Half-hearted military assistance to Ukraine will only make things worse

recent report by the Atlantic Council think tank advocating the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine highlights the threat posed by Russia to neighboring states.

But the key question missing from the Atlantic Council report is what the West’s overall goal in the conflict should be. The possible goals could range from helping Ukraine restore control over the Donbass, to implementing a cease-fire along the current line of control, to simply deterring Russia from similar adventures elsewhere.

The Atlantic Council report assumes but does not prove that Russian efforts to dominate its neighbors pose a grave threat to international security in general because success in Ukraine will embolden President Vladimir Putin to take similar actions elsewhere.

Click here to read the rest of the op-ed.

Russian naval shipbuilding plans: Rebuilding a blue water navy

Since I wrote my previous post for Oxford Analytica several months ago, additional information has come out about what is contained in Russia’s shipbuilding program — which reportedly includes a naval development plan going out to 2050. Today, Konstantin Bogdanov at Lenta.ru has published a major update on these plans. The following is based on his article and on conversations with other Russian naval experts.


Strategic nuclear deterrence will remain the number one mission of the Russian Navy. As the three remaining Delta IIIs will be retired in the next five years and the six Delta IVs in the 2020s, Russia expects to replace them with a total of 12 Borei SSBNs. Eight are already contracted to be built in the next few years, with another four expected to be ordered in the next decade. The new subs are likely to be an updated version of the current Borei II subclass, with improved electronics and other updated components. The navy plans to locate six in the Northern Fleet and six in the Pacific Fleet.

There has been a great deal of controversy over the Yasen SSGN class, which was initially expected to replace both Oscar class SSGNs and various classes of smaller multi-purpose SSNs. Eight have been ordered so far and there is some debate on whether an additional four Yasen subs will be ordered for construction after 2020. This will depend on whether the cost of serial production can be brought down and on the success of the just started modernization of Oscar class SSGNs (which is expected to extend these subs’ lifespan by 15-20 years). The goal is to have a total of 12 SSGNs, again with six each in the Northern and Pacific Fleets.

However, there is now a plan to develop a new multi-purpose nuclear submarine class, with the goal of building something cheaper and smaller than the Yasen class. This would be an attack submarine with decreased missile armament, comparable to the American Virginia class. The navy hopes to begin construction of these subs as early as 2016, with the goal of building a total of 16-18 of them, with at least 15 completed by 2035. These submarines would be armed with 16 (4×4) VLS, 4-6 torpedo tubes, updated Kalibr missiles and Tsirkon missiles (which will replace Oniks).

As far as diesel submarines, no more Improved Kilo class submarines will be built after the current contract of six for the Black Sea Fleet is completed. Instead the navy is planning to order a new class of diesel-electric submarines that will in essence be a modernized version of the Lada class, with air-independent propulsion. The goal is to build 14-18 of these subs over a 15 year period, though mainly in the 2020s. These subs will have armaments analogous to the Lada class, though some may be optimized for special operations, with airlocks for swimmers. They will be build primarily at Admiralty Shipyards, though Krasnoe Sormovo may also be involved in the project. The second and third Lada hulls will also be completed, most likely in 2017.

Surface ships

The community of Russian naval experts has in recent months yet again been consumed by the question of whether the navy should build aircraft carriers and, if so, what kind? Bogdanov writes that construction of a carrier could begin no earlier than 2020 and would carry substantial financial and technical risks. The prospective carrier would be a descendant of the never finished Ulianovsk class aircraft carrier, with a deadweight of 65,000-80,000 tons and could carry 55-60 aircraft. The planes would probably be a naval version of the T-50 fifth generation fighter plane, as well as some long-range AWACS aircraft that would be more effective than existing Ka-31 helicopters. The prospective carrier would have air defense and ASW capabilities, but no strike armaments of its own.

Russian experts have noted that Russian shipyards could build a 60,000-70,000 ton carrier in 4-5 years, but could have difficulties if the military decides to build a larger supercarrier. One problem is the lack of a suitably large drydock, as Soviet carriers were built at Nikolayev, Ukraine. A small carrier (less than 60,000 tons) could be built at Baltiiskii Zavod, but the military does not want such a design. If the navy wants to avoid the delays that would come from having to build new construction facilities,  one option that has been floated for building a large carrier is to build two halves at Baltiiskii Zavod and the Vyborg shipyard, and then connect them afloat at Sevmash.

