Crimea Taught Us a Lesson, But Not How the Russian Military Fights

I have started a new collaboration with War on the Rocks. I’ll be writing for them once a month or so. Here’s the first piece, on Crimea and the Russian military.

—–

With the rapid operation that resulted in the annexation of Crimea earlier this year, the Russian military returned to the collective consciousness of the American public. Many commentators were impressed with the “little green men’s” professional demeanor and shiny new equipment. In some cases, this impression was undeservedly expanded to apply to the rest of the Russian military. In this context, it is important to discuss what the Crimean operation does and does not tell us about the capabilities of the Russian military.

The first clear lesson from the Crimean operation is that the Russian military understands how to carry out operations with a minimal use of force. This observation may initially seem banal or trivial, but we should keep in mind how Russian troops acted in previous operations in Chechnya and even to some extent in Georgia. Subtlety was not a strong suit in these operations, nor did it seem to be particularly encouraged by the political leadership. Instead, the goal seemed to be to use overwhelming force without much regard for civilian casualties. By contrast, the entire operation in Crimea was conducted with virtually no bloodshed or violence. There were three keys to this success:

Diversionary tactics

The Swedish analyst Johan Norberg was perhaps the first to highlight the significance of the major military exercise that was held on Ukraine’s eastern border in late February. While the Ukrainian government, as well as Western analysts and intelligence agencies, were distracted by the large-scale publicly announced mobilization in Russia’s Western military district, forces from the Southern military district and from airborne and Special Forces units located elsewhere in Russia were quietly transferred to Sevastopol.

You can read the rest of the article at War on the Rocks.

Midrats appearance

I was on the Blog Talk Radio show Midrats yesterday, talking about Russian security issues, Ukraine, and the like. The recording is now available on the show’s website.

The show description is as follows:

Episode 226: Quo vadis Putin’s Novorossiya, with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

So far in 2014, the big lesson is what people have known for centuries; in Eurasia you cannot ignore Russia. The cliché is accurate, Russia is never as weak or as strong as she seems.

What do the developments so far mean not just for Ukraine, but for all the former Soviet Republics, slumbering Western Europe and Russia’s near abroad?

Ukrainian protests: A tale of two maps

I have a post on the Ukrainian protests on The Monkey Cage. Washington Post rules don’t allow the entire text to be published here, but here’s a teaser: 

As the situation in Ukraine’s eastern regions deteriorates, with more and more administration buildings in eastern cities and towns being occupied by separatist activists, it is worth remembering some parallel events that took place in late January. In the immediate aftermath of the passage of a set of repressive anti-protest laws by the Viktor Yanukovych government, anti-Yanukovych activists took over local administration buildings in a host of western and some central Ukrainian regions. The map below, posted on Facebook by Sergii Gorbachov, shows the extent of these protests as of Jan. 25. Regions with occupied administrative buildings are marked in blue and yellow, while regions where seizures were attempted but had been unsuccessful are marked in red. The southeast is largely quiet.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=850763154938797&set=pb.100000153610067.-2207520000.1398887460.&type=3&theater

It’s worth comparing this map to a map produced on Wednesday, based on information provided by the Ukrainian Information Resistance group…. [To read the rest, click here]

Russian Politics and Law, September 2013 Table of Contents: Ukrainian Right-Wing Extremism

I’ve fallen behind in posting tables of contents from Russian Politics and Law. Here’s the September 2013 issue, which presciently enough was devoted to Ukrainian right wing extremism.

Volume 51 Number 5 / September-October 2013 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the mesharpe.metapress.com web site.

Starting Post-Soviet Ukrainian Right-Wing Extremism Studies from Scratch: Guest Editor’s Introduction pp. 3 – 10
Andreas Umland
Ukrainian Integral Nationalism in Quest of a “Special Path” (1920s-1930s) pp. 11 – 32
Oleksandr Zaitsev
Ultraright Party Politics in Post-Soviet Ukraine and the Puzzle of the Electoral Marginalism of Ukrainian Ultranationalists in 1994-2009 pp. 33 – 58
Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov
Right-Wing Extremism on the Rise in Ukraine pp. 59 – 74
Viacheslav Likhachev
Social-Nationalists in the Ukrainian Parliament: How They Got There and What We Can Expect of Them pp. 75 – 85
Viacheslav Likhachev
A Typical Variety of European Right-Wing Radicalism? pp. 86 – 95
Andreas Umland

How not to do maps of military strength

Der Spiegel produced the following map, comparing Russian and eastern NATO states’ military strength. This is a great example of what NOT to do in producing such maps, unless your main goal is to incite worry or spread misinformation.

Embedded image permalink

The map vastly exaggerates Russian troop strength, in three different ways. First, the numbers are just wrong. Russia has at most 750,000 men under arms across all services. This includes cadets, trainees, etc. Second, the numbers include all of Russia’s troops, including those located in the Far East, Central Asia, and other parts of the country quite distant from Europe and Ukraine. Third, nothing is said about the quality of troops and equipment. How many of those tanks and airplanes are actually combat-ready? Certainly a higher percentage than a few years ago, but still far from all. Now, it may be that this point also applies to Central European forces. But it would still be good to compare the numbers that could actually be brought to bear in a conflict, rather than some kind of abstract top-line number that has nothing to do with actual force dispositions or capabilities.

