Of course the Americans have the highest-tech military gizmos around, their “just over the horizon, honest” toys looking like what you’d get if Tom Clancy ever scripted an episode of Thunderbirds (if anyone else remembers it…). There’s the Northrop-Grumman X-47B dogfighting drone, the grenade-firing XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement Systems (which doesn’t sound macho enough, so it’s informally “The Punisher”), the massive, almost-bomb-proof Ground Combat Vehicle (think of a metal fortress on tracks). But last week was Russia’s Defense Ministry Innovations Day, so let’s not forget all their cool and sometimes bizarre new ideas… and what they may tell us about Russia’s military.
All posts in category Military – Russia
Posted by Mark Galeotti on August 26, 2013
It is hardly surprising that Vladimir Putin made such a big deal of mourning his former judo coach and mentor Anatoly Rakhlin this week. If nothing else, it again highlights that, as well as such broad circles as the KGB veterans (and siloviki in general), the “Peterburgers,” the “Ozero Dacha” clique, the “Orthodox Chekists” and similar factions within the sistema, there is clearly a judocracy, too. “Being a judo sparring partner of Vladimir Putin’s is clearly a good career move,” I last month in one of my Moscow News columns, on the mooted appointment of Viktor Zolotov, one such judoka, to become deputy head of the MVD Interior Troops. He was hardly the first:
Arkady Rotenberg, who learned judo alongside [Putin] as a teenage, is now a billionaire; the $7.4 billion contracts his companies won for the 2014 Sochi Games can’t hurt his bottom line. Igor Sidorkevich, president of the St. Petersburg Judo Federation is apparently to head the new military police. And now former sparring partner Viktor Zolotov is tipped to become the deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s 180,000 paramilitary VV Interior Troops, and heir apparent to their current commander, Nikolai Rogozhkin, who is of retirement age.
Zolotov, it is worth noting, is currently head of the Presidential Security Service. Since I wrote the above, the appointment of Sidorkevich — sorry, Colonel Sidorkevich — to head the military police has been confirmed. But we shouldn’t also forget billionaire Boris Rotenberg, Arkady’s brother and another judoka, who sparred at St Petersburg’s Yavara-Neva judo club, which Arkady runs. His wealth pales before that of Gennadi Timchenko, though, co-founder and honorary chairman of Yavara-Neva and the boss of commodity trading firm Gunvor, who is worth $14.1 B according to Forbes. (And, it is widely rumored, Putin’s bagman and the ‘banker’ of the Russian deep state.) Vasily Shestakov, another co-founder of Yavara-Neva and a co-author with Putin of judo books, is a State Duma deputy, president of FIAS (the International Sambo [unarmed combat] Federation) and one of the key figures in Russia’s “soft power” initiatives, having been named as a potential media chief and now being a prime mover in the new Positive Russia Foundation.*
It speaks volumes about the way power in Putin’s Russia is essentially the power of an autocrat’s court, where factions crystallize not just around charismatic individuals, common ideas or shared self-interest, but even around a sport. Rich, powerful, well-connected: all hail the new Russian judocracy!
Update: August 31, 2012: Yuri Trutnev
Let us welcome a new member to the judocracy (kinda: I think sambo and karate count): Yuri Petrovich Trutnev, the new Presidential Envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District, replacing Viktor Ishaev, who has been sacked, although officially not because of shortcomings in the handling of the present terrible floods. Formerly Governor of Perm region, and Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology, but most recently a special assistant to the president, Trutnev has been made not just Putin’s plenipotentiary in the Far East but also a deputy prime minister and the prospective head of a new government commission to be formed to develop the region. By the way, he practices free-style wrestling, sambo and karate, and in 2005 he was elected co-chair of the Russian Union of Martial Arts, which he co-founded with Rosatom chief Sergei Kirienko, a fellow aficionado.
*A Postscript on the Positive Russia Foundation
I was curious to see just what this outfit was and what it did. I am little the wiser having dug a little. It was reportedly set up in June, but as near as I can tell it has no website or other presence beyond some media puffs at the time of its foundation. It is registered to the address of the company secretaries in East Sussex, with Timothy Lewin listed as its director, presumably the same Timothy Lewin who is a Russia/fSU-oriented commodity trader and consultant. Watch this space.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on August 10, 2013
Sergei Shoigu’s early initiatives as defense minister all seem to have a distinctly sartorial bent. First, he decreed that the traditional portyanki foot cloths wrapped around the foot every morning, washed and hung up to dry at night, be fully replaced by socks by the end of 2013. Then it was bruited around that the traditional — indeed, iconic — ushanka fur hat with side-flaps would be phased out and replaced with new headgear. Then we have confirmation that a new set of field uniforms including these changes would indeed be issued, with 100,000 soldiers getting them this year (earlier this year it was just 70,000), the rest in 2014.
