A calling card of a militaristic society is the tendency of the authorities to respond to all challenges by means of force, military or otherwise. The Kremlin’s fear of so-called color revolutions has materialized into a buildup of the resources available to the recently minted Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), which was designed to quell unrest. Unprecedented powers have now been added to its resources.
In the last part of May, when the public was distracted by the police raids on the Gogol Center and director Kirill Serebrennikov, almost no one noticed a new decree, issued by President Putin, which approved the “Regulations on the Tactical and Geographical Organization of the Forces of the Russian Federal National Guard.” At first glance, it is a run-of-the-mill and extraordinarily boring bureaucratic document. But that it is only at first glance. In fact, only a few lines in the decree point to a genuine revolution in the organization of Russia’s military.
“By decision of the President of the Russian Federation,” reads the document, “the units and divisions of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, as well as other military formations and bodies, can be transferred to the tactical subordination of the district commander to perform tasks assigned to National Guard troops.”
A New Kind of War
In both Soviet and post-Soviet times, the possibility was envisaged that the Internal Troops of the Interior Ministry, on whose basis the Russian National Guard was established in 2016, could be subordinated to the Armed Forces. After all, an external foe could have gained the upper hand over the army, and to repel it, it would have been necessary to concentrate all the country’s military forces into a single fist. Units from the Internal Troops have been involved in all major military exercises in recent years under the command of the army. But it has never been suggested that army units would be subordinated to the command of the Internal Troops.
There were no hints in last year’s law, which instituted the Russian National Guard, that army units could be subordinated to Guard commanders, for such subordination could mean only one thing: the Kremlin regards domestic threats as much more dangerous than foreign threats. These domestic threats are so serious that, at some point, the Russian National Guard might lack the strength to repel them, although, according to its commander-in-chief, Viktor Zolotov, its troop strength has doubled in comparison with the Internal Troops (which had 187,000 men in its ranks before their reassignment), i.e., the Russian National Guard has close to 400,000 soldiers. The president’s decree means the authorities concede the possibility of large-scale unrest that would affect the entire country. Under such circumstances, all reserves would be deployed, and the army would be engaged in performing their notorious “internal function,” something the military has avoided like the plague both in Soviet and post-Soviet times.
In 2014, however, at a conference organized by the Defense Ministry, the generals, wishing to oblige the Kremlin, came to the stunning conclusion that so-called color revolutions were a new form of military action. Thus, in the new edition of The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, published in December 2014, we read that modern military conflicts are characterized by the “integrated use of military force and non-military political, economic, informational and other measures, implemented with extensive use of the populace’s protest potential and special tactical forces.” As we see, the “populace’s protest potential” is equated with the actions of enemy saboteurs.
At this point, seemingly, it was incumbent that something be done. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has on several occasions ordered several military institutions (including the Academy of the General Staff, for example) to carry out research on how the Armed Forces should react to such threats, but the outcomes of this research are still unknown. Likely as not, the officers corps did not wish to dirty its hands by planning how to deploy troops against its own people. All they could force themselves to do was come up with the idea of subordinating the army to the Russian National Guard, thus shifting responsibility to it for using force on the streets of Russia’s cities. Yet the commanders of the army units assigned to the Russian National Guard will themselves have to decide, when push comes to shove, whose orders to carry out and how to carry them out.
Last summer, units of the Russian National Guard and the Airborne Forces engaged in joint exercises in Volgograd Region. Servicemen from two brigades of the Russian National Guard and the Special Ops Centers, as well the Fifty-Sixth Airborne Assault Brigade of the Airborne Forces were involved in the exercises: a total of four thousand men. However, a member of the Defense Ministry, Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov, Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces, was in charge of the maneuvers. The general explained then that the exercises were the first to take place “after the reformation of the Internal Troops. We have been working out issues of interaction to understand how to cooperate in the future.” The reason why, during the initial stages, army generals were tapped to command the exercises is obvious. Their colleagues in the Russian National Guard did not have the know-how and experience to plan large-scale operations. But now, the president’s decree would have us think, the Kremlin favors loyalty over knowledge and ability, and it has subordinated the army to the police. By hook or by crook, the army is being prepared to put down its own people.
