicopter regiment.”

“A mixed squadron transferred into the brigade from Budennovsk.  The helicopter sub-unit carries out missions for the ground formation and is operationally subordinate to it.  The squadron provides cover for the brigade’s armored columns, transports supplies, and conducts all types of reconnaissance.”

“The brigade’s command was formed on 1 December 2009.”

It’s a very interesting and unique brigade by Russian Army standards.  It has surprisingly robust combined arms firepower to go along with its reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities.

ORBr roots extend to Soviet times.  But it was different then.  The 25th ORBr in Mongolia had three reconnaissance battalions, a “deep reconnaissance” (SpN??) battalion, and fewer technical intelligence systems.  Its helo squadron had 20 Mi-8s and an Mi-2 for the brigade commander.  Soviet forces in Mongolia also included the 20th ORBr.  Most Russians who served in or comment on these formations are pretty adamant that they reported to the GRU.

How the Third World War Begins

What would happen if the U.S. and some NATO allies decided to intervene in eastern Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with arms or by sending their own troops to the front lines?  Mikhail Khodarenok has tried to answer this question, and provides much-needed tonic for Western observers wowed by the Kremlin’s “surprise” exercises since 2013.  He is a conservative critic of the Russian MOD leadership and post-Soviet military “reforms” up to Sergey Shoygu’s tenure.  

Khodarenok argues against allowing Russian forces to be drawn into an escalating conflict because ill-conceived and continual “optimization” has left them unprepared for a conventional war against the West.

Khodarenok is editor-in-chief of Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer or VPK. He’s a retired colonel, professional air defender, General Staff Academy grad, and former staffer of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was an outstanding military journalist for Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, but by 2003 or 2004, he left for VPK.

Mikhail Khodarenok

Mikhail Khodarenok

His latest for VPK is interesting, and follows in its entirety.

Script for the Third World War

Volunteers from the USA and Western Europe are interfering in the conflict in south-east Ukraine.

One has to repeat yet again:  statements, from time to time voiced by ultraliberal Russian politicians like “the problem has no military solution” and “all wars end in peace,” have no relationship to reality.  Wars end only one way — a crushing defeat for some and brilliant victory for others.  If the phrase “there is no military solution” appears, this means that one of the parties to the conflict simply has no strength for the victorious conclusion of the war.  And if some armed confrontation ends like a draw, it is so perhaps because of the complete exhaustion of military capabilities on both sides.  Of course, there are possible variants with some very minor deviations from this general line.

Begin with the immediate and future tasks of the parties to the conflict in the south-east Ukraine.

For the Kiev leadership the immediate, and future, and enduring goal for the historically foreseeable future is only one thing:  restoration of the territorial integrity of the country by any means, primarily military ones.  The strategic mission is to wipe the armed formations of the south-east from the face of the earth.  Waiting for negotiations, for changes in the constitution of Ukraine in the right way for the unrecognized patches of territories, for federalization of the south-east — all this is from the realm exclusively of suppositions and imaginary games. Carthage (i.e. the separatist south-east) must be destroyed — and this thesis, without any doubt, will be dominant in all Ukrainian foreign and domestic policy.  To hold other views today among the [Maydan] Square elite means immediate political suicide.  Still Kiev doesn’t have the forces and means to solve the problem militarily.  But this doesn’t at all signify the Ukrainian leadership’s refusal of a policy of crushing the south-east by military means.

It’s necessary to say directly that, on the whole, the external and internal political missions of Ukraine in the south-east are clear and logical.

It’s more complicated with the unrecognized south-east.  Everything here is much foggier.  It’s possible to demand self-determination for these territories, but what then?  How can people live on this piece of land if it is practically impossible to guarantee the economic, financial and any other independence for the south-east (or more precisely, two torn off and extremely curvy pieces of Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts)?  Demanding federalization is also theoretically permissible, but official Kiev will never, under any circumstances, grant it.  Return to [Maydan] Square?  But so much blood has already been shed, the scale of destruction of the region’s infrastructure is simply astonishing, and the gulf between the parties to the conflict is so great that this is hardly possible without subsequent pogroms and mass shootings of insurgents by Ukraine’s central government.  In general, a complete zugzwang — what to do is not clear to anyone, and the next move can only worsen the situation.  It seems that the political line of the south-east, in these circumstances, can be only one thing — hiding behind a verbal veil and temporizing.  And then, maybe, something will happen.