It is easy to belittle such moves. Efficient and comfortable uniforms rank with decent housing, adequate food and proper medical care amongst the kinds of quality-of-life issues taken for granted in most Western militaries yet contributing to the terrible reputation of army service in Russia (and hence recruitment of volunteers). It is also in line with the kinds of reforms Serdyukov had been trying to introduce. After all, he had wanted to phase out the portyanki and introduce new, better uniforms.
However, there is much more to being defense minister than being tailor-in-chief, and the initial omens about Shoigu’s priorities are less inspiring. After Serdyukov had spent much political capital cutting down the bloated, top-heavy officer corps, it seems that the army, navy and air force command staffs will be increased fully 2-3 times. However much this is spun as a measure to improve training and coordination, it is a victory for the top brass and a step away from creating a leaner military.
Furthermore, the notion of importing better foreign-made equipment seems out of favor, with the decision to scale back purchase of Italian LMV65 light armored vehicles and new criticism of the French Mistral deal. Regardless of the qualities of these particular deals, trying for military autarky makes absolutely no sense in terms of military reform (Dmitry Gorenburg has some astute comments on this on his blog). The only people it pleases are the defense-industrial complex industrialists, who became such an enemy of Serdyukov’s.
In other words, for the moment Shoigu seems either to be playing it safe or else lacks the political muscle to take on the two conservative lobbies — the generals and the ‘metal-eaters’ — whose interests are actually antithetical to proper military reform. He may be biding his time, but for the moment he seems content to be tailor-in-chief. Maybe because he’s already window-shopping for the kind of suit fit for a prime minister. Or even a president?
Posted by Mark Galeotti on January 27, 2013
Having been the kind of nerdy kid who frequented the library to scour the Osprey military history titles, who predictably enough grew up to be the kind of nerdy adult who buys them instead, it was a thorough delight to be able to write my first Osprey book, Russian Security and Paramilitary Forces since 1991, which is due to be published August 2013. (Elite series number 197, ISBN 978 1 78096105 7). In part it gave me new respect for the series given the extensive detail and fact-checking involved, as well as the way the artists need to have a distinctive combination of the meticulous and the imaginative when producing the color plates which are such a feature of the books. The accompanying sketch, from the talented Johnny Shumate, is just the first rendering of an operator from the Saturn special forces group of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) in full riot kit. The color version is even more stunning…but you’ll have to wait and buy the book to see that!
However, the exercise also led me to think more about the rise in Russian security, special and paramilitary forces since the collapse of the USSR. The Soviets, after all, were hardly averse to maintaining large parallel armies and also sundry elite forces. However, there has been not just an increase in the numbers of many of these forces, there has also been a proliferation. There are OMON riot police (who do more than just quell riots), KSN/OMSN/SOBR special police response units, various special forces within the MVD’s Interior Troops, numerous commando ‘spetsgruppy’ within the security apparatus, from the FSB’s Alfa and Vympel to the SVR’s Zaslon. As if that were not enough, there are special forces within the FSIN, the FSKN anti-narcotics service, even of a kind within the MChS Ministry of Emergency Situations.
The irony is that the only special forces elements which have shrunk of late have been the regular military’s Spetsnaz — and even then, they still proportionately make up a larger share of the army than in Soviet times. The same is true of the security troops of the Interior Troops: there are fewer than in the Soviet VV, but more compared with the smaller size of Russia’s population.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on December 10, 2012
The choice of Sergei Shoigu to be the new defense minister was, in hindsight, logical and even inspired. Loyal, untarnished by suggestions of corruption, genuinely popular, he also has some twenty years experience building the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS) out of services that were under-resourced, often feuding and generally conservative. Shoigu has been the quintessential loyal technocrat, turning the MChS into a surprisingly efficient force, then taking on the daunting job of governor of Moscow Region before being parachuted into the defense ministry.
