Tag Archives: Voronezh

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.  

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.

Reinforcing Russia’s Western Frontier

NVO correspondent Vladimir Mukhin recently reported that the MOD will move the Mulino-based 20th Combined Arms Army (CAA) to Voronezh, near Russia’s border with Ukraine.  The governor of Voronezh apparently informed local media about the army’s impending return to the oblast after meeting with Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov.

Mukhin wrote that the MOD wouldn’t confirm his report, but didn’t deny it.

The 20th CAA was based in Voronezh until 2010, when the MOD, under Anatoliy Serdyukov, transferred it to Mulino (west of Nizhnyy Novgorod).  The 22nd CAA, then in Mulino, disbanded.  Mukhin hints that, in Mulino, the 20th was a relatively hollow reserve force.

Voronezh and the Ukrainian Border

Voronezh and the Ukrainian Border

The change could place a large formation on Moscow’s Western frontline, and improve its base and training infrastructure.  The Boguchar training ground will be recommissioned and enlarged.  The MOD also plans to build a new military garrison town next to Baltimor air base, just south of Voronezh.

Enlarging Boguchar (200 km south of Voronezh, 60 km from the Ukrainian border), according to Mukhin, presents a military administrative problem.  The bigger training area could spill over into Rostov Oblast and the Southern MD. According to Mukhin, local media report Boguchar will house a motorized rifle brigade.

Mukhin says military experts conclude that the redeployment resulted from changes in the Defense Plan recently signed by Putin and from the experience of a year of fighting in eastern Ukraine.

He quotes former Ground Troops Main Staff Chief, General-Lieutenant Sergey Skokov:

“If the 20th CAA staff deploys in Voronezh again, this would be a correct decision I think.  It was obvious then for many military leaders and experts that the transfer of this large formation [объединение] from Voronezh to Mulino (Nizhegorod Oblast) left western Russia naked, and created difficulties for constructing a reliable defense there.  But neither former Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov nor General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov heeded those opinions then.  Now these mistakes have to be corrected.  And it will be, it seems, expedient to correct them since the situation in Ukraine is tense, and the NATO countries are strengthening their grouping in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders.”

According to one source, these formations are subordinate to the 20th CAA:

  • 4th Tank Division (Naro-Fominsk);
  • 2nd Motorized Rifle Division (Kalininets);
  • 6th Independent Tank Brigade (Mulino);
  • 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Nizhnyy Novogorod);
  • 288th Artillery Brigade (Mulino);
  • 448th Missile Brigade (Kursk);
  • 112th Missile Brigade (Shuya);
  • 53rd SAM Brigade (Kursk);
  • 49th SAM Brigade (Smolensk);
  • 9th Command and Control Brigade (Mulino);
  • 69th Independent Material-Technical Support Brigade (Mulino);
  • 262nd Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Boguchar);
  • 99th Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Tver);
  • 7015th Military Equipment Storage and Repair Base (Mulino).

Those around Mulino or Nizhnyy (Shuya, Tver) would be candidates to move southwest if this pans out.  But what about the 4th and 2nd divisions?  Traditional praetorian guards for Kremlin rulers against political challenges and domestic disturbances, they have been southwest of Moscow for many years.  It seems unlikely they’ll move in these times.

Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.

Defense News

Some Russian defense news from June 8, 2012 . . .

Kremlin.ru and other sites noted several designers of the prefab or modular Voronezh BMEW radar have received a 2011 State Prize for Science and Technology.  The new system can be deployed 3-4 times faster, costs four times less to operate, and requires six times fewer personnel to service than the previous generation of radars, according to press reports.  TsAMTO carried the story as well as a review of the state of Voronezh deployments.

Izvestiya reported details on a consolidation of Russia’s munitions producers.  It’s been predicted for many months.  The country’s 56 producers will be reorganized into 5 holdings, with Bazalt, Pribor, and Mashinostroitel leading three of them.  A Bazalt rep basically admits the sector’s a mess, and it’ll take several years to organize the industry.

But Bloomberg and other media reported U.S. defense firms are actually looking to Rosoboroneksport for the purchase of munitions from Russian producers.

