Tag Archives: Konstantin Sidenko

Their Man in Pyongyang

Admiral Sidenko

Eastern MD Commander, Admiral Konstantin Sidenko suddenly became the Kremlin’s man in Pyongyang yesterday.  His visit to North Korea was kept tightly wrapped until his departure.

Sidenko will visit the DPRK from August 22-26, while North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in Russia’s Far East to meet President Medvedev.

Moscow’s once close military relationship with the DPRK declined to practically zero over the past 20 years, hence the surprise of yesterday’s news.  Meanwhile, Russia cultivated military-to-military ties with the rest of northeast Asia — China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea — leaving its old ally in the cold.  Until yesterday.

The Defense Ministry’s press release says Admiral Sidenko will meet command representatives from the Korean People’s Army, and consult on questions of renewing and further developing military and naval cooperation, possibly conducting Russian-Korean humanitarian exercises, and mutual ship visits between the RF and DPRK navies.

Additionally, according to the press release, the sides will discuss the future of cooperation between their Ground Troops, the possibility of conducting joint exercises and training for naval SAR, and also the issue of providing assistance to civilians during natural disasters.

The Russian media has written little thus far on what it means to have a military delegation visit the North Korean capital.  However, AP asked Aleksandr Golts for comments, and this is how the wire service summarized them:

“Military expert Alexander Golts said North Korea’s goal in inviting the Russian military could be to assuage fears of instability as Russia is considering building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea.  The pipeline is expected to be one of the main topics of Kim and Medvedev’s talks.”

“Golts said it was highly unlikely Russia would renew arms sales to North Korea, which would not be in its interests as a participant in the six-party talks.  He also noted the low level of the Russian delegation, which is led by the commander of Russia’s eastern military district.”

One might suppose it’s equally possible the North Koreans wanted the Russian military to visit Pyongyang as part of its quid pro quo for considering a gas pipeline over its territory to South Korea.

Arms sales seem unlikely, but probably because Moscow’s no longer in the game of providing free military aid. 

Admiral Sidenko is a lower level visitor, but it’s traditional for Moscow to send proximate regional commanders on such visits.  MD commanders can be precursors to General Staff Chiefs and Defense Ministers, and higher-profile military relations generally.

It’s almost impossible to know when the DPRK is involved, but this first interaction in nearly ten years automatically means something’s afoot.  The participants themselves probably don’t know where a bit of diplomatic, economic, and military activity will lead.

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Galkin Promoted

A thing rare in recent times was announced today . . . the promotion of a general officer.  In this case, Southern MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Galkin picked up his third star. 

President Medvedev’s decree on General-Colonel Galkin was dated June 11, according to RIA Novosti.

Large, well-publicized general officer promotion ceremonies used to be the norm, but no longer. 

Recall one of Defense Minister Serdyukov’s objectives was turning the “bloated egg” of the officer corps into a pyramid.  As part of this, he planned to trim 1,100 generals to 900. 

Of course, Serdyukov had to walk back part of his decision on cutting officers this year, but generally it’s clear that lots of O-6s now occupy billets once held by one-stars.  Army commanders routinely two-stars in the past now wear only one.  And MD commanders who typically wore three, have been wearing only two . . . at least until now. 

Galkin joins Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin at the three-star rank. 

Galkin’s promotion shows the team has to be rewarded for doing the heavy lifting of establishing the “new profile.”  Three-star rank also extends his statutory retirement to 60. 

Central MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Chirkin and Eastern MD Commander, Vice-Admiral Konstantin Sidenko are both older than Galkin.  They are likely serving on extensions right now, and might be better candidates for retirement than promotion.  But another star can’t be ruled out.  In Chirkin’s case, the recent arsenal explosions in his AOR won’t help him.

Aleksandr Viktorovich Galkin is especially strongly linked to General Staff Chief, Army General Nikolay Makarov through his service in the former Siberian MD in the 2000s.  Bakhin and Chirkin are also “Siberians” with ties to Makarov.