Russian National Guard Units in Russia (Districts and Cities Where Units Are Deployed. Source: www.rosgvard.ru
Super Law Enforcement Authority
The authorities, however, have not been hiding what jobs, the most important, as they imagine, the Russian National Guard will have to take on for the state. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin quite seriously dubbed it the “most belligerent military unity solving problems inside the country.” Even so, he underscored that the “Russian National Guard must be armed to the teeth, and not just to the teeth, but with the highest-quality weapons.”
True, the Guard itself is steadily becoming a super law enforcement body, a secret service backed up by thousands of troops. Relatively recently, for example, it transpired that the Guard was establishing a service for monitoring social networks on the internet.
“We see today the areas where we would like to develop. IT is in first place. […] The Russian National Guard plans to train IT specialists and specialists for monitoring social networks,” said Colonel General Sergei Melikov, deputy commander of the Russian National Guard.
According to Melikov, “such training groups” were already functioning at the Perm Military Institute.
Военнослужащие Росгвардии во время курса боевой подготовки, Московская область, февраль 2017 года. Фото: Дмитрий Коротаев/Коммерсантъ Russian National Guardsmen during combat training. Moscow Region, February 2017. Photo courtesy of Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant
General Melikov claimed the new unit would tasked only with tracking terrorists and preventing their attacks. But it is more likely the cyber-guardsmen will identify groups of “rebels,” including people planning to take part in protest rallies.
In the meantime, the media has reported on the Russian National Guard’s intentions to obtain permission to perform investigative work, thus establishing their own version of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department (MUR). So far, high-ranking officials in the Guard have decisively denied this. However, General Melikov revealed that the Russian National Guard would train the appropriate specialists if the authorities decided to give them these powers.
Finally, the top brass has consistently been involved in guiding the National Guardsmen ideologically. It would seem their ideal is the NKVD, for the authorities have not limited themselves to naming an tactical division of the Guard after Iron Felix. So, in the very near future, Dzerzhinsky’s name will be resurrected, incorporated as part of the name of the Guard’s Saratov Institute. The Guard’s units and divisions are supposed to be given the insignias and honorary titles of glorious predecessors. Uniformed historians have been tasked with finding something heroic about the NKVD’s troops. It is curious what they will write about the involvement of these “glorious warriors” in wholesale deportations and whether they will use these “heroic examples” to educate the Guardsmen.
The Potential Enemy
For the time being, the Russian National Guard’s commanders insist that its main objective is confronting terrorists and armed gangs, underplaying its role in dispersing civilians. But the same day the president’s decree was published, May 20, an article with the byline of Yuri Baluyevsky was published in the Independent Military Observer. In the recent past, Baluyevsky had been chief of the Armed Forces General Staff; he was later deputy secretary of the Security Council, and is now an adviser to the Russian National Guard’s commander-in-chief. His article is notable for its frankness.
“As a military man,” writes Baluyevsky, “I compare our country to a target. The center is the leadership and political elite. The second circle is the economy, the third, infrastructure, the fourth, the populace, and the fifth, the Armed Forces. Currently, it is not the Armed Forces who are being attacked, but the civilian population, since, compared with the military, it is the segment of society most vulnerable to the forces and methods of psychological warfare. The scenario for how events unfold is known from the color revolutions. The organizers get millions of people shouting ‘Down with the government!’ to take to the streets. The authorities start to lose control. Next come sanctions and an integrated attack on the country’s economy. The armed forces don’t know what to do. All of this leads the country to collapse. This is how a modern war could unfold. The emergence of the National Guard is a response to the challenge to our society, to the threat posed by the use of so-called nonviolent resistance, which it would be more accurate to call a ‘color revolution.'”
Thus, society’s allegedly least responsible segment, the civilian population of one’s own country, has been transformed into a potential enemy against whom the Russian National Guard and the army will be allowed to use force. They will be allowed to use military force against their own people.