Topwar.ru carried an Interfaks story saying Delta IV-class SSBN Novomoskovsk is nearing the end of a modernization to extend its service life to 2021.  The sub went to sea for some trials last week.  It is, by the way, the newest of the class.  Zvezdochka is also working on Verkhoturye, and both SSBNs will reportedly return to service by the end of 2012.  See this earlier-posted related item.

RIAN reported an OSK source claims the Navy will buy up to ten support ships per year starting in 2013 to rebuild Russia’s naval auxiliary fleet.

General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov addressed the possibility of Finland joining NATO while in Helsinki.  He said this threatens Russia’s security.  But there were Western news service reports saying he said Finland’s military cooperation with NATO by itself is a threat to Moscow.  Voice of Russia covered the negative reactions of Finnish politicians as well as Russian commentators pointing out that the general’s view on another possible broadening of NATO is understandable.  VPK.name highlighted the story.

NVO interviewed new Ground Troops CINC, General-Colonel Vladimir Chirkin on his plans for army acquisition.  Chirkin said UAVs, reconnaissance systems like Strelets, Rys armored vehicles, S-300V4, Buk-M3, Tor-M2, and Verba SAMs, Iskander-M, Tornado-G (S), Msta-S, and Khrizantema-S missile and artillery systems, comms equipment, T-72B1(2), and BTR-82A will be procured out to 2015.  RIAN carried the abridged version.

Meeting on Gogolevskiy Boulevard

Protesters and Placards (photo: KPRF.ru)

Thursday about 50 military men gathered near Gogol’s statue in the park across from the Defense Ministry to protest the closure of the Air Forces Academy named for Professor N. Ye. Zhukovskiy and Yu. A. Gagarin. 

These largely middle-aged protesters held placards saying “Air Forces CINC Zelin is the Gravedigger of Air Forces Academies!” or “Prime Minister:  Get Rid of Defense Minister Serdyukov!” or “General Bychkov is a Traitor to VVA Gagarin and VVIA Zhukovskiy!”
 
Recall the Zhukovskiy and Gagarin academies — the former for engineers, the latter for pilots and staff officers — were melded in 2008 in the latest and most painful drawdown of an enormous leftover Soviet-era military educational establishment. 
 
The functions of these mid-career academies are being transferred to the new, consolidated Air Forces Military Training-Scientific Center (VUNTs VVS) in Voronezh.
 
The KPRF organized the protest, and it said about 100 attended.  KPRF.ru and Nakanune.ru recapped the event.
 

KPRF Duma member Vyacheslav Tetekin told Novyy region destroying these academies damages VVS combat readiness since the majority of their 1,600 (perhaps not much lower than the total number of flyable VVS aircraft) instructors and professors won’t go to Voronezh to train future senior officers.

Tetekin argued there are already protests against aircraft noise in Voronezh, and he’ll ask fellow KPRF member and Duma Defense Committee chairman Vladimir Komoyedov to address the prime minister and president on the fate of Zhukovskiy and Gagarin.

Apparently now retired, General-Lieutenant Ivan Naydenov — a former deputy chief of the academy — claimed Defense Minister Serdyukov just wants the institution’s valuable real estate.  Naydenov said only 29 younger instructors have gone to Voronezh.  He put the total staff at only 700, in contrast to Tetekin’s 1,600.

Naydenov has recorded and posted this appeal to save VVA im. Gagarin.

No one will mistake this little event on Gogolevskiy for what took place on Bolotnaya or Sakharov Square.  Nor will anyone confuse the characters in this drama with demonstrators against Duma election fraud.  Or a scarcely-noticed gathering of older military men with the resonance of the first large-scale political protest in years. 

Nevertheless, older Russian officers have taken to picketing about their grievances more frequently of late.  The personal toll in their situation is lamentable.  But cuts and consolidations Serdyukov has made in Russian military education were very deep and difficult simply because they were so long overdue.

Without a doubt, some of those choosing dismissal over moving will add to the queue for military apartments in Moscow and its suburbs.

The Sound of Managed Democracy?

The classic dilemma of civil-military relations . . . is jet noise the sound of freedom — or in this case, of managed democracy?

Or is jet noise a dangerous nuisance?

Last Sunday, Svpressa.ru ran an article on complaints about a major expansion of Baltimor Air Base on the outskirts of Voronezh.  Baltimor also goes by the name Voronezh-B.  This is just the most recent article on local concerns about Baltimor.  Novaya gazeta published on the situation in the middle of last year.