Some details on Galkin:  He was born March 22, 1958 in Ordzhonikidze (now Vladikavkaz), North-Ossetian ASSR.  He graduated the Ordzhonikidze Higher Combined Arms Command School in 1979, and served in motorized rifle command posts up to chief of staff and deputy commander of a battalion in the GSFG.  He was a battalion commander in the Far East MD.  In 1990, he completed the Frunze Military Academy, and served as a motorized rifle regiment commander in the Transcaucasus, and chief of staff and deputy commander of a motorized rifle division in the Far East MD.  On completing the General Staff Academy in 2003, he served as deputy commander of the 41st Combined Arms Army (Novosibirsk), and chief of staff and first deputy commander of the 36th Combined Arms Army (Borzya).  In 2006-2007, he commanded the 41st.  In 2008, Galkin became deputy commander, then chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Siberian MD.  In early 2010, he became commander of the North Caucasus MD, and the renamed Southern MD early this year.

Medvedev in Solnechnogorsk

President Medvedev (photo: Izvestiya / Yekaterina Shtukina)

Thursday President Dmitriy Medvedev made his most recent foray among the troops, and expressed what sounds something like a defense of his somewhat embattled Defense Minister, and his military reforms.

At Solnechnogorsk’s Center for Retraining and Improving Rifleman Qualifications, the President decorated some officers.  According to Kremlin.ru, he said:

“Our army is changing now.  And despite the fact that all changes are difficult, they are necessary. Because we understand:  if we can’t make our armed forces modern and effective, more combat capable, better armed, if officers receive pay that doesn’t motivate them to work properly, then we won’t have a proper defense.  Therefore, everything now being done is directed at creating modern and effective armed forces.  There are both problems and good decisions here, I am following them personally as Supreme CINC and I intend to continue to do so.”

He also congratulated General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin and Admiral Konstantin Sidenko after appointing them to be permanent commanders of the new Western and Eastern MDs respectively.

At the center, Medvedev inspected the school where Russia’s snipers are trained, and inspected the weapons they use.  The school has practically every type of infantry weapon, including NATO ones.

Izvestiya and Kommersant reported that officers there still venerate the Kalashnikov’s reliability and simplicity, but lament its ergonomics and low single shot density.  A new Kalashnikov will begin testing next year, and Izvestiya imagines the officers told the President what requirements for the new weapon will be, since today’s Russian Army can afford to buy the best.  Kommersant and RIA Novosti both noted that Kalashnikov lags behind Western manufacturers, so this all sounded a little like a rerun of recent domestic production vs. foreign procurement debates.

Medvedev visited the nearby military town of Timonovo, and viewed newly built apartment blocks for Space Troops officers.  Officers already in their apartments told Medvedev they are happy with the quality of the construction.  The President also met several dozen residents, families, and military retirees.  Some of the latter who served at Baykonur but received permanent apartments in Moscow Oblast complained of losing their higher pension ‘coefficient’ when they returned to Russia, and Medvedev promised to look into this.

He talked with representatives of the management company contracted to maintain these buildings for the Defense Ministry.  They said residents complain mostly about poor drinking water, and Governor Boris Gromov said this was because of old pipes that he promised to replace.  Medvedev gave Timonovo a positive evaluation, calling it: 

“A good town, normal level of support.”

This was Medvedev’s first trip to see the troops in a while, and he seems like he generally doesn’t go too often or too far to observe them.  He watched the naval portion of Vostok-2010 in July, and visited Alabino in May.

Creating ‘New Profile’ Army Not Easy in Far East

A variety of press reports indicate establishing a ‘new profile’ army in the Far East is a difficult and increasingly protracted process.

On 7 September, ITAR-TASS said General Staff Chief, Army General Nikolay Makarov was in Chita to resolve a number of army problems.  The press service noted Makarov was accompanied by new Eastern Military District (MD) Commander, Vice-Admiral Konstantin Sidenko.

Specifically, Makarov was in eastern Siberia (now part of the Eastern MD) working on ‘military organizational development [строительство]’ – a Russian euphemism for TO&E changes and force restructuring – and development of base military towns and their social infrastructure.  In plain English, the General Staff Chief was in the Transbaykal sticks sorting out which units go into this or that brigade, or get disbanded, and how to provide housing and a modicum of other basic services for their soldiers, officers, and families.

But Makarov and Sidenko may have worse problems further east.

On 8 September, ITAR-TASS published a small, but significant report claiming that Khabarovsk Kray’s military garrisons and towns are not ready for winter.

