Tag Archives: Ukraine

The 8th Combined Arms Army

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

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

Location of new army in Novocherkassk

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

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

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

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

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

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Trouble Brigade

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Russian MOD has pretty much accomplished two things.

First, it has generally improved service conditions for the average officer and soldier.  More money is available for this purpose than at any time since 1992.  It is financing military construction on a broad front.

Second, it has conducted a concerted and successful campaign to suppress almost all negative information about the armed forces.  It has driven once vigorous Russian military journalism to its lowest ebb.  It’s no surprise since President Vladimir Putin has done the same to civilian journalism.

Still, a Gazeta.ru piece by Vladimir Vashchenko from 29 September is reminiscent of the best in Russian military journalism.

welcome-to-boguchar

Welcome to Boguchar

Vashchenko writes (not for the first time) about v / ch 54046 — the 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Visla Red Banner Order of Suvorov Brigade.  The 9th IMRB for short.

Recall that the 9th IMRB — along with the rest of the 20th CAA — is relocating from Nizhegorod to Boguchar in Voronezh Oblast.  Boguchar wasn’t picked out of a hat.  It’s a strategic point on today’s map.  For Russia, it’s the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine.

boguchar-map

The 9th adds significant ground power to Russian forces near pro-Moscow Lugansk.

Vashchenko writes about the deaths of several of soldiers in the brigade over recent months.

On 24 September, a 35-year-old contractee killed himself.  He was an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion.  His suicide was precipitated primarily by family problems.

Earlier in September, another serviceman died after a fight with some locals, according to official reports, but a source tells Vashchenko he was run over by an officer driving under the influence.

In July, a junior sergeant was found dead.  He previously had a conflict with an officer and had already requested a transfer.  His death is under investigation by the GVP and GVSU.

In April, a conscript died just 23 days before his demob date.  With no evidence of a crime, his death isn’t being investigated.

Another conscript died in the spring of last year, but Vashchenko could unearth no details about what happened.

Vashchenko writes that social networks of mothers with conscript sons report Boguchar has a bad reputation as a formation where officers extort money from their young charges.

The author talked to several men who serve, or served, in the brigade.  Some came to him after reading his August story about Boguchar.

One told of sleeping two men to a couch because of the lack of proper bunks.  He also had to buy his own uniforms.  A friend in his unit had to pay to go to the infirmary about a problem with his knees.

An emotional ex-soldier told Vashchenko, “It’s a ‘hole,’ not a unit!”

Another claimed the brigade keeps two sets of medical records.  One for inspections indicating all soldiers are perfectly healthy, and a second set detailing their true maladies.

He told Vashchenko that anti-terrorist drills in the brigade were a joke.  Its perimeter was porous, and it never passed.  A man acting the part of suicide bomber walked around the brigade and could have “exploded” several times.

He said the brigade’s command made sure to intimidate the troops before inspections to ensure none would tell their guests about real conditions in the formation.

He said officers looked at soldiers like cattle, cattle that gave them money once a month.  Soldiers were abused if they didn’t pay “for the company’s needs” on time.  They even had to pay 500 rubles to receive their demob.

The command used certain soldiers to “supervise” others and keep them in line. One group were troops from the material support battalion.  They ran the brigade’s canteen which was really a mobile “trading post” for the financial benefit of unit commanders.

Vashchenko’s interlocutor says his service in Boguchar dissuaded him from signing up as a contractee.  He sums it up:

“I believe the army certainly has to be harsh, at times even cruel, just not like there.  You know under pain of death I wouldn’t go into battle or on reconnaissance with a single one of our officers.  And this given that I served after getting a higher education, but imagine what happens with kids of 18 who don’t yet have a strong psyche.  To me the army and conditions like Boguchar turn little boys not into real men but into scum and vermin that follow a one-way road — prison, alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Vashchenko also talked to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia.  She traveled recently to Boguchar and called the situation “monstrous” with men living in tents and 4,000 personnel relying on a single water source.  But she hasn’t received complaints about abuses in the brigade.

A Different Take

On Topwar.ru, Roman Skomorokhov offered a spirited refutation of Vashchenko’s article on the 9th IMRB.  He writes that he visited the brigade six weeks ago.  According to him, Vashchenko simply repeats lies and throws mud on the army.

Skomorokhov claims security is good, and it’s not possible for an intruder to wander around the base.  Conditions are not ideal, he admits, but it’s not like the 1990s.  Boguchar is a hardship post at the moment, but one that is vitally needed to defend Russia’s southwestern frontier.

Moreover, Skomorokhov says, those now living in tents will be housed in newly-built barracks before winter.

There are injuries and deaths (outside of combat or training) and crimes in every army.  So what’s different about the Russian case?

The difference is a pervasive effort to suppress reporting of such incidents, or explain them away if they do make it into the news. Considerably more energy is expended on this now than ten years ago.

The brigade wants to keep incidents in the brigade.  The military district wants to keep them in the district.  The MOD wants to keep them in the MOD.  The Kremlin wants to keep them from gaining traction in the foreign media.  Remember the case of Andrey Sychev

Russians don’t want anyone to think their armed forces are not as modern, not as lethal, not as scary, not as well-financed, or not as orderly as they present them.  And this Potemkin village mentality has served them well.

The problem is, when fooling the bosses or the outside world about what is really happening, one also fools oneself.  And one is found out eventually.  

