One of the most important factors in understanding the internal politics of Russia is the gap between the leadership of the Russian military and Putin’s highly centralized power in Moscow and the regions. There are limited economic resources available for the military, despite regularly-announced expenditures on military hardware, and an increasing demand for extended military performance in the occupation of Crimea, the continuing military conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the expensive conflict in Russia’s war in Syria. The military are now preparing for September’s ZAPAD exercises, with Belarus, in the Baltics and expanding its presence in the new bases in the Arctic. Because of Russia’s continuing dependence on oil and gas exports for most of its income, the revenues for running the country are greatly diminished by the fall in prices of these commodities. As important as the drop in revenues, the Western ban on technological exports to Russia and the credit squeeze has made investing in new hardware and governing much more difficult for Putin. The dissonance between increasing demands on the Russian military and the concomitant squeeze on revenues available have proved difficult for the leaders of the Russian military to provide a coherent program. This has led to a sustained conflict between the leadership and Putin; often with devastating effects.
In late October2016 the Russian government announced it was preparing to slash government spending across the board over the next three years. Deep cuts are looming for health, education and defence — which is slated for a 27 per cent reduction in expenditure in 2017, according to a draft budget that the government submitted to parliament. The government forecasted that gross domestic product has dropped by 0.6 per cent in 2016, a third straight annual contraction. As part of its plan to reduce Russia’s fiscal deficit from 3.7 per cent of GDP this year to 1.2 per cent in 2019, the draft budget calls for a 1 per cent cut in total federal expenditure in 2017 and further 1.3 per cent and 0.33 per cent reductions in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Moscow expects federal expenses on healthcare in 2017 to drop to Rbs466bn, a 22 per cent cut compared with this year’s revised budget.
The country’s defence spending remains relatively high by international standards but Rbs800bn of the Rbs3,889bn total for 2016 went for the repayment of debt for past procurement. Military expenditure for 2017 is slated to plummet to Rbs2,835bn, representing 17.5 per cent of total spending and 3.3 per cent of GDP. This drop in funding has had several major effects on Russian military capabilities. In late 2016 the Russian press (“Nezavisimaya gazeta”) highlighted the rise of the “Homeless Regiment” at the Monument to the Heroes of 1905. More than 10,000 veterans of the Russian military in Moscow – and 30,000 members of their families -- who have been promised housing are not getting it because the defence ministry has redirected the money allocated for construction to the current military build-up required for the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy. The Russian government has a long history of not keeping its promises to veterans, a shortcoming that is increasingly infuriating those who aren’t getting what they were promised and certainly is doing nothing to boost morale of those who are still serving and may have increasing doubts that Moscow will live up to its promises when the time comes. According to the Moscow paper, there are now 10,297 military veterans who have not received new housing when they were promised it, and “for most of them, prospects for acquiring it in the visible future are practically lacking. Moreover, most have families, and thus “no fewer than 40,000 people are suffering” as a result of defence ministry malfeasance.
Another, more critical effect of this ‘build-up’ in the military has been the chronic deficiency in officers. In February 2017, the chief of the Main Directorate for Personnel within the Russian Ministry of Defence, Colonel General Viktor Goremykin, announced that, in 2016, the Armed forces found 11,000 officers for positions that otherwise would have gone empty (Krasnaya Zvezda, February 5). In his words, the military used “non-standard” methods to fill these staffing gaps. Reserve officers who left the Armed Forces were recruited again. It is worth noting that, on February 22, while speaking before the State Duma (lower chamber of parliament), defence Minister Sergei Shoigu clarified that due to shortages of personnel in 2015, 15,000 troops previously dismissed had been returned to service (TASS February 22). Obviously, this, practice continued in 2016.
The situation of Russia’s military pilots is particularly critical. defence Minister Shoigu revealed that the deficit reached 1,300 pilots. To resolve this massive shortfall, the professional lifespan of pilots in the Armed Forces has been extended by five years (TASS February 22). In addition, according to Colonel General Goremykin, “for the first time, a [shortened] 1.5-year pilot training course was organized for highly educated technical staff officers. Last year, the first 49 such pilots graduated. Today, training was completed by another 50 troops” (Mil.ru, February 2). An obvious danger exists that such initiatives could potentially increase the number of flight catastrophes and accidents.
Following the reforms of former Minister Serdyukov and the gradual rollback of many of his most important reforms, the present Russian military manning system appears on the verge of breakdown. The reason is clear: Based the country’s strengths, national interests, demographic situation and economy, Serdyukov and his team specifically created military forces capable of winning in a local conflict inside the post-Soviet space. But because of the Kremlin’s current policies, Russia has locked itself into a conflict with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is superior to the Russian Federation across all quantitative indicators—all types of weapons and numbers of personnel. The only logical military response for Moscow in this situation, therefore, is to return to the ineffective and extremely cumbersome mass mobilization army. Indeed, this is happening now, as highlighted by defence ministry’s promise to create new military divisions.