In this regard, it doesn’t due to forget one important circumstance.  In predicting the future, futurists of all stripes mainly use the very same method.  From the point of view of a representative of anti-aircraft missile troops, as the author was in the past, —  this is the hypothesis of a rectilinear and uniform motion target.  A significant part of the forecasts is based on this postulate.

But there is the “Black Swan” theory.  Its author — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, wrote about it in the book “The Black Swan:  The Impact of the Highly Improbable. ” The theory considers difficult to predict and rare events that involve significant consequences.

In other words, it is impossible to describe the processes of the real world with only mathematics, employing even the most advanced models.  From a certain point anything and everything can go contrary to predictions, extremely askew.  It seems that the unspoken political line of the south-east — to wait is built on this.  And then it will become apparent.  Is it good or bad — only time will tell.

Today in the south-east of Ukraine a cease-fire regime is in effect.  But all parties to the conflict seem to realize that this is not the end, but rather only a pause before the summer campaign.

We now turn to hypothetical scenarios of the developing situation in the south-east of Ukraine (we emphasize — scenarios exclusively from the realm of hypotheses and assumptions).

How does the war in the south-east present itself from the point of view of military art?  Essentially, two Soviet armies are fighting.  One is a 1991 model (it is the armed forces of Ukraine), the other is a somewhat modernized version of the same Soviet army — better trained in an operational-tactical sense, manned by more competent specialists, and commanded better.  And the armed confrontation is currently playing out solely on the ground — with only the forces of combined arms units and sub-units.  The south-east doesn’t have its own air forces, and Ukraine’s — formerly small — air forces have gradually dwindled to nothing in the course of the conflict.  Practically no serviceable aircraft and trained pilots remain for the [Maydan] Square. Volunteers for the south-east on their TO&E air defense equipment helped the development of such a situation a lot.  Sometimes vacationers in their planes acted fairly quietly and unnoticed for the same purpose.  But from the point of view of military art, the armed confrontation in the south-east is all just a somewhat modernized variant of World War II in its final stage.  Neither this nor that side has identified new weapons and military equipment or new techniques and methods of conducting armed warfare.

As is well-known, volunteer-vacationers are fighting on the side of the south-east. With their TO&E weapons as a rule.  But now suppose such a variant (again, purely hypothetical, why not), that volunteers and vacationers from the USA and Western Europe began to arrive in the ranks of the armed forces of Ukraine, also with their TO&E weapons.

Let’s begin with the air forces.  Suppose F-15, F-16, F-22, A-10, “Panavia Tornado,” E-8A, E-3A began landing on the airfields of Kharkov, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye.  Previous identification markings and side numbers painted over, and marked in their place is the trident and yellow-blue banners of Ukraine.  Prior to this, many flights to Ukrainian airbases delivered fuel and the most modern aviation weapons.

Three CSGs (carrier strike groups) are deployed on the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria which has prostituted itself politically for the past 140 years.  The typical composition of each is one nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, two-three guided missile cruisers, three-four guided missile destroyers, three-four nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Armored and mechanized divisions of volunteers from the West outfitted with “Abrams,” “Leopard,” “Leclerc” tanks, “Marder” and “Bradley” BMPs, modern artillery are unloaded in the area of ​​Mariupol, Pavlograd, Izyum, and Lozove.

In addition, we should make note of the volunteer units and sub-units (also manned by vacationers from the USA and Western Europe), electronic warfare, communications, unmanned aerial vehicles and so on, and so on.  Do not forget also about the volunteer logistics and technical support units, without which modern war is unthinkable.

