Capsule Review: Brothers Armed: military aspects of the crisis in Ukraine

BrothersArmed_fullColby Howard & Ruslan Pukhov (eds), Brothers Armed: military aspects of the crisis in Ukraine (East View Press, Minneapolis: 2014; viii+228pp; index, map, timeline; $89.95)

Is it too soon to write anything meaningful of book length about the annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine? I would have said so, until I read this excellent collection of studies from CAST, the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Its nine chapters range from an historical context of the conflict through autopsies of the decay of the Ukrainian armed forces—and let’s face it, if Kyiv or the local commanders had opted to put up a fight in Crimea, they’d have lost, but they might have forestalled the subsequent eastern Ukrainian adventure—to detailed assessments of the Russian military. There’s even a useful colour map of respective forces in Crimea.

As such, this offers not just an essential basic reference on the conflict, it also places it in the wider picture of Russia’s changing force structures and very way of war. Much of the Russian military may still be, speaking charitably, only partially reformed, but there is a core of effective, modern and flexible intervention forces that give the Kremlin new options that can offer no great comfort to its neighbors or to a NATO that is having desperately to consider how an alliance built for a “big war” can respond in an age of blended political-economic-information-military hybrid or non-linear operations.

CAST is an outstanding research outfit, and one of the few in Russia that is looking at security issues with genuine independence and acuity. This book is just more evidence of that. Very highly recommended.

Ukraine: a perversely “good” war for the GRU

GRU logoIt would seem on the surface that the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff–in other words, Russian military intelligence–is coming in for some flak for its operations in Ukraine. Kyiv has just outed and expelled a naval attache from the Russian embassy, Kirill Koliuchkin, as a lt. colonel in the GRU, while the GRU’s chief, Lt. General Igor Sergun, was on the latest EU sanctions list.

Personally, I’d assume the ‘Aquarium’–the GRU’s headquarters at Khodinka–must be delighted.

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On Russia, Ukraine, sanctions and war

Just a quick heads-up. There is now a report on my talk in parliament in London on ‘The Military Dimension of Russia’s Policy toward Ukraine: Should the West Be Worried?‘ under the auspices of the Henry Jackson Society here and also a full transcript of my opening remarks. Although the US government and NATO commander seems still to be suggesting Russian military action is imminent, my view is that the danger of that is receding; I hope I will be proved right. The next day, I spoke at the European Council on Foreign Relations about the political impact on Russia of sanctions, and you can hear a podcast of my comments here. I still suspect that future historians may conclude that when Putin took Crimea he lost not only Ukraine but, ultimately, the Kremlin.

Security Forces in and close to Kiev: a preliminary tally

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SBU special forces, armed and ready

I honestly have no idea what will happen in Kiev, whether the regime will fracture and crumble, whether the protests will subside, whether martial law has been declared: I am not a Ukrainian politics specialist and in any case, this is one of those situations in which I feel all bets are off and the only real question is who is the most plausible and lucky guessers amongst the assembled ranks of pundits. However, in a depressive moment, togo with my previous note on Berkut, I thought I’d quickly throw together a list of — to my knowledge, at least — the security forces available either in Kiev or close by. Of course, treat this with some caution, not least as it would be easy for the government quickly to bring in reinforcements from other police, Interior Troop and army commands. Still, I hope this list remains of no more than academic interest.

MVS Police

Central MVS assets

‘Sokil’ (Falcon) police commando unit

Kiev City Berkut Regiment – c. 450

Kiev City Berkut Regiment – c. 450

Kiev Region Berkut Regiment – c. 350?

Kiev City Police (especially its Public Order Directorate) – total force c. 11,000 cops

Cadets from the Kiev MVS Police Academy

MVS Interior Troops (VV)

Unit 3027 Bars (‘Snow Leopard’) MVS VV Special Purpose Brigade

Omega counter-terrorist company

22nd MVS VV Special Purpose Brigade

25th MVS VV Special Motorized Police Brigade

3rd MVS VV Brigade

Cadets from the MVS VV Academy

State Guard Directorate (UDO)

Some 2900 armed officers, mainly in Kiev

Titan special security unit

Security Service of Ukraine (SBU)

Security Directorate

Alfa counter-terrorist unit

Army

72nd Guards Mechanized Brigade: some 3,000 troops at Bila Tserkva, 80 km south of Kiev

Силы безопасности в и близко в Киев: предварительной оценки

Berkut: Yanukovich’s stormtroopers?

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Berkut at Work

As the terrible events in Kiev unfold, I’m getting increasing media queries about Berkut (‘Golden Eagle’), the Ukrainian riot police busily out on their skull-cracking work, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick summary here. In short, they are the descendants of the Soviet OMON and thus very similar to their Russian OMON counterparts (the acronym now stands for Special Purpose Mobile Units, even since the militsiya was renamed politsiya and no one much liked OPON as a new name). They even wear the same blue urban camouflage or black uniforms (although just to show that they are their own men, they wear maroon berets instead of their Russians’ black ones). In other words, Berkut (click here for a gung-ho recruitment video) fulfills a range of roles, from armed support to the regular police (such as in raids on gang headquarters), through additional patrollers on the streets. However, their prime and backstop role, as here, is in public order duties. Members either apply directly or are recruited from regular police and disproportionately served in the paratroopers or Naval Infantry (marines). Whatever one may feel about what they do, in fairness they are pretty good at it: they know how to pick the right kinds of recruits, train them well and keep them at a good level of physical and moral conditioning. As I say, this is a technical observation about their skills, not a moral judgement…

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