Tag Archives: Western MD

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.

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Putin’s Arctic Chimera

Pronouncements on plans for stronger Russian military forces in the Arctic have been studiously ignored on these pages.

For two reasons . . . first, one can’t write about everything, and second (because of the first), one has to focus on a few significant topics.

The Russian military in the Arctic hasn’t been one of them.

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

Putin on Franz Josef Land in 2010 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

President Vladimir Putin’s interest in the Arctic made news in 2007 when a mini-submarine planted a Russian flag on ocean floor under the North Pole.  The Kremlin wanted to stake a symbolic claim to the lion’s share of the Arctic’s potential underwater wealth.

The vast, frozen region may indeed have large percentages of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil deposits.

More than a few observers see Putin’s concern with the Arctic as an effort to extend Russia’s hydrocarbon export-based model of economic growth.

The friend-of-Putin state oligarchs running Gazprom and Rosneft would certainly like the Russian treasury (and military) to underwrite their efforts to get at Arctic resources and line their pockets with more cash.

But the capital investment and technology required would be staggering. Canadian expert Michael Byers has been widely quoted:

“We’re talking about the center of a large, inhospitable ocean that is in total darkness for three months each year, thousands of miles from any port.”

“The water in the North Pole is 12,000 feet deep and will always be covered by sea ice in the winter.  It’s not a place where anyone is going to be drilling for oil and gas.  So it’s not about economic stakes, it’s about domestic politics.”

It’s an easy place to show Russia’s leader defending national sovereignty and interests.  The news stories and press releases track with an established Kremlin narrative about hostile Western powers trying to grab Russia’s natural bounty.

All of which brings us back round to the military in the Arctic.

During  Serdyukov’s tenure, the Ministry of Defense first raised the prospect of basing two army brigades there.  In September, Kirov-class CGN Petr Velikiy and other ships sailed the Northern Sea Route into the eastern Arctic.  And late in the year, Putin himself was prominent in giving the order to build, or re-build, various Russian military bases in the Arctic.

But things have a way of taking ridiculous turns.

On 17 February, an unidentified source told ITAR-TASS that the MOD and Genshtab have proposed forming a new Arctic unified strategic command with the Northern Fleet as its basis.  The source claimed this Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command (SF-OSK or СФ-ОСК) would be a new de facto MD, even if it isn’t called one.

The Northern Fleet and major units and formations based in the north would be taken from the Western MD, and put into new groupings deployed in the Arctic, including on Novaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, and Franz Josef Land.  Ouch.

SK-OSK is supposed to be inter-departmental too, with FSB Border Guards added.  The whole thing would report to the MOD, Genshtab, and, at some point, the NTsUOG.

The proposal is reportedly with Putin now, and a decision is expected in the coming months.

To make matters more interesting, Western MD Commander, General-Colonel Anatoliy Sidorov was cool, perhaps even balky, when confronted by the possibility of an “Arctic OSK.”

He told media representatives last Friday that his troops need no additional knowledge, and his equipment no additional preparation, for service in Arctic conditions.  He would not comment on possibly losing a large part of his current command.  According to RIA Novosti, he said only, “When there are directives, we will fulfill them.”

ITAR-TASS last week also reported on a company-sized anti-terrorist exercise in the Northern Fleet.

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

Northern Fleet Anti-Terrorist Training (photo: Mil.ru)

But there’s no “Al Qaida in the Arctic” yet.  Only Greenpeace.

Russia’s Arctic is enormous, and it is likely to be increasingly important, but not necessarily as the next big theater of war.  Naturally, Moscow wants to prepare for contingencies, but it’s already prepared and positioned as well as the few other regional players.  The money, time, and attention might be better spent on more palpable threats.  But, as Byers pointed out, the Arctic seems to be good politics.

VVKO Faces West

How Will They Represent VKO on the Space Troops Flag?

VVKO faces west.  And north . . . ok, northwest.  Makes sense, that’s the direction those hypersonic missiles are coming from, right?  Maybe, maybe not.

Mil.ru, as is its wont, printed a little item on military preparations for the December 4 Duma election.