Speaking to lawmakers, Shoigu announced the intention to complete the formation of four divisions: three in the west and southwest and one in the Kurile Islands. But the total number of the Armed forces increased by only 10,000 in 2016. This can only mean that Russia in in the midst of deploying Soviet-style “paper” skeleton divisions, in which five hundred officers command a hundred soldiers in peace time—in other words, the types of formations explicitly abandoned by Serdyukov. To stand up such units, an excess number of lieutenants is required. These types of divisions are appropriate if one’s goal is to report to the president about the increasing power of the Russian army; but they are useless for increasing the country’s military might in reality.
Some of these deficiencies might have been compensated for by dramatic developments in the planned Russian military hardware department. These ambitious targets announced by Putin have proven very difficult to achieve; both within the time framework for their introduction and in the quality of the end product. Although expenditures on nuclear weapons in the new budget have not changed significantly—they will amount to 51 billion roubles ($875 million) in 2017 —Russia’s overall economic and domestic production problems are already negatively affecting the development of new types of strategic arms. A case in point is the RS-28 “Sarmat” intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The heavy, liquid-fueled Sarmat ICBM is being developed as a replacement for Russia’s older R-36M missile (NATO Reporting name: SS-18 Satan). The Sarmat’s large payload will allow for up to 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones, or as many as 24 hypersonic Yu-71 glide vehicles Production of the new missile and its prototype was entrusted to the Krasnoyarsk Machine Building Plant (Krasmash), which suffers from serious equipment depreciation issues—in 2010, fewer than 20 percent of machines at its fabrication facility were less than 20 years old. The quality and lead time of the order will depend on the modernization of the production facilities at Krasmash.
The Sarmat’s development has consistently fallen behind schedule. The rocket prototype should have been ready in June 2015, but, in fact, it was designed only in November. Furthermore, pop-up tests of the missile prototype were scheduled for 2015, but were postponed to the first quarter of 2016 because sub-contracting enterprises faced problems with meeting deadlines for deliveries of Sarmat components during the project’s implementation. In February 2016, the test was postponed again for 3–4 months because the launch silo was not ready. According to media reports, the issue was a lack of funding. The silo was finally complete in May, but the test launch did not take place again, this time due to technical problems with the missile prototype. The pop-up tests were, thus, postponed to November–December. However, in October, media sources reported that the pop-up tests were being rescheduled for January 2017. January came and went, again without a test launch. As the month drew to a close, a source in the military-industrial complex said that the tests would be attempted in March. There have been no further announcements.
The Sarmat delays parallel the previous failures of the submarine missile Bulava—multiple failed tests and long delays in reaching operational capability. It is worth pointing out that the Bulava was declared operational only after eight years of testing. Meanwhile, the Sarmat is supposed to enter service in 2018, which seems overly optimistic at this point.
These delays are common in the development of Russian weapons. The new “Armata” tank has proved to be too expensive to deploy in large numbers and still technically unproved. The Russian threat of a push towards military parity with its opponents, especially the “glavni vrag” (main enemy –the USA) is a delusion. The reality of the comparison between NATO and the Russian military shows the disparity in size. In 2015, NATO spent around US $861 billion on its arms build-up - just about thirteen times Russia's military budget (US $66 billion). NATO nations - without the USA - are spending nearly the same amount per capita on their armed forces (US $440) vs. Russia's US $470, while the USA, alone, spends US $1,870 per capita on its military. 800,000 Russian soldiers are up against 3.41 Million NATO soldiers, 750 Russian fighter jets and 1,400 ground combat aircraft are up against NATO's 4,000 fighter jets and 4,600 ground combat aircraft. In a warfare situation, a single Russian aircraft carrier would have to take on 27 NATO aircraft carriers, 100 Russian frigates, destroyers or corvettes would confront 260 of the corresponding NATO warships, 60 Russian submarines would be confronting 154 NATO subs. Only in the domain of multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) and self-propelled guns (SPGs) would Russia hold a slight advantage over the western alliance. However, in modern warfare, the military advantage these weapons represent can be regarded as of subordinate significance.