After his elevation, though, a favored topic amongst the wonkish Kremlin-watcher constituency (yes, including me) was considering whether or not Shoigu was now a potential future prime minister or even a president. To an extent, it is irrelevant whether he harbors any such aspirations: even if he denies them, those who want to believe will simply nod knowingly and say that, of course, he’d have to say that…
One of the features that makes Shoigu unusual, after all, is that — unlike the overwhelming majority of the current leadership generation — he has a headlining political career that predates Putin. Shoigu was building the MChS when Putin was still the mayor’s loyal bagman in St. Petersburg. It was Shoigu’s Unity party, which became part of United Russia, that then-prime minister Putin said that he’d be voting for in 1999. While Putin’s PR team scramble to find new stunts to fuel his macho myth, for almost two decades Shoigu was the reassuringly practical presence Russians saw at scenes of disaster and chaos, from forest fires to terrorist attacks. No wonder he was and still is consistently the highest-polling and most-recognizable figure within the government.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 30, 2012
When the axe falls, it falls with abandon. Serdyukov’s dismissal as minister of defense has been followed by the retirement of his Chief of the General Staff, Nikolai Makarov, and a series of other dismissals, with more likely to follow. Overall, I feel Serdyukov deserves great credit for being the first Russian defense minister to go beyond just talking about reform, but Sergei Shoigu could well be a worthy successor given his great success building and developing the MChS and doing so in the teeth of both budgetary pressures and internal conservatism. However, there are grounds for caution and concern:
1. What is Shoigu’s game plan? Is Shoigu just the enthusiastic and efficient troubleshooter or might he have higher ambitions now that Putin’s position seems a little less certain and the behind-the-scenes discussions about who should be Medvedev’s successor as prime minister have undoubtedly begun. As I comment in my first column for Russia Beyond the Headlines, if Shoigu has more than just military reform in mind, he might well be tempted not to pick the fights that taking that project to the next level will demand, above all with the defense-industrial lobby. (And it it worth noting that the lobby’s current champion, Dmitry Rogozin, might also be eyeing the prime ministerial slot, muddying the waters further.)
2. What are Shoigu’s orders (and limits)? It was striking that when Putin met Shoigu and his new CoGS Gerasimov, he stressed the importance of new equipment and good relations with the defense industries. I think that Alexander Golts is right to interpret that as an injunction not to follow Serdyukov’s line — he was openly (and justly) critical of the defense industries for producing poor weapons at high prices, too late and too little reflecting what Russia’s military actually needed. Hence the decisions to buy French ships, Italian armored vehicles and Israeli drones — both to provide capabilities lacking and also to make a point. It sounds as if Shoigu is being told to make nice to the metal-bashers, who after all are a powerful, hungry political lobby. If so, then his room actually to use his budget usefully becomes much more confined.
3. What is Gerasimov going to do? One lesson of the Serdyukov era was that it was crucial that a civilian defense minister (and though Shoigu technically holds a general’s rank, he is a civilian) needs a tough and local chief of the general staff as his adviser and, if need be, enforcer. Makarov was in many ways a good choice as he had reputation and rank, but was an outsider from the ‘Arbat Military District’ circles of the Muscovite military elite, as well as a specialist on training (a key problem needing to be addressed). His successor, Valery Gerasimov, 57, comes from Kazan and was a career army officer, a tank commander, who was commander of the 58th Army in Chechnya 2001-3, but nonetheless managed to earn the praise of Anna Politkovskaya for his role in the arrest of Budanov. He was Makarov’s deputy 2010-12, but the word is they did not get along and this helps explain his appointment this year to head the Central Military District. Gerasimov is described as a “conservative” but it is sometimes hard to know what that actually means — very few generals in any armies are free-thinking hippies, after all.
As a veteran tank commander, he may well be lobbying for that arm of service, which would actually place him on the same side as the defense industries. (And, I’d suggest, the other side from logic: Russia needs good light infantry, airmobile forces, and wheeled tank destroyers/fire support vehicles.) Beyond that, it is hard at this stage to know for what he stands. However, I suspect that he is much more of an insider and a shop steward for the generals’ lobby than Makarov ever was and I don’t think he’ll be pushing for further troop reductions and other radical steps. On the other hand, he was responsible for all those parades through Moscow, so even if Russia is going to squander the opportunities Serdyukov has opened up and return to a notion of ‘reform’ that really meant little more than ‘buying shiny new stuff,’ then at least we can be assured that they will be prettily showcased rumbling through Red Square…
4. Is anything going to be done about corruption? In many ways this is more a ritual observation more than a real question, as it is hard to see any great evidence that it will. Serdyukov’s downfall had everything to do with personal (very personal) politics and little to do with allegations of embezzlement. One slight shred of optimism is that it seems Main Military Prosecutor Fridinsky — who has done more than anyone in uniform to shed light on corruption and fraud within the MoD, saying that 20% of the State Defense Order disappears through theft and kickbacks – seems to have been the main figure behind the decision not to appoint macho order-more-than-law General Surovikin to head the new military police, which may suggest he has more traction than I realized. And if the Russian arms industries are still to be paid for their junk, then the MoD might need to find the money somewhere. But overall, it is still hard to be optimistic on this point.
Posted by Mark Galeotti on November 9, 2012