Compare, for example, to the following map, produced by Dmitry Tymchuk almost three weeks ago, when concerns about a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine were quite high.

This map shows the relevant number of forces that can be brought to bear against Ukraine. It doesn’t directly address the combat-readiness question regarding individual equipment, except through the use of the “up to X” language for all equipment and personnel. But at least it is clear regarding the maximum number of troops that could be involved. More could of course be brought in from other military districts in a lengthy conflict, but such a conflict would also allow for the reinforcement of central European states from Western Europe and the United States.

Note that the total troop strength of relevant Russian forces is 80,000. Less than 1/10 of the number cited by Der Spiegel. Aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery are also at around 10 percent of the der Spiegel numbers. Russia’s conventional military is much stronger than the Ukrainian army, but it is no match for NATO’s forces in Europe.

 

My views on Ukraine crisis

Last Friday I participated in a panel on the Ukraine crisis at George Washington University. The panel was broadcast by C-Span. I discussed the military aspects of the operation and US policy towards Russia. Other speakers included Volodymyr Dubovyk of Odessa National University and Oleksandr Fisun of Kharkiv National University, who discussed developments in Ukraine, and Viacheslav Morozov of Tartu University, who discussed some of the causes of the crisis. Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to the various parts of the video, but my presentation starts at the 1:02 mark.

 

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet

The crisis in Ukraine has highlighted the importance of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. I’ve written about the fleet in the past, but it may be worthwhile to provide an update, especially as there have been a couple of surveys of the fleet published in recent days in the Russian press and blogosphere.

The fleet currently consists of 40 combat ships, 28 of which are on active duty while the others are undergoing repair or modernization. The average age of these ships is 25, though the largest and most capable ships that are based in Sevastopol are also the oldest. (The average age of Sevastopol-based ships is 32.5) The flagship is the Slava-class cruiser Moskva. Large combat ships also include the Kara-class cruiser Kerch, the Kashin-class destroyer Smetlivyi, and two Krivak class frigates (Pytlivyi and Ladnyi). The Ladnyi is current being overhauled and is scheduled to return to active duty in August. A second Kara-class cruiser, the Ochakov, was decommissioned several years ago and has now been scuttled so as to block the exist of several Ukrainian Navy ships from Lake Donuzlav. These ships comprise the 11th brigade of ASW ships. The 197th brigade of amphibious ships includes six active ships: three Alligator class (Saratov, Orsk, Nikolai Filchenkov) and four Ropucha class (Novocherkassk, Azov, and Yamal), as well as one inactive Ropucha class ship, the Tsesar Kunikov. Together, these two brigades comprise the 30th division of surface ships. Smaller combat ships based in Sevastopol include three Grisha-class corvettes (Suzdalets, Aleksandrovsk, and Muromets) in the 400th ASW ship squadron, four mine warfare ships in the 418th minesweeper squadron, and 4-5 missile boats in the 295th missile boat squadron. There is also the Alrosa Kilo-class submarine. The newest of any of these ships were commissioned in 1990.

Ships based in Novorossiisk include three Grisha-class corvettes (Kasimov, Eisk, Povorino), two Nanuchka-class missile ships (Mirazh and Shtil), five active and two inactive mine warfare ships, and two hoverborne guided missile corvettes (Bora and Sivuch). These ships are generally newer than the Sevastopol-based ships, with an average age of 22.8. There are also several quite new patrol boats based in Novorossiisk.

Over the next few years, the BSF is expected to receive six new Admiral Grigorovich class frigates over the next three years. These are similar to the Talwar class frigates that Russia exported to India a few years ago. It is also expected to receive up to six new improved Kilo class diesel submarines in the same time period.

Finally, it may be worth briefly pointing out the Black Sea Fleet’s land and air forces, which include the 11th coastal missile artillery brigade armed with Bastion anti-ship missile systems. These are normally located in Anapa (2 on the map), though there have been some reports that they have been relocated to the Crimea in recent days. The 1096th anti-aircraft missile regiment is located in Sevastopol (5 on the map). Naval infantry forces include the 810th naval infantry brigade based in Sevastopol (3 on the map) and the 382nd independent naval infantry battalion based in Temriuk (4 on the map). The 431st naval reconnaissance post is located in Tuapse, near the border with Abkhazia (6 on the map). Naval aviation forces include facilities at Kacha (7 on the map) and Gvardeiskoe (8 on the map), both Crimea. The former houses (approximately) 20 Ka-27 and Mi-14 helicopters and 10 Mi-8 helicopters, as well as 10 Antonov transport planes of various types and 4 Be-12 amphibious planes. The latter houses 22 Su-24M attack aircraft.

Update: Thanks to Constantin Bogdanov, who highlighted some changes that I (and the authors of the surveys) missed: “The 1096th anti-aircraft missile regiment was disbanded in 2011; now there are two anti aircraft battalions (зенитно-ракетных дивизионов) combined with 810th brigade. Also, all Mi-14 are scrapped between 1995-2005.”