Effects of Sanctions
One of the most difficult problems confronting the military in effecting the modernization that Putin demands is that Western sanctions have caused a great deal of harm to the process. The Russians had contracted to buy two Mistral class amphibious assault ships from France, as helicopter carriers. The purchase was announced by then French President Nicholas Sarkozy on 24 December 2010, and signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and French Defence Minister Alan Juppe. On 3 September 2014, French President Francois Hollande, announced the postponement of delivery of the first warship, Vladivostok, due to the Russia-Ukrainian crisis. In August 2015, President François Hollande and Russian president Vladimir Putin cancelled the transfer of the two ships because of the sanctions and the vessels would be sold to Egypt. Russia had to forgo access to these advanced vessels. Equally as important, the Russians had undertaken to build specialized helicopters to fly from the two Mistrals. Kamov won the contract to produce the Ka-52K attack helicopter for this purpose. In July 2017 Kamov announced that the Ka-52K had completed initial testing and would be finished with shipboard tests by the end of 2019, and presumably ready for deployment. The Ka-52K performed well during combat tests in Syria when the aged Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov deployed to the Mediterranean last year, but the gunship was primarily designed to operate from the two French Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that the Kremlin had ordered from France. After the collapse of the Mistral deal, the Ka-52K does not really have a good place to be deployed It is unlikely that the Russians will build many Ka-52K helicopters as the Russian navy does not have any large-deck amphibious assault ships to put them on. During the "Army-2015" military show at a shooting range in Alabino near Moscow in June 2015 the Russians introduced its plans for a new amphibious warship, known as Priboy ("Surf"), to replace the Mistral-class helicopter carriers that France failed to deliver to Russia. This amphibious assault ship design "Surf", developed by Nevsky PKB, will have a displacement of about 14,000 tons and can carry up to eight Ka-27 and Ka-52 helicopters. "Surf" will be able to carry up to 500 marines and up to 40-60 units. The length of the ship will be 165 meters, width - 25 meters. However, the Russian Ministry of Defence says that the earliest any of these “Surfs” will be available is 2022. That means that there will be helicopters which cannot be deployed until 2022, even if there are no delays as there are no ships which can carry them.
The most important effect on the balance of power between the U.S. military and Russia as a result of the sanctions on the transfer of technology has been the further development by the U.S. of the WT76 super fuzes for the nuclear program. [i] The US nuclear forces modernization program has been portrayed to the public as an effort to ensure the reliability and safety of warheads in the US nuclear arsenal, rather than to enhance their military capabilities. In reality, however, that program has implemented revolutionary new technologies that will vastly increase the targeting capability of the US ballistic missile arsenal. This increase in capability is astonishing—boosting the overall killing power of existing US ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three—and it creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike. This has been a key concern of Russian military planners. Because of improvements in the killing power of US submarine-launched ballistic missiles, those submarines now patrol with more than three times the number of warheads needed to destroy the entire fleet of Russian land-based missiles in their silos. US submarine-based missiles can carry multiple warheads, so hundreds of others, now in storage, could be added to the submarine-based missile force, making it all the more lethal. The revolutionary increase in the lethality of submarine-borne US nuclear forces comes from a “super-fuze” device that since 2009 has been incorporated into the Navy’s W76-1/Mk4A warhead as part of a decade-long life-extension program. One can estimate that all warheads deployed on US ballistic missile submarines now have this fuzing capability. Because the innovations in the super-fuze appear, to the non-technical eye, to be minor, policymakers outside of the US government (and probably inside the government as well) have completely missed its revolutionary impact on military capabilities and its important implications for global security. Before the invention of this new fuzing mechanism, even the most accurate ballistic missile warheads might not detonate close enough to targets hardened against nuclear attack to destroy them. But the new super-fuze is designed to destroy fixed targets by detonating above and around a target in a much more effective way. Warheads that would otherwise overfly a target and land too far away will now, because of the new fuzing system, detonate above the target. The result of this fuzing scheme is a significant increase in the probability that a warhead will explode close enough to destroy the target even though the accuracy of the missile-warhead system has itself not improved. Consequently, the US submarine force today is much more capable than it was previously against hardened targets such as Russian ICBM silos. A decade ago, only about 20 percent of US submarine warheads had hard-target kill capability; today they all do. [ii] In 2006 Sandia's Power Sources Group 2520 submitted a new thermal battery for the W76-1 Lifetime Extension Program on schedule and within budget. The design incorporates new electrochemistry using an advanced cobalt disulfide cathode material and a low-melting-point ternary-salt electrolyte in order to meet tightly constrained, multiple voltage requirements over an extended performance period.
The increased capability of the US submarine force will likely be seen as even more threatening because Russia does not have a functioning space-based infrared early warning system but relies primarily on ground-based early warning radars to detect a US missile attack. Since these radars cannot see over the horizon, Russia has less than half as much early-warning time as the United States. (The United States has about 30 minutes, Russia 15 minutes or less.) The inability of Russia to globally monitor missile launches from space means that Russian military and political leaders would have no “situational awareness” to help them assess whether an early-warning radar indication of a surprise attack is real or the result of a technical error. The combination of this lack of Russian situational awareness, dangerously short warning times, high-readiness alert postures, and the increasing US strike capacity has created a deeply destabilizing and dangerous strategic nuclear situation.