Now a question.  How long would the armed formations of the south-east hold out if a qualitatively different enemy entered the war, if a hail of modern aviation weapons — anti-bunker bombs, laser- and satellite-guided bombs, air- and sea-based cruise missiles showered down on LNR and DNR formations and units?  If the order-of-battle were attacked by the newest armored combat vehicles and artillery?  And the action of all this military splendor was supported by American intelligence of all types which has not even a close analogue in the world?  And the planes of the volunteers of the West chase after every BMP, gun, and tank of the units and formations of the south-east, separately bomb every trench, firing point, and mortar position taken.  And destroy the target with margins commensurate with the size of the trench itself.

We’ll repeat the question:  how long can the armed formations of the south-east hold out?  A day?  Two?  A week?  The answer is unfortunately:  several hours would be good.

Of course, the elder comrades — the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation — of the volunteers of the south-east can support them.  And precisely at this moment — please get shaved(1) — the Third World War has begun.

Such a version of events is the crystal dream of the current Ukrainian leadership. But Anglo-Saxon blood is too dear to shed for the future happiness of some half-wild Ukrainians.  Therefore, such a version of developing events is still to be assessed as the game of a warmed-over imagination.

And if you still continue to fantasize and try to imagine how the development of such a conflict in the South-West Strategic Direction [YuZSN] might look, if all interested sides take part in it under this or that flag.

We say directly — the success of armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons is obvious in this case.  It certainly will be on the side of the West.  Unfortunately, the modern Russian Army is still less than qualitatively different from its Soviet predecessor of the 1991 model.  And there is not very much of the latest weaponry, meeting the highest demands of the XXI century, in it.

For example, at this time, we do not have a single operational large formation [объединение] of the air forces (which by the way are no longer themselves a service of the Armed Forces), equipped with modern aircraft with supplies of the newest aviation weapons for the conduct of at least 30 days of combat actions.

The Black Sea Fleet today, to our great regret, is a branch of the Central Naval Museum.  On the ships of the BSF it would be possible to study the history of Soviet shipbuilding in the 1960-1970s.

Yes, and combined arms formations and units, if you collected everything that is on the territory of the former SKVO(2), you would get not more than 1.5 army corps (by Western standards).  You clearly couldn’t form a 1st Ukrainian Front from the available set of forces and resources.  There are no operational reserves on the district’s territory.  That is, the formations and units clearly do not have the strength for operational-strategic missions on the YuZSN.

To understand the sharpness of the situation, let’s add just one thing:  if there are four-six specialized EW aircraft on every American carrier, then we don’t have a single similar aircraft in our entire air forces.

One should note still one more very important point — the operational outfitting of theater of military actions in the South-West Strategic Direction hardly meets the tasks of conducting combat actions successfully.  The airfield network, the quantity and quality of roads and railways far from fully meet the demands of pursuing armed confrontation.  It suffices to note that some railroads pass through the territory of Ukraine, and the famous quadrangle in which there are generally no railways lies precisely on the YuZSN.  In a word, the first railroad parallel to the front line goes through Ukraine, and the next — only through Volgograd.  And as is well-known, where the railway ends, and so ends the war.

As for the quartering of formations, units, and sub-units of the RF Armed Forces on the YuZSN, they are located mainly in the dispositions of the Soviet-era North Caucasus Military District.  In those days, this district was deep in the rear with a small set of reduced-strength and cadre units and formations.  The situation in this respect has changed a little since 1991.  But now the neighboring country of the district with the most militant and anti-Russian mood is modern Ukraine.

A fully legitimate question arises:  what did you do the last 20 years?  This period in the life of the Russian Armed Forces awaits its impartial historian. Still one can say the following concisely.  All force in the 1990s and 2000s, maybe, went into continuous organizational-staffing measures(3).  Meaning:  form, then disband the very same, then restore it, disband it again, but incidentally with the aims exclusively of optimizing and improving the organizational structure, zeroize military science and education, cut military academies to the root under the well-meaning pretext of relocating them, scatter valuable cadres in the course of continuous cuts and reformations.  Just two words — “reform” and “optimization” — in their harmful effect on the life of the Armed Forces are comparable, perhaps, only with the consequences of delivering a series of MRAUs (massed missile-air strikes).