Preparation for heating season in the majority of military buildings in Khabarovsk Kray is breaking down, according to the Kray’s emergency situations commission.  The poor state of preparation of communal infrastructure (i.e. boilers, coal supplies, steam pipes, etc.) and apartment blocks in Lazo, Bikin, and Vanino Rayons is alarming.

A Kray official said, “. . . supplies of winter fuel haven’t been established, boiler equipment hasn’t been repaired, facilities don’t have personnel.”  In Vanino, workers repairing a major boiler received layoff notices.  Days before the start of heating season, several boilers have been completely dismantled and there are no supplies of coal, according to the news agency.

 The emergency situations commission noted that:

“The Defense Ministry has begun transferring housing-communal servicing functions for its garrisons to private organizations, but this process has bogged down.”

The military’s Housing Management Directorate (KEU) representatives in the Far East didn’t deny the problems, but blamed them on a catastrophic lack of financing.  The military’s indebtedness to Far East communal services providers over the first 7 months of the year is 181.6 million rubles, and Khabarovsk Kray accounts for more than 88 million of this amount.

The first deputy chairman of the Khabarovsk Kray government has asked military prosecutors to intervene and force the army to prepare the region’s military towns and villages adequately and forestall emergency situations this winter.

All this comes on top of reports of similar problems last fall.  

Half of Russia’s 85 new army brigades had to move units and construct new barracks, housing, and other essential infrastructure for them, and this was proving especially difficult in the Far East. 

Almost a year ago, Vladivostok’s largest newspaper Zolotoy rog reported that officers in two newly organized brigades in the Far East were in danger of being stranded in ‘open fields,’ or field conditions, because they lacked materials and funding to prepare their garrisons.  However, the deputy commander of 5th Combined Arms Army assured the media that barracks and other buildings were being repaired for brigades at Barabash and Sibirtsevo.

Zolotoy rog reported that one battalion commander took out a private loan to repair barracks for his men.  Some officers who arrived at Barabash left after seeing the condition of their new garrison, and the brigade also had trouble keeping battalion commanders for the same reason.  The brigades reportedly turned to Primorskiy Kray’s governor for help.

So what are we to make of all this?

First, having Makarov travel out east to straighten up a mess is something of a no-confidence vote in new Eastern MD Commander Sidenko.  It’s a particularly inauspicious start since many eyes are on Sidenko to see how he performs as the first naval officer to lead this major ground-oriented command.

Second, Khabarovsk Kray had some pretty stark criticism for Defense Minister Serdyukov’s policy of privatizing logistics support functions for the army.  What might work in the new Western or Southern MDs may not work well in the remote reaches of the Eastern MD.

Third, this early warning of problems may be an attempt to prevent another ‘Steppe’ garrison crisis in Transbaykal this winter.  And the problems are not confined to active military garrisons.  Lots of remote former garrisons – with real living retirees – are caught in limbo between military and civilian municipal services.  Pereyaslavka’s problems last winter are just one case of this.  Pereyaslavka happens to be the administrative center of Lazo Rayon, cited this year as the scene of potential problems this winter.

So while the Defense Ministry and media focus almost exclusively on the attractive leading edge of the army’s ‘new profile,’ it pays to remember that Russian military reform has a large, messy trailing edge that’s found in places like Lazo, Bikin, Vanino, Barabash, Sibirtsevo, and Pereyaslavka.

Vice-Admiral Chirkov and the Pacific Fleet

Vice-Admiral Chirkov

Baltic Fleet Commander, Vice-Admiral Viktor Chirkov is apparently being tapped to replace Vice-Admiral Konstantin Sidenko in the Pacific Fleet, according to Russian press agencies and a Kommersant source in the Navy Main Staff.  

Sidenko will command the new Eastern Military District and Combined Strategic Command (OSK) East.  Chirkov will be replaced in the Baltic Fleet by his chief of staff, Rear-Admiral Sergey Farkov.  Kommersant’s source calls these changes a ‘normal rotation.’ 

Gzt.ru’s source says the Pacific Fleet is expecting the Chirkov announcement ‘any minute,’ but drawing up the papers, including the President’s decree on the appointment, is ongoing. 