The newly created capability to destroy Russian silo-based nuclear forces with 100-kt W76-1/Mk4A warheads—the most numerous in the US stockpile—vastly expands the nuclear warfighting capabilities of US nuclear forces. Since only part of the W76 force would be needed to eliminate Russia’s silo-based ICBMs, the United States will be left with an enormous number of higher-yield warheads that would then be available to be reprogrammed for other missions. Approximately 890 warheads are deployed on US ballistic missile submarines (506 W76-1/Mk4A and 384 W88/Mk5). Assuming that the 506 deployed W76-1s equipped with the super-fuze were used against Russian silo-based ICBMs, essentially all 136 Russian silo-based ICBMs could be potentially eliminated by attacking each silo with two W76-1 warheads—a total of 272 warheads. This would consume only 54 percent of the deployed W76-1 warheads, leaving roughly 234 of the 500 warheads free to be targeted on yet other installations. And hundreds of additional submarine warheads are in storage for increasing the missile warhead loading if so ordered. The Trident II missiles that are deployed today carry an average of four to five W76-1 warheads each. However, each missile could carry eight such warheads if the US were to suddenly decide to carry a maximum load of W76 warheads on its deployed Trident II ballistic missiles. And the missile was tested with up to 12 warheads. Essentially all the 384 W88 “heavy” Trident II warheads, with yields of 455 kt, would also be available for use against deeply-buried targets. In addition, about 400 Minuteman III warheads, with yields of about 300 kt, could be used to target hardened Russian targets. In all, the entire Russian silo-based forces could potentially be destroyed while leaving the US with 79 percent of its ballistic missile warheads unused.
Russia’s access to the necessary components for duplicating the W76 fuzes are limited by the international sanctions on the sale and transfer of technology. This is also an inhibitor in the development of the components to deploy a functioning space-based infrared early warning system.
The other major tactical capability which is an important threat to Russian military planners is the increasing deployment of AEGIS missiles on naval vessels and on land bases around Russia’s periphery. The AEGIS Weapon System is the only fully integrated electronic detection, engagement and fire control system in the world today. AEGIS enables bases to detect, evaluate and engage an enemy with lethal firepower and accuracy. This includes Russian ICBM and Cruise missiles as well as anti-aircraft and marine vessels. A report by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in September 2011 concluded that the Aegis missile system represents a grave threat to Russian nuclear strategy. “The focus,” wrote Yousaf Butt and Theodore Postol, “is on what would be the main concern of cautious Russian military planners —the capability of the missile defines interceptors to simply reach, or “engage,” Russian strategic warheads—rather than whether any particular engagement results in an actual interception, or “kill.” Interceptors with a kinematic capability to reach Russian ICBM warheads at launch or in flight would be sufficient to raise concerns in Russian national security circles – regardless of the possibility that Russian decoys and other countermeasures might defeat the system in actual engagements. In short, even a missile defence system that could be rendered ineffective could still elicit serious concern from cautious Russian planners. The AEGIS BMD systems:
- Defend deployed forces and allies from short- to intermediate range theater ballistic missile threats
- Provide forward-deployed radar capabilities to enhance defense against ballistic missile threats of all ranges by sending cues or target track data to other BMDS elements
- Provide ballistic missile threat data to the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications (C2BMC) system for dissemination to Combatant Commanders’ headquarters to ensure situational awareness
The replication of the AEGIS System is difficult for the Russian Defence Department because much of the high-tech components of such a system are not freely available on the world market, especially for those operating under international sanctions.
The Impact of Competitive Military Imbalances on the Relations Between Putin and His Generals
The strong and sustained hostility between Russian generals and the Putin Administration is not only on the universal demand for more of everything by military planners and the central government. As anyone who has ever set foot inside the Beltway knows this phenomenon is not a peculiarly Russian pursuit. Soldiers everywhere are always short of supplies, staff, billets, equipment and replacements. What is different and distinguishable in Russia is that the military leadership is fully aware of the deficiencies in the Russian armed forces and are stymied in resolving the problems that face them. They know, better than most, the weaknesses of the military condition and, as patriots, desperately seek to confront these difficulties. They see that the political leadership of Russia makes demands on the military that it knows it can’t resolve. This was first evident during the Chechen War, when an unwilling Army was pressed to fight fellow Soviet citizens in the South. What the Russian army didn’t want to do was to fight in Chechnya. It was unprepared, disorganised and had serious political inhibitions against killing Russian people, even Chechens. Yeltsin was determined to resist this independence movement and consulted with his military leaders. The military wanted no part of any war against the Chechens. As General Eduard Vorobyov stated as he handed in his resignation it was “a crime" to "send the army against its own people. Although the actual full-scale war against the Chechens didn’t start in earnest until 11 December 1994 there were numerous skirmishes and actions which ramped up the situation. This preparation for a war in Chechnya did not have the support of the Russian military. Yeltsin's adviser on nationality affairs, Emil Pain, and Russia's Deputy Minister of Defence, Boris Gromov, also resigned in protest of the invasion, as did Gen. Boris Poliakov. More than 800 professional soldiers and officers refused to take part in the operation; of these, 83 were convicted by military courts and the rest were discharged. Later Gen. Lev Rothlein also refused to be decorated as a Hero of Russia for his part in the war. This is why the war in Chechnya was fought almost entirely by the military forces of the MVD, not the Army.
The military was appalled at the lack of co-ordination of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and the large-scale drug abuse that war brought back to Russia. The Army returned in disgrace. Very little was done to rejuvenate the military after its return from Afghanistan. Instead, Putin began a wholesale purge of the Russian military. That is a purge of the genuine soldiers, not the political hangers-on and intelligence services refugees who take on military ranks when they move into the armed services bureaucracy. The day before the giant parade in Red Square of the might of the Russian Armed Forces in 2015 Putin dismissed twenty generals from their posts. Among those let go was the lieutenant general of police, Sergey Lavrov, as well as the head of media relations in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andrei Pilipchuk. The first deputy commander of the central regional military command, Vladimir Padalko, was also dismissed, according to the Gazeta.
