Baltic Fleet commanders fired

Today, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the commander (Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk) and chief of staff (Rear Admiral Sergei Popov) of the Baltic Fleet were both fired for cause, as were several other unnamed senior officials at the fleet. This was the largest mass replacement of senior naval officials in the Russian Navy since the Soviet period. The official statement indicated that the removal was the result of serious shortcomings in the officers’ work that were revealed in a month-long review of the fleet’s performance that concluded on June 10. The official notice highlighted “serious shortcomings in organizing combat training, daily activities of their units, poor care of their subordinates as well as misrepresenting the real situation in their reports.”

Although Kravchuk has his defenders, it appears that his removal  was the result of real shortcomings, although combined with external factors that made his removal relatively easy to carry out. Ilya Kramnik and Konstantin Bogdanov have done some very interesting reporting on this subject. They argue that these shortcomings include the unsatisfactory performance of Baltic Fleet minesweepers during exercises that took place in August 2015, combined with a low level of combat readiness among the fleet’s newest ships. The fleet’s four Project 20380 Steregushchiy class corvettes have not deployed to the Mediterranean Sea or Indian Ocean a single time in the nine years since the first of the ships was commissioned into the fleet. Furthermore, the ships have had more than their share of accidents and fires.

In addition to questions about the fleet’s combat readiness, the commanders were also criticized for inadequate living conditions for personnel stationed at the fleet’s bases. The commanders were given until this spring to correct the problems in both areas, and today’s announcement shows that the recently completed review found them still wanting.

Kravchuk’s enforced departure was smoothed by the replacement last winter of the Commander of the Russian Navy, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, who was removed in November 2015 officially because of health concerns. Chirkov, who had been Kravchuk’s patron in the navy for many years, was rumored to have also been removed due to complaints about inadequate readiness in some units — in his case naval infantry and support ships. These problems had come to a head because of increased requirements related to the Syrian Express operation for supplying Syrian and then Russian troops in Syria with military equipment.

Kramnik and Bogdanov note that although problems at the Baltic Fleet may have been particularly noticeable, they do not differ that much from problems evident in Russia’s other fleets. The reason that the leadership of the Baltic Fleet was chosen may be more a factor of the fleet’s relative lack of importance in present-day Russian operations. Therefore, today’s announcement may also serve as a warning to the commanders of the other fleets that they need to improve their work or face similar consequences.

 

Belarus defense minister slides from MCIS 2016

Today’s installment of the MCIS 2016 slides brings us to Andrei Ravkov, the Minister of Defense of Belarus, who spoke at the European security plenary session near the end of the conference. Video of his speech is available in Russian and in English.

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Sergey Makarov slides from MCIS 2016

Here’s another set of slides, this one from a presentation by Col. General Sergey Makarov, Commandant of the Military Academy of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff. He spoke at the final plenary panel, on problems of war and peace in Europe. Unfortunately, the MCIS website has provided neither the text of his remarks, nor a video.

I took notes on his remarks, so here are the highlights, followed by the slides.

The European security system was created after World War II and institutionalized with the Helsinki Final Act. The main problem in recent years has been the result of double standards and other countries’ inability to convince the U.S. to reject its backward policies.

Russia is concerned about the ties between terrorist activities in the Middle East and European security, including the threat posed by uncontrolled migration. Russia is also concerned about the return of Nazism and the falsification of history in the Baltics and Ukraine.

Russia can not be separated from Europe, as they are part of a single economic and political space. We need to create a new common security structure that includes the United States but does not exaggerate its role. There’s a need for mutually respectful cooperation on many areas, including counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, opposing Nazism, and cyber crime.

European values are being diluted. For the first time in centuries, Europe is no longer the center of the international system. Power is moving eastward.

Existing European agreements need to be transferred from a political to a legal basis. Russia would like to see a new treaty, but this is a long and difficult process. For now, would be satisfied if existing agreements were followed and perhaps expanded.

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Slides from MCIS 2016 panel on Color Revolutions

Two more sets of slides today, both from the panel on Color Revolutions and Regional Security. The first set goes with the speech by Major General Sergei Afanasyev, Deputy Chief of the Main Directorate of the Russian General Staff. While the text of the speech is not available, there is a video with English translation (starts at approximately 3 minute mark).

(Scroll down for slides provided by President Putin’s internet advisor.)

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The second set of slides goes with the speech by German Klimenko, the advisor to President Putin on the internet. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a video or text of his speech online. If anyone has a link, please email it to me or point to it in the comments.IMG_2368IMG_2369IMG_2370IMG_2371IMG_2372IMG_2373IMG_2374

Gerasimov slides from MCIS 2016

A number of people have asked me to post the slides from the MCIS conference. I have a number of sets. First up is Valery Gerasimov’s presentation. These slides can be usefully combined with the Russian text of his speech or the translated English language video of his remarks.

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Moscow International Security Conference 2016 edition

Last week, I was once again in attendance at the Russian MOD’s Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). This was the fifth such conference and the third that I’ve attended. In the past, I’ve summarized all the key speeches by Russian participants. That seems less necessary this year as video from the entire conference has been posted online, both in Russian and in English.  I do have the slides from most of the speeches, which have not been posted online by the organizers, and will post them over the next few days. Other than that, it seems more valuable to write up my general impressions, rather than focusing on the specifics of what was said.