By year’s end, Baltimor is supposed to be Russia’s largest air base, with 200 aircraft, according to Svpressa.  A second, 3,500-meter runway is being built there to accommodate all aircraft types.  Takeoffs and landings at Baltimor occur just a few hundred meters away from apartment blocks.  Residents expect the jet noise to double along with the number of aircraft.  Here’s a video of local aircraft operations.  And another

Svpressa notes the air base was used little after 1990, except for spikes during the Chechen wars.  And from about 4 years ago, it was all but abandoned, overgrown, and broken down.  At the same time,  apartment construction grew outward toward the base.

The resumption and expansion of activity at Baltimor put nearby residents into action.  They believe, with 200 aircraft, flights will be virtually constant.  And a former serviceman told Svpressa he expects the base to have 200 flight days (and nights) a year, with as many as 10 aircraft up simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, residents worry about crashes, about fuel and munitions storage depots, about airport-level noise and vibration, and its effect on young children and infants.  Svpressa reprints their long petition to Voronezh officials asking who and how the air base’s expansion was approved:

“How was such a document signed?  Who was responsible for preparing it?  Why is the population’s opinion supplanted by the conclusions of some ‘experts’ and the silent consent of the oblast administration?”

The website also publishes Air Forces CINC Aleksandr Zelin’s answer.  He asserts they illegally built too close to the airfield, and emphasizes the state’s interest in expanding an existing air base rather than building a new one for “several billion rubles.”

The case of Baltimor Air Base is interesting in its own right, but it’s significant on two other levels.

On the first, the Baltimor situation is evolving in the context of debate over the Air Forces’ force structure and base structure.

Defense Minister Serdyukov’s major reforms pointed immediately at concentrating the Air Forces at fewer bases.  The exact number, however, has shifted constantly downward from 55 at first.  Recall at the 1 April Security Council session on the aviation sector, Medvedev told ministers and officials:

“Now the airfield network of military aviation does not correspond to the basing requirements of aviation groupings.  At the Defense Ministry collegium which took place recently [18 March], I gave orders to establish several large air bases.  Taking into account the deployment of troops, they will be situated on the main strategic axes.”

At the collegium, Serdyukov in fact announced, instead of 33 air bases, there will be eight army aviation bases subordinate to the four military districts / OSKs, and the number of aircraft at each will increase 2.5 or 3 times.  Of course, saying that and getting to that point are two different things entirely. 

Gazeta.ru printed a nice summary of the VVS ground infrastructure issue.  It concluded fewer bases would make things cheaper, but also easier for a potential enemy.  It said a similar effort to resubordinate air and air defense forces to MD commanders in the early 1980s failed.  Rossiyskaya gazeta said experts think the number of air bases should be different for different MDs, as should the mix of aircraft.

It seems, for economic reasons, these large air bases will be picked from the list of existing ones, they won’t necessarily take advantage of vast swaths of unpopulated territory, and they’re likely to irritate the civilian population.

Abandoning old bases and airfields leads to another, longstanding but growing problem of late — the archipelago of unneeded garrisons and military towns.  The Defense Ministry would like to shuffle them off to someone else’s responsibility, and resettling retired military, dependents, and civilian workers elsewhere has been problematic.  BRAC-like processes are especially painful in Russia. 

On the second level, Baltimor could become politically and socially significant.  It’s rare in Russia these days for a military problem to have that kind of potential.  

If politicians ignore or downplay what the locals feel is their basic right to health and environmental protection for the sake of an intangible state interest, there’s a chance Baltimor could become a more serious regional, or even national, issue.  Especially if similar circumstances arise in other cities.

This may seem a stretch, but remember ordinary Russians tend to be galvanized by the local impact of things like auto import tariffs, immigration, building roads through forests, etc.  And concern about the impact of air bases would come on top of other civil-military issues.

In Chelyabinsk, and several other places, the locals are protesting explosive ammunition destruction that is rocking parts of their cities.  Prosecutors already found that the military lied about the size and power of demolition activities not far from Chelyabinsk.  Chelyabinsk residents are also angry about overflights of the city from nearby military airfields.