Three months earlier he had dismissed six other generals. These generals were dismissed by a presidential decree announced through the Gazette and without fanfare. On the 29th of June 2016 Putin’s Ministry of Defence suddenly announced it was firing fifty naval officers, including Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov. They were both fired for cause, as were several other unnamed senior officials from their posts in the Baltic Fleet. This came as a great shock to the country as such a purge of serving top commanders had not been seen since the days of Stalin, during the Yezhovshchina of 1936-38. Earlier, Admiral Viktor Chirkov had been removed in November 2015 officially because of ‘health concerns’. Chirkov, who had been Kravchuk’s patron in the navy for many years, was rumoured to have also been removed due to complaints about inadequate readiness in some units This may well have been true but others in the Navy have reported that the unwillingness of the admirals of the already-reduced Baltic Fleet to provide vessels and support to the Russian naval presence in Syria was a more immediate cause of the rift.
In February 2017 Putin dismissed 16 generals from the Interior Ministry, the Emergency Services Ministry and the Investigative Committee.
In May 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed 12 high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, high-ranking generals of the MIA, the ICR and the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Response (hereinafter – Emergency Ministry) lost their posts. On May 1, the Deputy Head of the Emergency Ministry’s National Emergency Management Center, Major-General Sergey Vorontsov, the Head of the Investigative Department of the Military District in the Ulyanovsk Region, Major General of Justice Alexey Yevdokimov, the Head of the Main Department of the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) Lieutenant-General of Internal Service Grigory Zheludov in the Perm Region have lost their jobs. Also, the director of the Department for Supervisory Activities and Preventive Work of the Emergency Ministry, Major-General of Internal Service Sergey Kadadov, chief of police and Deputy Head of the MIA in the Irkutsk Region, Major-General Oleg Knaus, chief inspector of the Russian MIA Major-General Sergey Kulyukin and deputy chief of the MIA Main Department for the Kemerovo Region, Major-General Viktor Kutylkin were dismissed. Lieutenant-General Valery Maydanov ceased to hold the post of head of the department of record keeping and work with citizens’ appeals of the MIA, and Major-General of Justice Oleg Mezrin lost the post of Head of the investigation department of the ICR in Yakutia. Lieutenant-General of Justice Yuri Popov was removed from the post of the Head of the ICR Investigative Department in the Rostov Region. Also, according to the decree, the post of the FSIN Head in the Primorsky Territory is no longer occupied by Major-General of Internal Service Oleg Simchenko, and Lieutenant-General Daufit Hamadishin was dismissed from the post of the head of the FSIN department for Tatarstan. In addition, according to the decree of the Russian leader, Deputy Emergency Minister Vladimir Artamonov, Colonel of Justice and First Deputy Head of the ICR Investigation Department in the Republic of Bashkortostan Rim Gabdullin and Prosecutor of the Kostroma Region Yuri Rykov were removed from office.
It is not easy to make a blanket statement about the reasons for dismissal for each of the dismissed but there is a general theme of dissatisfaction with the government which is apparent. Instead of living within its means and developing a proper self-defence position for Russia the Putin government has taken an internationally aggressive stance – in Georgia, Ukraine and Syria and threatened the Baltic States. It has put Russia far out beyond its capabilities to deliver and antagonized NATO and much of the Middle East. The soldiers know this and fear that this type of aggressive behavior will bring about more sanctions and provide grist to the mill of the American neocons itching for a fight with Russia. Putin’s response has been hostile and, in many cases, fatal to these dismissed officers.
In July 2017 a decree was published on the Russian official portal of legal information. Eight generals were immediately released from their posts by the decree: the first deputy head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ transport department, Major General of police Andrey Andreev, the head of the control and audit department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs Major General of internal service Yevgeny Barikaev, the head of the Main Department of Ministry of Emergency Situations in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Major General Andrei Zalensky, the head of the Main Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kemerovo Oblast, Lieutenant General of police Yuri Larionov, Interior Minister of the Republic of Tyva, Major General of police Alexander Lobanov, the head of the Investigation Department, the deputy head of the Main Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kemerovo Oblast, Major General of justice Vladimir Shepel , first deputy head of the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant General of justice Yuri Shinin, and the head of the Main Department of the Penitentiary Service in Rostov Oblast, Lieutenant General of internal service Sergey Smirnov.
This hostility has manifest itself in the creation of a large mercenary army operating in Syria outside the controls of the regular army. Officially, Russia is participating only in an air war over Syria. Moscow denies that its troops are involved in regular ground combat operations. However, Russian fighters are playing a more substantial role in ground combat than that the role the Kremlin says is being played by the regular Russian military. These Russian fighters are in Syria as contractors or mercenaries, hired by a private company, rather than regular troops. But despite their unofficial status, according to these accounts, they operate in coordination with the Russian military and are given privileges back home normally available only to serving soldiers. They fly to Syria on board Russian military aircraft which land at Russian bases. When they are injured, they are treated in hospitals reserved for the Russian military and get state medals.