The overall tone was less hostile toward the United States than last year. Last year, the speakers were quite open in declaring that the United States was creating threats to international security by undermining governments of states that refused to go along with U.S. “diktat.” This year, the formulations were much more indirect, along the lines of “some [unnamed] states are continuing to have a negative impact on international security by promoting exclusive military blocs, establishing military bases around the world, and dictating their will through the use of their military superiority.” While the target of such formulations is of course entirely transparent, the mere fact that the United States is not being mentioned by name is a sign that the Russian government is at least making an effort to shift its rhetoric to a less hostile stance.

The desire to reestablish a relationship with the United States was made clear when the topic turned to the threat of terrorism, the primary theme of this year’s conference. Here, the Russian officials made sure to argue that the ability of the United States and Russia to cooperate in Syria shows that the two countries can work together and stated that they hoped that such cooperation could be expanded to a broader range of issues. This line was prominent in all the speeches, and particularly in those of Nikolai Patrushev, Sergei Shoigu, and Valery Gerasimov.

Of course, the unspoken subtext underlying this call for cooperation was predicated on the notion that Russia and the United States could solve all the world’s security problems if only the United States followed Russia’s prescriptions on how to act. This was most openly stated by Sergei Lavrov, who said that what the West needs to do is to drop its anti-Russian policies.

While Russia’s relationship with the West was still one of the primary topics for discussion, it was certainly less central than at any of the past conferences. The majority of the non-Russian plenary speakers were from Asian states, and one of the two initial substantive plenary sessions was on military cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. After the usual opening lineup of Russian government heavy-hitters (Patrushev, Shoigu, Lavrov, Bortnikov), the first plenary on the threat of terrorism included the defense ministers of China, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Hamid Karzai. The Asia-Pacific panel included more Asian defense ministers, this time from India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Laos. The most striking thing about this panel was the lack of any participation by Russian officials. Unlike the first panel, where Valery Gerasimov presented the Russian government’s view on the threat posed by international terrorism, the Russian government chose not to present its view on Asian security issues. The only Russian on the dais for this session was conference host and panel moderator Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, who said little of substance on the topic at hand.

It seems to me that the Russian government’s lack of participation in the Asia-Pacific discussion was quite deliberate. Russia is in a bit of a bind in the region. One the one hand, it is dependent on its “strategic partnership” with China, especially since the deterioration of relations with the West. On the other hand, it is looking to develop security and especially economic ties with a number of Southeast Asian states — most particularly Vietnam and Indonesia — and to deepen its existing relationship with South Korea. The disputes between China and its Asian neighbors, particularly the maritime border dispute in the South China Sea, places Russia in a difficult position. I would not be surprised if the absence of a Russian speaker on the Asia-Pacific panel was a deliberate decision taken so as to avoid having to make the hard choices about how to thread the needle on the sensitive issue of China’s security relations with its neighbors.

Finally, a few words about the general atmosphere. The conference was much better organized than last year, when panels repeatedly ran over time and the agenda had to be modified on the fly. Shoigu was not visibly unhappy, as he was last year. The conference was also much larger than in the past. The plenary sessions took place in the large Congress Hall, rather than in the meeting rooms of the Radisson Ukraina hotel as in the past. The increase in size was also notable in the addition of breakout sessions and the expansion to a second day of panels.

While in the previous two years, one had a sense of being at a conference that was an opportunity for a wide range of representatives of rogue (and quasi-rogue) states to get together, this was largely absent this year. Sure, the Iranian Defense Minister took the opportunity to go on about “Zionist terrorism,” but this was the exception, rather than the rule. The 2016 list of speakers notably excluded senior officials from countries such as North Korea and Cuba, who had prominently featured in past years. They were replaced by representatives of countries such as Argentina, the Phillippines, and Chile. In addition, the presence of senior officials from South Africa and most major Asian and Middle Eastern states highlights the global nature of the event. The absence of Western officials, which looks set to continue as long as military cooperation between Russia and NATO remains frozen, prevents MCIS from becoming a truly global conference. But even absent the West, the high level of representation from a wide range of countries from around the world is a clear indication that the MCIS has become a regular stop on the global international security conference circuit.

 

Impact of the economic crisis on Russian military modernization

The Cipher Brief asked me to write a short piece on the impact of Russia’s economic downturn on prospects for the Russian military, as part of a series on Russian military modernization.

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The drop in Russian state revenues has affected Russian military modernization to some extent, though the Russian government has made an effort to insulate the military from budget cuts. Although the 2015 military budget was cut by five percent mid-year, the total allocation was still 25 percent higher than the previous year’s budget. This allowed the military to continue its modernization process, conduct operations in Syria, and fulfill its training and exercise programs.

With oil prices remaining low, the military is facing a more difficult financial picture in 2016. In November, the Finance Ministry announced that the total 2016 defense budget would be largely the same as in 2015. However, last month, an additional five percent cut was announced, which will result in the first annual net decline in Russian defense spending since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.

As a result of the deteriorating financial outlook, the fulfillment of the 2011-2020 State Armament Program is now in question.

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