The navy is likely to build eight more Admiral Gorshkov class frigates, in addition to the eight already under contract, as well as a total of 20 corvettes of various versions. Three Admiral Grigorovich class frigates may also be built, in addition to the six currently under construction for the Black Sea Fleet. All of these ships are being armed with Oniks anti-ship missiles and Kalibr multi-purpose missiles, which can both be fired through universal vertical launch systems. The main question here is the extent to which the program for construction of these ships will be delayed due to the shift in turbine production that has resulted from the end of military industrial cooperation between Russia and Ukraine. Most Russian experts believe that two years will be sufficient to set up production of turbines in Russia, though the actual extent of the delay is likely to be clear by the middle of this year. In any case, Russia is believed to have already received turbines for the first four ships of each of these classes.

The navy is planning to begin production of large destroyers (15,000 tons) that some consider to be essentially missile cruisers in all but name. It has not been decided whether these ships will have nuclear or gas turbine propulsion systems. They will have a wide range of both offensive and defense armaments, including Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles and a naval version of the S-500 long-range air defense system, both of which are expected to be ready by the mid-2020s. The hope is to have the first ship of this class ready by 2023-25 and to eventually build a total of at least 12 (though other analysts believe that construction of these destroyers won’t begin before 2023).

A number of modernization projects are also in the works. Cruiser modernization is now under way, with the Admiral Nakhimov Kirov class cruiser scheduled to be ready for active duty in 2018 after the replacement of all of its armaments and electronic components. The Peter the Great cruiser may be modernized in a similar fashion once the Nakhimov’s refit is complete. Two or three Slava class cruisers will also be modernized in the next few years. Five to seven Udaloy class destroyers may also be modernized, with new armaments and universal vertical launch systems, while the largely useless Sovremennyi class destroyers will finally be retired as replacing their defective propulsion systems is considered unrealistic.

Regardless of the final resolution of the saga with the procurement of Mistral class amphibious ships from France, the navy is also planning to replace all existing amphibious ships with new classes. Specifically, it plans to build a new LPD type amphibious ship, similar to the Dutch Rotterdam class with a displacement of 14-16,000 tons and able to carry 500-600 naval infantry, six helicopters, and various amphibious vehicles. The goal is to have 2-3 such ships each in the Northern and Pacific Fleets, with construction to start late in this decade. In addition, progress is being made in the long-running construction saga of the Ivan Gren amphibious ship, with the lead ship expected to be commissioned in 2015 after more than ten years of construction. Previous delays were caused by irregular financing and frequent changes in design specifications. With the latter now pretty much set, subsequent ships can be expected to be built much faster as long as the financing is available. The goal is to have eight such ships, four each in the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets.

A brief assessment

As always with Russian military construction plans, this program sounds quite grandiose. And if it is fully implemented, the Russian navy will be back as a full-fledged oceangoing force by the end of the next decade. However, it seems to me that given their current capacities Russian shipyards will not be able to carry out the entire plan in the expected timelines. Furthermore, there is a big question over the ability of the Russian state to finance such a program given the economic difficulties that it is likely to face in the next several years. Over the last several years, we have seen repeated delays with the construction of new ship types even when the economic situation was much more positive and the ships being built much smaller and simpler than destroyers and aircraft carriers. The recently-completed long-running saga with the modernization of the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy shows the problems that Russia may face as it starts to build larger and more complex ships.

Nevertheless, it is clear that while the Russian Navy has resigned itself to focus on strategic deterrence and coastal defense missions in the short and medium terms, it still has ambitions of restoring its blue water navy in the long term.


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.

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

New POPC Sochi Olympics issue available for free

ME Sharpe has made the entire Problems of Post-Communism Sochi Olympics special issue available for free online through February 28, 2014.

The issue includes an introduction by guest editors Richard Arnold and Andrew Foxall and features articles by Sufian Zhemukhov and Robert W. Orttung on the Russian government’s management of security for the games; Bo Petersson on Putin’s high-stakes Great Power play in Sochi; and Natalia Gronskaya and Andrey Makarychev on the Olympics and the discourse of sovereign power in Putin’s Russia. There is also an article on rural inequality in Russia by Stephen Wegren.

You can access the individual articles below or view the entire issue.

Problems of Post-Communism

Vol. 61, No. 1 | January-February 2014

Richard Arnold and Andrew Foxall

Munich Syndrome

Sufian Zhemukhov and Robert W. Orttung

Still Embodying the Myth?