Under Russian law, it is illegal to work as a private military contractor in another country. However, Russian citizens have participated in wars across the former Soviet Union throughout the 25 years since it broke up in 1991. In 2014, large numbers of Russians fought openly on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. Western countries say those rebel units were organized, paid and armed by Moscow; the Kremlin says any Russians there were independent volunteers. The fight as part of “Vagner” corporation led by a man who goes by the nomme de guerre “Vagner”, who has become a leader of Russian mercenary forces in Syria. A Russian-language website, Fontanka, has published what it says is the only known photo of him, a picture of a bald man in military fatigues striding near a helicopter. The website said his name was Dmitry Utkin.[iii]
Perhaps the most upsetting aspect of Putin’s antipathy to the Russian armed forces is the litany of those officers who were terminated permanently in the purges. The Russian website “info-Napalm” has produced an infographic which brings this home.
Their stories tell an interesting tale:
Sergey Akhromeyev, Marshal of the Soviet Union, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, 1st Deputy Defense Minister (1984-1988). After the August 1991 Coup failed he had committed suicide in his Kremlin office on August 24th, 1991 (he served as Michael Gorbachev adviser on the military policy). There are many discrepancies and deviations in this story. Let’s start from a really bizarre suicide methods – being a militant he had chosen hanging (in a sitting position) over shooting. Then, according to the notes left by him there were several attempts on one day; at the same time there were witnesses who talked to Akhromeyev and received orders from him and it happened between these supposed attempts. Third, there was a witness who saw somebody going to and from the Akhromeyev’s office. And finally, a criminal investigator was not allowed to see the crime scene for a long time as well as to bring witnesses. On September 1st marshal Akhromeyev was buried without military honors on the Troyekurov cemetery.
Yuriy Gusev, Colonel general was killed in a car accident on November 30th, 1992. There were continuous rumors about a planned action rather than a tragic incident: just a few seconds before everything had happened a driver lost consciousness and the reason left unknown.
Nikolay Yegorkin, real admiral, Head of the Military Counterintelligence of the Pacific Ocean Navy died in a car accident in February 1993 on his way to the Vladivostok airport. It was a traffic collision of his company car ‘Volga’ and a ‘ZIL’ truck. On that day Yegorkin was on his way to Moscow attending a top level law enforcement and secret services meeting on the organized crime and corruption.
Victor Barannikov, Army General, the last USSR Minister of the Interior Affairs (MIA) (1991), MIA of the Russian Soviet Republic (1990-91) and Security Minister of the Russian Federation in 1992-93. He was involved in a Karabakh conflict (a territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan) and he was among those ones who arrested the USSR Minister of Defense Yazov after the August Coup 1991. On July 21st, 2995 he died in his country house supposedly because of the stroke. Before that he was jailed in Lefortovo for organizing the mass riots in September-October 1993.
Aleksandr Lomanov, Major general, one of the GRU leaders (Russian Main Intelligence Directorate): on May 22nd, 1996 a drunk driver killed a pedestrian, who was a Major general.
Anatoliy Volkov, armored corps Major general had committed suicide on June 18th, 1996. He used a gun, which President Yeltsin presented to him. Volkov served as: a Deputy Head of the Chief Department of the Cossacks army; a member of a special Commission on the Chechen conflict and leaded a POW group (prisoners of war).
Victor Shipilov, GRU Major general had committed suicide on May 5th, 1996. He fell from a window of his apartment (Krulatskie holmy str.). There was no suicide note. According to investigation held a psychic disorder after Shipilov return from Yugoslavia was named as the suicide reason. He spent a long time there including the Yugoslav Wars working as a Military Attache and taking part in a peace process.
Lev Rokhlin, Lieutenant general: was leading an operation capturing a Presidential palace in Grozny (Chechnya). He was a major contact during a ceasefire negotiations with the Chechen warlords. He declined a ‘Hero of Russia’ award saying that ‘there is no glory for generals in a civil war; The Chechen war is a calamity not an honor’. In 1997 he initiated an opposition political movement, argued a lot with the current political regime’ there were rumors about a coup or an impeachment of President Yeltsin. On July 3rd, 1998 he was found dead in his country house. He was shot and his wife was convicted.
Boris Baturin, Major general, Deputy Head of the Chief Committee on Fighting the Organized Crime, Ministry of Interior Affairs died in a car accident also in July 1998. Russian media connected his death with a recent murder of Dmitriy Holodov journalist who investigated corruption among the Ministry of Interior Affairs staff. The 45th regiment airborne forces’ group members and Pavel Popovskikh, its Intelligence Head were arrested as suspects but all of them have been found not guilty. It is known now that this division took part in special operation killing Russian and foreign citizens in Russia and outside. Investigation included the Ministry of Interior Affairs GRU and Baturin who signed documents to the members of the 45th regiment and very soon he was dead.