Viktor Viktorovich Chirkov is a surface warfare officer with Pacific Fleet roots.  He was born on 8 September 1959 in Alma-Ata, capital of the former Kazakh SSR.  In 1982, he graduated from the Vladivostok Higher Naval School and became head of the mine-torpedo department on old Riga-class corvette Lun in the Pacific Fleet.  He served as assistant commander of a corvette, then executive officer of Kotlin-class destroyer Vozbuzhdennyy.  

In 1986-1987, Chirkov completed Higher Special Officers’ Classes in Leningrad, and became commander of the infamous Krivak-class frigate Storozhevoy.  Under a mutinous crew, this Soviet Baltic Fleet unit tried, unsuccessfully, to defect in 1975.  Later it transferred to the Pacific Fleet. 

From 1990 to 1993, Chirkov commanded Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Spirodonov.  He was deputy chief of staff for an ASW ship division, deputy division commander, and commander of an ASW ship division during 1993-1998.  In 1997, he completed the Kuznetsov Naval Academy as a correspondence student.  

After graduating from the Military Academy of the General Staff in 2000, Chirkov served for five years as chief of staff, first deputy commander of Troops and Forces in the North-East on Kamchatka.  In the first years of this assignment, he served under Vice-Admiral Sidenko.  

In 2005-2007, he commanded the Primorskiy Mixed Forces Flotilla.  For the next two years, he was chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Baltic Fleet, and became its commander in September 2009. 

Chirkov is married with two sons. 

A Pacific Fleet staff source told Gzt.ru Chirkov is happily anticipated since he’s an old friend and ‘not an outsider.’  Another calls him a wise and honorable officer who knows his business. 

Vitaliy Shlykov talked to Gzt.ru about the Pacific Fleet’s growing importance: 

“In the Baltic there’s nothing to do, everyone’s friends, allies.  But the Pacific Ocean is the future, it’s necessary to turn all attention there.  And we don’t have enemies there, so there’s time to strengthen this fleet before there’s a confrontation between the U.S. and China.” 

“Of course, given this state of affairs, the significance of the fleet is growing sharply in comparison with Russia’s other fleets.” 

NVO’s Viktor Litovkin notes that Chirkin will be first to command the Pacific Fleet in its new condition of subordination to OSK East.  He thinks the new commander has multiple problems to solve, including obtaining new ships, dismantling old nuclear submarines, and building housing for servicemen.  Chirkin will also have to grapple with getting contract sailors, rather than conscripts, to man his afloat forces for long deployments.

Interim OSK Commanders Named

Late Thursday Interfaks learned that Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov signed an order naming acting commanders of Russia’s four new military districts, or operational-strategic commands (OSKs).

Volga-Ural MD Commander, General-Colonel Arkadiy Bakhin will be the interim commander of the new Western MD.  Siberian MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Chirkin will temporarily head the new Central MD.  Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Konstantin Sidenko will command the new Far East MD for now.  And North Caucasus MD Commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Galkin will head the the new Southern MD. 

General-Colonel Bakhin

General-Lieutenant Chirkin

Admiral Sidenko

General-Lieutenant Galkin

Serdyukov wants the new command and control scheme operating from the start of the new training year on 1 December.

Kommersant noted general surprise that a naval officer was picked to head the Far East MD.  Ground Troops generals have always commanded the army-dominated MDs.  But a Navy Main Staff source said Sidenko is not new to commanding army units; he once commanded the combined Navy-Ground Troops force on Kamchatka.

Kommersant also said extramural Defense Ministry collegiums will evaluate the effectiveness of these reorganizations before the end of the year.

Makarov’s Guys Take Key Posts

Bakhin, Chirkin, and Galkin prospered under General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov when he was Siberian MD Commander from 2002-2007.  Each of them served as an army commander, deputy MD commander, and chief of staff, first deputy MD commander under Makarov in Siberia (or immediately after his departure for Moscow).  Chirkin served as Bakhin’s chief of staff, first deputy commander of the Volga-Ural MD, before becoming Siberian MD Commander this year.

Sidenko is a submariner, and most of his career has been in the Pacific Fleet.  His experience as ‘Commander of Troops and Forces in the North-East’ is, interestingly enough, a little similar to Makarov’s late 1990s time as ‘Commander of Ground and Coastal Troops, Deputy Commander of the Baltic Fleet for Ground and Coastal Troops.’