Perhaps, if we look at the matter critically, nothing qualitatively new was created (in any case this is debatable).  We have essentially marked time for more than 20 years, while other countries have made a breakthrough in military affairs.  If any positive trend has been noted, then it is only with the arrival of Sergey Shoygu in the Ministry of Defense.

And somebody should be responsible for it — at least in terms of an objective analysis of the situation.  Let’s examine try the defense ministers in recent years – from Pavel Grachev to Anatoliy Serdyukov.

Which of them could be called “a prominent builder of the Armed Forces of modern Russia?”  Or write the line in their performance appraisal:  “A talented military theorist, who made a significant contribution to strengthening the defense power of the state?”  Finally, he “developed, established, introduced, and adopted weapons into the arms inventory?”

Try to include the following lines in their testimonials:

“Extraordinary concentration, inquisitive mind, analytical skills, ability to make correct, forward-looking conclusions;”
“Creative mind and a remarkable memory, ability to quickly grasp a situation, to foresee the development of events;”
“Has a rich combat experience, broad erudition, high operational-strategic training, gave all his strength to the training and education of military personnel, to the development of military science;”
“Distinguished by deep knowledge of matters, persistent daily work, high culture and personal manners;”
“Dedication to affairs, high professionalism, intelligence.”

Having presented a line on the [MOD] leaders noted above, we can say — almost nothing suits, however.  Or its suits, but not much.  In the best case, all the enumerated persons were occupied with only one thing — “merge-unmerge,” and then cut.  But court of history is impartial — no matter how so-and-so puffed out his cheeks or furrowed his eyebrows in the past, it is not at all the generals for special assignments from his inner circle who will write his testimonial for him.

By way of conclusion.  What do Russia’s Armed Forces do in the event of such a development of the conflict?  Threaten to use tactical nuclear weapons?  Meaning:  if you do not stop, we will strike at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, the series of hydroelectric power stations on the Dnieper River in order to create a flood zone and destruction.  But this, as is well-known, is a double-edged sword.  And there are not so many long-range tactical nuclear weapons delivery vehicles.  After all, with our own hands we destroyed the class of missiles most needed for the defense of the country — RSMD(4).

Of course, all the above described and enumerated is no more than speculation, fantasies, and hypotheses.

But there can be only one exit from the Ukrainian crisis — under no circumstances should the Russian Federation Armed Forces be allowed to be dragged into the conflict in the south-east.  Our country, the army and navy, needs to note objectively that we are still not ready for large-scale armed confrontation employing only conventional weapons.  If you sort out all the criteria of the state’s readiness for war (Armed Forces training, preparation of the country’s economy, the preparation of the country’s territory to support the RF Armed Forces, preparing the population for defense), then most of them have very substantial problems.

And it’s necessary to strengthen the country’s defense capability at a forced (downright Bolshevik) tempo, and create Russian Armed Forces which meet the highest standards of modern warfare.  And the first thing is to stop the nervous organizational-staffing(3) delirium.

A post-script to Khodarenok’s opus:  where does he leave us?  

A frozen conflict [a draw — to use his term] is, of course, a win for the Kremlin.  At least through the medium term.  

If the West intervened militarily in the conflict as Khodarenok hypothesizes, both sides would have to make dangerous decisions about working up the conventional escalation ladder.  Moscow might conceivably back away from eastern Ukraine if given a serious bloody nose.  Along the way, the U.S. and EU might also go “nuclear” economically by revoking Russia’s membership in the SWIFT international money transfer system.  

But if, as Khodarenok suggests, the West trumps conventionally, Moscow could consider a game-changing resort to nuclear weapons. With probably only messy endings in store for him anyway, Putin might have fewer compunctions here than the U.S. or NATO.  He would have fewer choices too — escalate again or lose the war (and his grip on power).  Would Russian military men be willing to use nuclear weapons over eastern Ukraine or to save Putin?