Ivan Shalaev, Major general, Head of the GRU died in a car accident on August 7th, 1999. He could not control the car.
German Ugryumov, Admiral died on May 31st, 2001 in Hankala (Chechnya) and cause of death was a myocardial infraction. He had received an Admiral rank one day before -May 30th. Ugryumov was the Federal Security Service (FSB) Deputy Head and managed the Department on the Constitution Protection and Terrorism Fighting. Since 2001 he combined this position with another one: Head of the North Caucasus Regional Staff.
Alexander Lebed, Lieutenant general died on April 28th, 2002 when his helicopter MI-8 went down in Krasnoyarsk region (Siberia). He and general Rokhlin were often named among the possible leaders of a military coup in the Russian Federation if such happened.
Valeriy Gertsev, Major general died in a car accident on September 11th, 2002 (45th km of the Kiev ‘chaussee’ in Moscow). He leaded one of the divisions of the Russian Main Missile & Artillery Directorate of the Ministry of Defense.
Vladimir Platoshin, Major general, the Border Guard was accidentally shot near Cheboksary (Chuvashia) in his ‘Mercedes’ from his gun by a stranger who was also in a car; her name was never disclosed based on the investigation ‘interests’. It was in September 2002. Platoshin was a Head of the Aviation forces in Tajikistan as well as was fighting the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border drug trafficking.
Petr Ivashutin, Army general, 1st Deputy Head of the USSR’s KGB (1954-1963), acting KGB Head (November 5-13 1961), the GRU Head & Deputy Head of the General Staff of the USSR Army (1963-1986) died on June 4th, 2002. He was a senior person, so there are no reasons to believe that his death was caused by something else than natural causes.
Vladimir Shevelev, Major general died when his car was on fire in the Moscow region on September 19th, 2002. There were traces of intrusion into his country house. According to the investigation the robbers took the car and organized an arson in the nearby village. By 1997 Sheveled worked at the Federal Agency on the State Communication & Information (‘FAPSI’) and later was a Deputy Head of the OJS ‘Rostelecom’ (the leading telecom provider).
Vasiliy Kolesnik, Major general who designed a special operation capturing the President Amin palace in Afghanistan died on October 30th, 2002. In 1979 he formed and taught the 154th special forces division, which was acting in Afghanistan. In 1082-1992 Kolesnik served as a Head of the Special Intelligence of the GRU General Staff of the USSR Army.
Yuriy Shatokhin, Lieutenant general died in a car accident on November 5th, 2002. He was Head of the Russian Federal Aviation Border Guard. When he retired Shatokhin worked as a Deputy Head of the OJC ‘Aviazapchast’ (one of the leading Russian non-government companies offering technical support for civil aviation).
Igor Shifrin, Lieutenant general, Head of the Military division of the Federal Service on Special Construction was wounded and then died when his car was under the fire in Grozny (Chechnya) on November 15th, 2002.
Yuriy Maksimov, Army general died on November 17th, 2002. He served as a Military Adviser in 1967-1969 in Yemen, since 1979 he served as a Head of the Turkmenistan military District. He was appointed as a Head of the South Strategic Group in 1984 and since 1985 he served as a Head of the Strategic Missiles Troops and Deputy Minister of Defense. In 1991 he was the Head of the USSR Strategic Deterrence Forces and since 1992 he is a Head of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ joint forces.
Anatoliy Trofimov, Colonel general, Head of the Federal Security Service in Moscow and Moscow region in 1995-97 was shot together with his wife near his own house on April 10th, 2005.The hitman had a mask and acted professionally. The murder was never solved, but Savostianov (the former head of the FSB in Moscow) and alive at that times Litvinenko were convinced that the general was killed for political reasons.
Valeriy Pechenkin, Colonel general, First Deputy Head of Counterintelligence Service of the central apparatus of the FSB, suddenly died because of ‘unpredicted heart failure and concomitant infarct’ in December of 2007. There is a version that the general was personally involved in the failed operation to eliminate Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in November 2006.
Victor Vlasov, Colonel general and acting Head of the Ministry of Defense Construction & Quartering Service shot himself on February 21st, 2008.
Gennadiy Troshev, Colonel general who took part in the Chechen War was among the victims of the Boeing-737-500 crash in the Perm region.
Valeriy Lipinskiy, Major general, Deputy Head of the North-Caucasus Staff, Ministry of the Interior Affairs was killed on December 29th, 2008. The car was under the fire and sill names of the attackers are unknown. He was wounded into the chest and later died of the blood loss in the hospital.
Aleksandr Rogachev, retired Major general, the Russian Federal Intelligence Service was found dead inside the Toyota Land Cruiser near the ‘Parisian’ restaurant on February 22nd, 2009. Militia initially believed that it was a natural death but during the autopsy a 9 mm bullet was taken from the general head. He was known as a very cautious person and the fact that he was killed in his vehicle served as a possible proof that he knew the killer and allowed him inside.