It indicates 80 percent of 53,000 servicemen and civilian personnel of the new Troops of Aerospace Defense (VVKO) will vote [i.e. are based] in the Western MD (ZVO). 

The press-release says more than 150 of 171 polling places (88 percent) for VVKO bases, garrisons, and military towns are located in the ZVO.

Space Troops weren’t very big, and they’ve gotten much bigger by swallowing as-yet unclear parts of the OSK VKO (the former KSpN or Moscow PVO District) and other Air Forces’ PVO units into the new VVKO.  OSK VKO, in particular, was a large, westward-leaning formation.

Still it’s surprising VVKO’s center of gravity has shifted so drastically to the west.  One would have thought there’d be a substantial chunk of VVKO-controlled PVO in the Far East, or northeast, too.

Russian Military Power

Finland’s National Defense University has published a study entitled Russian Politico-Military Development and Finland.  If the media reporting is accurate, it may read a little like a latter-day Soviet Military Power.

Now few have read the document since there’s only a two-page English precis to go with press accounts of its contents.  Perhaps the entire thing will appear in English soon.

But here’s the gist. 

NATO and other Western countries believe war is an outdated idea, and U.S. power and interest in Europe are waning.  Russia, meanwhile, is seeking to revise the verdict of the Cold War, restore its great power status, and regain the Soviet sphere of influence.

It’s modernizing its crumbling armed forces with increasing investments [i.e. the 19-trillion-ruble State Program of Armaments or GPV 2011-2020].  The formation of the Unified Strategic Command (OSK) West (aka the new Western MD) has shifted the Russian Army’s center of gravity from Western Europe to the Northwest [at Finland].  And:

“The Russian armed forces are being improved by forming high-readiness forces with a capability of achieving operational results directly from peacetime employment.”

Finally, the study’s authors seem to see a Russian military resurgence that needs to be met by reinvigorating Finland’s territorial defense system:

“A large military reserve force is an indication of the will to defend the country, and has a major preventative value.”

It’s worth challenging three central propositions here.

Russia’s “increasing investments” in its military.  The Finnish report is reacting a priori to plans for large outlays for defense procurement that may or may not happen.  They authors are concerned about Russia’s intention to modernize, and what its forces might look like after modernization.  The current GPV could go the way of its predecessors; the first annual state defense order (GOZ) to fulfill the GPV isn’t exactly proceeding smoothly.  It’s important also to consider what’s being modernized.  In many cases, Moscow plans to replace arms and equipment from the 1980s and earlier, and not everything will be a world-class fourth- or fifth-generation weapons system.  Lots of the “new” models will be based on late Soviet-era designs.  

The shift to the Northwest.  To some extent, there may be an effort to get forces closer to their likely theater of operations.  But hysterical assertions of vastly increased Russian forces shouldn’t be taken seriously.  It’s largely the same forces organized differently, and certainly not all opposite Finland.  The creation of OSK West or the Western MD was also an attempt to cut redundant command and staff echelons and get the Ground Troops out of the expensive environs of Moscow and Moscow Oblast.  One could easily argue the Defense Ministry’s placed a higher priority on forces in the Southern or Eastern MDs. 

The formation of high readiness units.  The report’s authors are quoted as saying Russia’s high readiness forces will be ready to leave garrison, and begin offensive operations in an hour, according to Vzglyad’s interpretation of a Russian-language media outlet in Estonia.  In reality, the forces are now more highly ready to depart the garrison and get combat orders.  No one can say what those orders will say.  Any combat missions will have to be carried out by troops who generally have less than six months in the army, and they’ll be lucky to execute a successful defensive operation.  Also, let’s hope the Finnish study says that this high readiness was really more about getting rid of useless, hollow, low readiness cadre units.

But, as Newsru cites a former deputy commander of the OGV(s) in the North Caucasus, it’s hardly possible to talk about Russian efforts to encircle anyone “in the condition which we’re in, and with those obvious army problems which we have.”

No one should misunderstand.  The Finns are to be admired for their perspicacity when it comes to Moscow.  They’re keen observers of what’s happening in Russia.  They have to be. 

But there’s obviously a huge issue of perspective.  Things look very different from Helsinki, Washington, Paris, London, and Berlin.  Russia’s capabilities are somewhat hyped in a public debate about what level of forces and readiness Finland needs to deter Russia.