There is, of course, an alternative more likely to be chosen by the West:  Cold War-style containment of eastern Ukraine and Russia. It’s a less dangerous, but slow and frustrating process placing much of the burden of nation-state building on pro-Kyiv Ukrainians themselves and on the West’s willingness to finance the emergence of a viable country in contrast to the Russian-backed statelets in the east.  However, this long road is open everywhere to Russian meddling, and frontline NATO allies would require lots of tangible reassurance.

Whatever the policy course, it isn’t clear to this author that the U.S. and the West possess the same fortitude to pursue it that they did in the 1940s and 1950s.  They don’t have the same cohesion in decisionmaking.  Not many are willing to view what happens in Ukraine as a top policy concern.  The U.S. is tired and distracted. Putin’s Kremlin, however, has already defined Ukraine as an immediate and vital interest.


(1) Refers to Alexander the Great having his men shave before battle.
(2) North Caucasus Military District.
(3) A term used in the Russian workplace for reorganizations entailing closure of some entities, establishment of new ones, physical relocations, and personnel transfers and cuts.
(4) Medium and shorter range missiles — covered by the INF Treaty.

Brothers Armed — A Review

Brothers Armed

If you follow the Russian military, you need to pick up Brothers Armed:  Military Aspects of the Crisis in Ukraine from the Moscow-based Centre for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) and published by East View Press.

Brothers Armed is a great summary of events in Russia’s seizure of Crimea last February-March as well as in-depth reference detailing the condition of the Russian and Ukrainian militaries.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s good and, most importantly, it’s sui generis.  It came out quickly and no other book covers these issues.  CAST has successfully achieved “relative objectivity” in its approach, as the introduction by David Glantz notes.

Vasiliy Kashin begins Brothers Armed by examining the history of Crimea’s disputed status.  He concludes:

“. . . in several agreements and treaties . . . Russia clearly recognized Ukraine’s territorial integrity within its existing borders [including control of Crimea]. Until the crisis in 2014, Russia had made no attempts to question Ukraine’s rights to Crimea.”

Putin’s move on Crimea was opportunistic, not premeditated, according to Kashin.

Two chapters then explain how Ukraine neglected its rich inheritance from the Soviet military.  In sheer hardware terms, Ukraine suddenly found itself the second most powerful in Europe, and fourth in the world.  The legacy of Soviet defense industry left it with “more than 700 military design bureaus and manufacturing plants that developed and made almost every type of modern weaponry.”  But without obvious threats and an army too large for its needs and finances, Kyiv focused on downsizing rather than preserving its forces.

Following Russia’s short war with Georgia in 2008, a “snap inspection” of the Ukrainian Army’s combat readiness “yielded very alarming results.”  In 2014, this inability to react to a rapidly emerging threat resulted in the loss of Crimea.

Mikhail Barabanov provides two narratives on Russian military reform — before and after the war with Georgia.  He concludes that, although former Defense Minister Serdyukov was despised by the military, he was “instrumental in laying the foundations of a genuinely modern Russian Army.”  His successor has normalized and stabilized the military in the wake of Serdyukov’s changes, but not reversed their intent.

Barabanov argues Crimea vindicated Russia’s transition from a big war mobilization army to leaner high readiness forces for smaller wars (despite lingering problems in manning them fully).

Alexey Nikolsky’s report on the formation and use of Russia’s two new SOF units in the seizure of Crimea makes for an intriguing chapter.  He argues that the SOF units are elite combat elements, unlike GRU Spetsnaz which are tasked with strategic reconnaissance.

Anton Lavrov’s section on Russia’s military operation in Crimea is the meat of Brothers Armed, and it’s a valuable account of what happened on the ground last winter.  He points out that, although Kyiv’s numbers were superior to Moscow’s, its military forces were psychologically, politically, and technically unready to react to the Russian invasion of Crimea.  At a point, he writes, “. . . the Ukrainian government was forced to desist from active attempts to restore its control of Crimea, so as not to risk a full-blown Russian invasion.”