Look at the Baltic Fleet.  Its entire command was purged in June for this reason.  The MOD announced that high-ranking fleet officers were dismissed for: 

“. . . not taking all essential measures to improve the housing conditions of personnel, the lack of concern about subordinates, and also misrepresentations of the real state of affairs in reports.”

The Kremlin is not stupid.  It has always had its own channels of information inside the Russian military.  What does it do with what it learns?  The Baltic Fleet case might have been nothing more than serving notice on the rest of the military to clean up its act.  

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.”

20th CAA on Ukraine’s Border

Russia’s 20th Combined Arms Army (CAA) is redeploying from Nizhegorod to Voronezh on Ukraine’s border, according to a TASS news agency source in the General Staff.

Reports of the army’s transfer from Nizhegorod Oblast, east of Moscow, first appeared in March.  Some Russian media say its 9th Motorized Rifle Brigade has already relocated to Boguchar, southeast of Voronezh on the Ukrainian border.  On 13 August, TASS reported that the army’s units will occupy existing garrisons in Orel, Kursk, Tambov, and Lipetsk Oblasts.

Moscow withdrew the 20th CAA from Germany by 1994, and it spent 16 years in Voronezh before relocating to Mulino, Nizhegorod in 2010.

Voronezh and Boguchar (Red Marker)

Voronezh and Boguchar (Red Marker)

The news agency’s source said the General Staff and Western Military District are determining the future composition of the 20th CAA, particularly new units to be formed or transferred from other military districts.  Its major maneuver forces will likely include another motorized rifle brigade and a tank brigade.  The process is in the initial phase, but should be complete by 1 December, the start of the army’s training year.

The 20th Army will need reinforcement because its most capable formations — the 2nd Taman Motorized Rifle Division, 4th Kantemir Tank Division, and 6th Tank Brigade — reportedly will become part of Russia’s reconstituted 1st Tank Army near Moscow this fall.

TASS reported that General-Major Sergey Kuzovlev will command the army. The Ukrainian Security Service alleges he commands Russian forces and local militia in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic.  Officially, he is chief of staff of the Southern MD’s 58th Army, and previously commanded the 18th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Chechnya.

Moving the 20th CAA is a reaction to a year and a half of fighting in eastern Ukraine, and an effort to enhance Kremlin options for border contingencies.  Nevertheless, it’s likely to be some time before most elements of the 20th CAA are settled, manned, trained, and combat ready.

Who’s Fighting in the Donbass?

Various media sources late this week reported that Kyiv’s SBU sent the United States a 30-page report detailing Russia’s role in fighting in the Donbass.

The report indicates that militia fighters in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic are led by Russian Army general-majors Oleg Tsekov, Sergey Kuzovlev, and Roman Shadrin.  In the Donetsk People’s Republic, general-majors Valeriy Solodchuk and Aleksey Zavizon reportedly lead the ethnic Russian militiamen. Russian Colonel Anatoliy Barankevich is in charge of combat training.

Sergey Kuzovlev

Sergey Kuzovlev

Roman Shadrin

Roman Shadrin

The Ukrainian report claims 15 Russian battalion tactical groups — about 9,000 men — are fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Unnamed Washington sources say this confirms what U.S. intelligence agencies believed.  But, as recently as his 26 June conversation with President Obama, President Putin insisted there are no Russian troops in Luhansk or Donetsk.

Who are the Russian officers identified by name?

  • Oleg Tsekov commands the Northern Fleet’s 200th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade — it’s a long way from eastern Ukraine, but his troops wouldn’t be easily missed like forces in the Southern MD. He once served under Southern MD Commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Galkin.
  • Sergey Kuzovlev was, at last report, chief of staff of the Southern MD’s 58th CAA. He’s known by the call sign Tambov. He fought in both Chechen campaigns, and he commanded the 18th IMRB in Khankala before his current staff assignment.
  • Roman Shadrin is another Chechen vet, Hero of Russia, and Ural Cossack activist turned United Russia politician.  He did time with the MVD VV and served with Russian “peacekeeping” forces in South Ossetia.
  • Valeriy Solodchuk commands the VDV’s 7th Air-Assault Division in Novorossiysk.  He was previously chief of staff for the 98th Airborne Division and commanded its 217th Parachute Regiment.
  • Aleksey Zavizon is deputy commander of the 41st CAA in the Central MD.  Prior to that, he commanded the 136th IMRB in Dagestan and the 201st MB in Tajikistan.  He was also chief of staff, deputy commander for the 4th (Kantemir) Tank Division.
  • Anatoliy Barankevich served widely in the Soviet Army and fought in both Chechen wars before retiring in 2004.  He went to South Ossetia, became its defense minister, and directed the defense of Tskhinvali during the August 2008 five-day war with Georgia.  He fell out with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and presumably resumed his free-agent status.
Valeriy Solodchuk

Valeriy Solodchuk

Aleksey Zavizon

Aleksey Zavizon

Anatoliy Barankevich

Anatoliy Barankevich

It would be an understatement to say these six Russian military men have a good deal of experience — command experience, combat experience, Caucasus experience.  They represent a particular subset of Russian commanders who’ve long served on the country’s borders and in its hinterlands.  They seem like men with little compunction when it comes to pushing Russia’s sway outward over non-Russians.

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.