But, all in all, it doesn’t help anyone in the long-term to inflate [re-inflate?] a Soviet-style military threat.  A realistic assessment of Russian capabilities and intentions will lead to practical, affordable measures to counter them.

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.

Western MD Opens for Business

According to ITAR-TASS, General-Colonel Valeriy Gerasimov told journalists yesterday that the new Western Military District (MD) was fully formed and functional on 1 September.  Gerasimov said:

“The Western Military District started functioning on 1 September.  Command and control organs of the former Leningrad and Moscow Military Districts, Northern and Baltic Fleets, and also the 1st Air Forces and Air Defense Command went into the composition of the staff located in St. Petersburg.”

Gerasimov said the majority of Moscow MD staff officers:

“. . . were appointed to positions in the staff of the Western Military District and other organs of military command and control.  Part of the officers, having served out their prescribed terms, were dismissed, but those who have a half-year to a year remaining to serve are at the disposition [of their commanding officers].”

Gerasimov himself went from Commander, Moscow MD to become a deputy chief of the General Staff.

The Defense Ministry now wants the other three new MDs / OSKs to be functional by 1 October.

Winners and Losers in Organizing New MDs and Armies

Today a Ground Troops spokesman told ITAR-TASS three current Leningrad Military District (MD) brigades will form a 6th Combined Arms Army (CAA) in the new Western MD.  The 200th, 138th, and 25th Motorized Rifle Brigades will comprise the new army, and its headquarters will probably be Agalatovo, just north of St. Petersburg.  The spokesman also said a surface-to-air missile brigade and independent engineering brigade will be added to the Western MD.

These comments came in conjunction with a visit by Ground Troops CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Postnikov to the region to check on the formation of the new MD.  The spokesman said Postnikov may be working on peacetime coordination between the district’s Ground Troops, the Northern and Baltic Fleets, and Air Forces units.  He said, in wartime, “everything’s clear – [the district’s] commander directly commands everything deployed within the district’s boundaries.  But there’s still no experience of coordination in peacetime and we need to get it.”

Nezavisimaya gazeta’s Vladimir Mukhin also wrote today that the third new CAA will be based in Maykop, Southern MD.  Mukhin says that staffs, commands, formations, and military units in the Far East, Siberian, and Moscow MDs are being liquidated in the shift to four new MDs / OSKs, and, as a result, several thousand officers will be placed outside the TO&E beginning 1 September.  He thinks many of them won’t find vacant posts, and will be discharged from the army.

Serdyukov’s Defense Ministry will also be putting some soon-to-be-vacant properties up for sale, e.g. Moscow MD headquarters (Polina Osipenko Street, Moscow), Far East MD headquarters (Seryshev Street, Khabarovsk).  The initial asking prices for these buildings and land will be several billion U.S. dollars.  As long planned, proceeds from these sales, along with the sale of the Navy Main Staff, military educational institutions, and other military establishments in Moscow, are supposed to fund construction of housing for servicemen as well as military garrison infrastructure in new army deployment locations.

Mukhin talked to General-Lieutenant Yuriy Netkachev about Maykop.  Netkachev says Moscow is resurrecting the army headquarters located there until 1993.  He believes Maykop was chosen to reinforce against threats from Georgia as well as threats to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

In the Central MD, Mukhin says the 67th Spetsnaz Brigade will move yet again, from IVVAIU in Irkutsk to Chita or Transbaykal Kray.  The IVVAIU building will be sold.

Mukhin sees Moscow’s demilitarization and moving forces closer to their likely operational theaters as the right policy, but asks if it’s underpinned with resources.  It has serious impact on servicemen and their families, and they’ve been forgotten in this process.

Mukhin quotes servicemen’s union chief Oleg Shvedkov:

“Continuing steps to transition the troops into a new profile supposes not only a significant cut in professional servicemen, but also their relocation to a new place of service.  And this means new everyday life problems are possible:  transfers, absence of housing, work for spouses, education for children, and the like.  The Defense Ministry is trying to resolve these issues on its own, but it would be more correct for the government to work on them through a special federal program.”