The final chapter is Vyacheslav Tseluyko’s insightful look at where Ukraine’s military needs to go now that Russia is giving it “a crash course in real warfare.” He concludes Kyiv should focus on its most dangerous threat — a Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine — and adopt a territorial defense strategy to prevent a foreign occupation.  Tseluyko advocates drawing the aggressor into protracted fighting in urban areas, making every Ukrainian soldier an infantryman, and employing anti-armor weapons from light helicopters.

Brothers Armed is an object lesson for countries bordering Russia. They and their armed forces need to be ready immediately to respond to challenges to their sovereignty and territorial integrity from their overweening neighbor to the east.  Anything less could be too late.

The book is smoothly translated and features good photos.  A good map lost in the back might have served better up front.

With Brothers Armed on the shelf, one looks forward to a future book about the war in the Donbass.  CAST publishes routinely about the conflict in its English language journal.

Looking Landward

The newest deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet is former deputy chief of the MOD’s Main Combat Training Directorate (GUBP), General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrovich Petrov.

The media quoted Petrov several times in that post, addressing either last year’s tank biathlon or Rheinmetall’s pullout from the Mulino training center contract.

Moscow apparently isn’t neglecting the landward defense of Crimea. Petrov’s arrival might presage a beefing up of ground units on Russia’s most recently acquired territory.  

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

General-Lieutenant Yuriy Petrov (photo: Mil.ru)

According to Mil.ru and KZ, the 50-year-old Petrov was born in the Dnepropetrovsk oblast (former Ukrainian SSR), and graduated from the Kiev Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1985.

He got a platoon in the old Turkestan MD and, rather immediately, another graduation present — two years in Afghanistan (1986-1988).

On his return from that tour, he commanded a reconnaissance company and served as chief of reconnaissance for a regiment in the Far East MD.

He completed the mid-career Frunze Military Academy in 1994, commanded a battalion, and then served as chief of staff for a division in the Moscow MD.

In 2005, Petrov finished the General Staff Academy and took command of one of the Far East MD’s machine gun-artillery divisions.

Petrov proceeded to head the Siberian MD’s combat training directorate. He was acting chief of the combat training directorate of the Ground Troops, then deputy chief of GUBP.

He wears several combat decorations.

Petrov likely will serve as Chief of Coastal Troops, Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet for Coastal Troops.  If this is the case, he’ll replace General-Major Aleksandr Ostrikov.  Russia’s other fleets have Ground Troops generals in similar positions.

Import Substitution

Russian helicopter engines will begin replacing Ukrainian imports.

OAO Klimov announced on 30 April that it will produce VK-2500 helicopter engines to replace those previously supplied by Ukraine’s Motor Sich.  A Klimov representative said the design bureau will manufacture 300-320 annually, including 250 for the Russian military.

Klimov's VK-2500 Helo Engine

Klimov’s VK-2500 Helo Engine

The announcement follows Ukraine’s late March ban on military exports to Russia following its seizure of Crimea.

FGUP Salyut and other Russian firms will produce VK-2500 compressor components.

The Klimov-designed VK-2500 turboshaft powers new Mi-28, Ka-52, and Mi-35 helicopters, and can replace engines on the Mi-17 and Ka-32.  It is an improved version of Klimov’s TV3-117 with increased power, full authority digital engine control, and a longer service life.  Approximately 90% of Russian helicopters carry Klimov engines.

Klimov aims for complete serial production of the VK-2500 by 2016.  It will be assembled at a new facility in St. Petersburg opening this summer.

Russia laid the groundwork for a domestic production line several years ago.  At that time, 500-600 engines per year was the goal.  Even a smaller number, however, means Ukraine’s embargo may slow helicopter deliveries to Russian forces, but not disrupt them altogether.

Russia’s Regional Power

On 8 April, the HASC explored Russia’s military development and its strategic implications.  The second of two witnesses was the U.S. Joint Staff J5, Vice Admiral Frank Pandolfe.  Here’s the public opening statement to his testimony [emphasis added].