Bo Petersson

The 2014 Sochi Olympics and “Sovereign Power”

Natalia Gronskaya and Andrey Makarychev

Rural Inequality in Post-Soviet Russia

Stephen K. Wegren

Russian Politics and Law, May 2013 Table of Contents

Volume 51 Number 3 / May-June 2013 of Russian Politics and Law is now available on the mesharpe.metapress.com web site.

This issue contains:

Migration Policy in Russia: Editor’s Introduction  p. 3
Dmitry Gorenburg
Central Asian Migration: Practices, Local Communities, Transnationalism  p. 6
Sergei Abashin
Integrating Immigrants in an Economic Crisis: (European and Russian Experience)  p. 21
Iana Strel’tsova
Migrants in Russian Cities  p. 48
Ol’ga Vendina
Ethnic and Migration Policy in the 2000s Viewed in the Context of Relations Between the Federal Center and the Regions  p. 66
Vladimir Mukomel’
Russia Needs a New Migration Policy  p. 80
Sergei Riazantsev
Meet the Migrants  p. 89
Andrei Molchanov

Eastern command exercises completed

A week ago, the Russian military completed the largest spot check exercise it has conducted since 1991. The MOD has put out some information on the scale and units involved. The slides were helpfully reproduced by Ruslan Pukhov in his blog.  They are done in the usual Russian style — it’s all about how many planes flew, how many tons of equipment were moved, etc. Nevertheless, there are some interesting tidbits. Here are some highlights.

The exercise involved 160,000 personnel from all three military branches. Ground forces from all four Eastern district armies and the 41st army of the Central district were involved, including 9 infantry brigades, the 18th artillery division (based in the Southern Kurils), a tank brigade, 2 air assault brigades, a naval infantry brigade, 5 signal brigades, 2 artillery brigades, 2 rocket brigades, 1 MRLS brigade, 2 air defense brigades, 2 NBC defense brigades, 4 logistics brigades, and 2 equipment storage bases. 12,000 vehicles were activated.

The air force activated 130 aircraft and helicopters from four commands (Long Range Aviation, Military-Transport Aviation, 2nd Air and Air Defense Forces Command — Yekaterinburg, 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command — Khabarovsk). The specific air force units involved were the 6952nd LRA Base from Amur Oblast, the 6955th MTA Base from Tver, the 6980th aviation base from Chelyabinsk, and the 6983rd aviation base from Primorskii Krai.

Naval participation included 70 ships from the 36th surface ship division, 165th surface ship brigade, 10th and 25th submarine divisions, 19th submarine brigade, 100th assault ship brigade, 114th coastal defense ship brigade, and the 520th independent coastal missile-artillery brigade.

One infantry brigade arrived by sea, while 30 transport aircraft moved 8,500 personnel over 167 flights. 1000 reservists were involved, from Primorsky Krai. 45 field control centers were activated, most at the brigade level. 8 UAVs completed 22 flights. One of the 12 long range aviation planes failed to complete (or maybe to start?) its flight.

The overall assessment of these exercises from the military has been largely positive, though some areas did come in for criticism. Yuri Borisov noted that 3-4% of vehicles broke down during the exercise, either because of errors made by the  operators or because the equipment was old. This is not ideal, but is certainly a better statistic than in the bad old days a decade ago. Shoigu criticized the state of the communications system, noting that military communications are only 18% effective. It’s not clear what that number actually means, but it’s clearly not good. Marksmanship also came in for criticism, in part because of a lack of practice.  He was pleased with military transportation, highlighting in particular that railroad transportation functioned at almost double the allotted rate of travel (1000km/day vs 600km/day). He also noted that changes may be made to the structure of the air force, primarily by dividing up the air bases that were created a few years ago and and re-opening some of the military airports closed by Serdyukov.

UPDATE: Aleksei Nikolskii wrote to say that Shoigu’s statement on the communications systems being 18% effective referred to R&D efforts on C2 systems not producing results, rather than the systems’ effectiveness during the exercise itself.  He also notes that the actual number of troops involved was much lower. For each infantry brigade, only battalion-size tactical groups were mobilized, for other brigades, composite detachments were formed to represent each brigade. About 15,000 troops were moved by rail and aircraft (8,200 of these by air). Cooperation across military branches was problematic, with the naval infantry unit getting an unsatisfactory rating. The problems with firing accuracy were mostly among conscripts, who also were responsible for the lion’s share of technical problems with equipment.