“Chairman McKeon, Ranking Member Smith, and distinguished Committee Members, good morning.  Thank you for this opportunity to update you on Russian military developments.”

“You just heard [from Mr. Chollet] a review of actions taken by the United States, the NATO Alliance, and the international community in response to Russia’s unlawful military intervention in Ukraine. Russia’s seizure of Crimea is a flagrant violation of international law, and it reintroduces into Europe the threat of external aggression.  By doing so, Russia set back decades of international progress.”

“The United States military and the wider NATO Alliance have supported our response to this unwarranted intervention:”

“- We have given support to Ukraine by way of material assistance, defense consultations, and the offer of enhanced training.”

“- We are reassuring our NATO Allies, with whom we have Article V security guarantees, by sending additional air power to the Baltic States and Poland, increasing our surveillance over Poland and Romania, and sending naval ships into the Black Sea.”

“- And we are helping to impose costs on Russia by halting all bilateral military-to-military interaction.  However, as noted by Mr. Chollet, we are keeping open channels for senior leader communications, to help deescalate the crisis.”

“I would now like to widen the focus of my remarks beyond Ukraine, to discuss the evolution of Russian conventional military power, thereby providing context to today’s events.”

“At the height of its military power, the Soviet Union was truly a global competitor.  With millions of people under arms, vast numbers of tanks and planes, a global navy, and an extensive intelligence gathering infrastructure, the Soviet military machine posed a very real and dangerous threat.”

“Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, that arsenal fell into disrepair.  Starved of funding and fragmented, Russian military capabilities rapidly decayed throughout the 1990s.  From the start of his term in office in 2000, President Putin has made military modernization a top priority of the Russian government.  When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, a number of shortcomings were noted in its military performance.  This led the Russian government to further increase investment in its military services.”

“Since 2008, those efforts have had some success. Russian military forces have been streamlined into smaller, more mobile units. Their overall readiness has improved and their most elite units are well trained and equipped.  They now employ a more sophisticated approach to joint warfare.”

“Their military has implemented organizational change, creating regional commands within Russia.  These coordinate and synchronize planning, joint service integration, force movement, intelligence support, and the tactical employment of units.”

“Finally, the Russian military adopted doctrinal change, placing greater emphasis on speed of movement, the use of Special Operations Forces, and information and cyber warfare.  They instituted ‘snap exercises.’  These no-notice drills serve the dual purpose of sharpening military readiness while also inducing strategic uncertainty as to whether they will swiftly transition from training to offensive operations.”

“Today, Russia is a regional power that can project force into nearby states but has very limited global power projection capability.  It has a military of uneven readiness.  While some units are well trained, most are less so. It suffers from corruption and its logistical capabilities are limited.  Aging equipment and infrastructure, fiscal challenges, and demographic and social problems will continue to hamper reform efforts.”

“The United States, in contrast, employs a military of global reach and engagement.  The readiness of our rotationally deployed forces is high and we are working to address readiness shortfalls at home.  And we operate within alliances; the strongest of which is NATO.  Composed of 28 nations, NATO is the most successful military alliance in history.  Should Russia undertake an armed attack against any NATO state, it will find that our commitment to collective defense is immediate and unwavering.”

“Russia’s military objectives are difficult to predict.  But it is clear that Russia is sustaining a significant military force on Ukraine’s eastern border.  This is deeply troubling to all states in the region and beyond, and we are watching Russian military movements very carefully.”

“I spoke with General Breedlove, the Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, last Friday.  He is formulating recommendations for presentation to the North Atlantic Council on April fifteenth.  These recommendations will be aimed at further reassuring our NATO allies.  As part of this effort, he will consider increasing military exercises, forward deploying additional military equipment and personnel, and increasing our naval, air, and ground presence.  He will update members of Congress on those recommendations at the earliest opportunity.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to address your Committee.  I look forward to your questions.”

According to Defense News, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) asked Vice Admiral Pandolfe about reports from “senior U.S. commanders in Europe” that up to 80,000 Russian troops are massed on the border with Ukraine.  Pandolfe demurred, saying he would answer in closed session.

Other than that, we don’t know much about what was said or asked.

Pandolfe’s opening statement is a pretty accurate, albeit brief, description of what’s happened with Russia’s military, its progress and limitations, in recent years.

But it’s a little off-the-mark.  Regional power, not global reach, is the critical issue today.  Ukraine is a prototypical regional crisis. The kind of regional crisis for which Moscow has tried to prepare its armed forces.

In contrast to what Pandolfe said, Russia’s military objectives are pretty easy to understand.  

The ultimate Heartland of geopolitics, Russia sees itself hard-pressed by a Rimland alliance [NATO] expanding deeper into eastern Europe.  Now Moscow feels it’s imperative to push back.  Unfortunately for Ukraine, it is the object of contention.

Russia has marshaled an ominous, overweening force to influence the situation just over the border in Ukraine.  Moscow can let events in Kharkhiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Slovyansk unfold, perhaps with some provocation by intelligence operatives, special forces, and agents of influence.

As Mark Galeotti concludes:  

“The forces massed on the border (ranging from low-end estimates of 40,000 to 80,000 upwards), combined with dire warnings to Kyiv about the risk of ‘civil war’ if it uses force against the paramilitaries represent a formidable political cover, which is deterring the [Ukrainian] government from using the full means at its disposal.  Moscow is a past master of fighting its battles with proxies, agents, allies and dupes.  Whether or not there are many actual Russian soldiers and agents in eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s role is clear and, if anything, increasing.”

So Ukraine is damned if it responds to Russian-orchestrated unrest in the east, and damned if it doesn’t.

And Russia still holds the high card because it can still intervene with more “little green men” — Russian Army forces without insignia.  Or it may just want to keep Ukraine off-balance and unstable.  But events on the ground sometimes create their own dynamic.

Unlike Russia, for America, Ukraine is neither close nor vital.  Washington has already indicated it will not respond with military force, but only with support to its frontline NATO allies, and with MREs, consultations, and training for Kyiv. The Kremlin’s one fear might be that, under certain circumstances, the unpredictable Americans could change their minds about what’s at stake in Ukraine.

Paul Goble captured commentator  Georgiy Mirskiy’s insights last week, noting [emphasis added]:

“Neither [Russian President Vladimir] Putin nor [U.S. President Barack] Obama wants to go into history as the politician who ‘lost’ Ukraine, although [that country] does not belong to either the one or the other.”

“What is going on in Donetsk and Kharkhiv, [Mirskiy] continues, is ‘a Maidan in reverse,’ backed by a powerful neighboring state that is interested in destroying Ukraine.  Local support for these ‘people’s republics’ is not that great, but the Ukrainian authorities are ‘afraid’ to use force lest they ‘provoke the introduction of Russian forces’ as Putin has promised to do.”

“Given this fear, it may also be the case that ‘perhaps in the depth of their souls,’ some in Kyiv may ‘prefer to lose several unstable and hostile eastern oblasts’ in order to ‘keep firm control over a ‘mini-Ukraine,’ including Kyiv, Lviv, and so on.’”

“If that is so, then a repeat of the Crimean scenario is possible, although in any referendum there, support for joining Russia will be 60 percent at most and not 97 percent as it was on the peninsula, [Mirskiy] suggests.  Because Moscow won’t have introduced troops, ‘the West will again swallow everything.’ After all, ‘what is left for it to do?’”

In the strategic and ultimately cynical sense, maybe it wouldn’t be bad to watch while the Russian snake tries to swallow something it probably cannot digest.  This comes from the “worse is better” school of thought.

Trying to absorb Crimea and eastern Ukraine might worsen Russia’s domestic political and economic circumstances.  It will certainly refocus NATO on reinforcing Article V security guarantees (against Russia).  Thus, the Kremlin will have succeeded in creating the threat to which it has constantly pointed.  It will isolate Russia further, and possibly even hasten the end of the Putin era. Some foundering future Russian government may even one day have to relinquish occupied territories to Ukraine as a condition for international acceptance and assistance.