Konstantin Petrov, Major general, Leader of the Conceptual Party Unity (‘KПE’), and Head of the Opposition Project ‘Concept in the Civil Security’ died on July 21st, 2009. He took part in the ‘Energy-Buran’ airspace development and testing. The official version claims the natural causes death but his friends and colleagues still believe that Petrov was poisoned.
Yuriy Ivanov, Major general, Deputy Head of the GRU General Staff of the Russian Army died under the very strange circumstances. His body was discovered on August 16th, 2010 (a year which was fatal for many Russian generals). A body was decomposed when inhabitants of a small Turkish village on the Mediterranean Sea found it. The last time Ivanov was seen alive was in Syria (across from Turkey) where he inspected a construction in Tartus city where Russia was expanding its Black Sea navy military base. He was meeting later with the Syrian intelligence officers and he disappeared around this time. Ivanov was pretty much the 2nd in charge of the military GRU intelligence. There were rumors that he organized operations to kill Chechen individuals abroad. His name is also connected to the Tu-154 air crash when President of Poland Lekh Kaczynski and many top level military commanders and state officials died.
Victor Chervizov, Major general, ex Head of the Ministry of Interior Affairs Intelligence Division killed himself shooting from a commemorative gun in a lobby of his apartment house in Moscow (Veernaya str.) on October 4th, 2010. It is worth to note that Chevrizov served as a Deputy Head of the Special Forces Intelligence division. Just a few days after the Federal Intelligence Service Lieutenant Colonel (podpolkovnik) Boris Smirnov shot himself in his garage in the Northern district of Moscow.
Grigory Dubrov, Lieutenant general fell from the train platform in the Balashikha, Moscow region on October 28th, 2010. He served as a Chairman of the Russian Anti Fascist Committee and a member of the Coordination Union, Russian military-patriotic NGOs. In February 2010 he chaired the All-Russian officers meeting where the decision to dismiss Putin-Medvedev government. On November 7th Dubrov was planning to speak at the meeting ‘Army againist Minister Serdyukov’ (Minister of Defense). He was not only one who did not attend this event: Lieutenant general Debashbili was found dead in the downtown Moscow; Lieutenant general Shamanov who was in a car accident in Tula on October 30th.
Boris Debashvili, Lieutenant general who is mentioned above; his body was discovered near 28, Komsomolsky prosp., Moscow on October 30th, 2010.
Vladislav Achalov, Colonel general, Deputy USSR Defense Minister (1990-1991), Russian Defense Minister (Sept 22nd – Oct 4th, 1993) died after long illness on June 23rd, 2011. He was in a strong opposition to the Russian leadership. In the fall of 1993 he was among the leaders of the coup in Moscow (after the Deputies of the Supreme Council blockade). He was arrested but then freed after the amnesty act in 1994. He openly supported the idea to dismiss Serdyukov, Defense Minister and was among those who organized a meeting in November 2010. Generals Dubrov, Chevrizov and Debashvili died before the event and general Shamanov stayed alive after a car accident but could not attend staying in a hospital.
Konstantin Morev, Major general, Head of the Federal Intelligence Service in Tver region was discovered in his office dead and with a bullet in his head on August 26th, 2011. He also occupied a similar position in Sakha-Yakutia Republic of the Russian Federation.
Leonid Shebarshin, Lieutenant general, Head of the USSR Foreign Intelligence ( Feb 6, 1989 – Sep 22, 1991), acting KGB Head (August 22-23, 1991) shot himself in his apartment at 2nd Tverskaya-Yamskaya str on March 30th, 2012. He graduated from the Moscow Institute of International Relations, spoke 4 languages, worked in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. President Putin served under his command in St. Petersburg.
Pavel Grachev, Army general, Russian Defense Minister (1992-1996) died in the Vishnevsky Central Military Hospital in Moscow on September 23rd, 2012. The cause of death remains unclear: stroke, poison or an incurable illness. The official version stated meningoencephalitis as a cause of death. He is a well-known personality of the Russian history: he was one of the organizers of the August 91 Coup, then decided to take the President Yeltsin side, later he was among those who fired the ‘White House’ in 1993; he leaded the Soviet Army withdrawal from Eastern Europe; took part in the nuclear disarmament talks; he was among the commanders of the Russian army in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Bosnia; it was time of the 1st Chechen War. He definitely knew a lot but nothing was disclosed as he never wrote the memoirs.
Oleg Skopintsev, Lieutenant general, Head of Intelligence Counterintelligence Service of the central apparatus of the FSB Russia, died in a mysterious crash of a private Robinson R-44 helicopter in December of 2012. In the media reports he was described as just ‘a resident of Moscow’. The main focus of this incident was biased towards the businessman Fedor Tsarev (known in criminal circles under the nickname ‘Peat king’), who was together with the general aboard the helicopter. The third person on the board was the son of Vasily Petrov, the former head of the Federal Property Agency. All three passengers died.
Vasiliy Bondarev, Major general of the Strategic Missiles Troops who was teaching at the Russian General Staff Academy hanged himself in his bathroom on April 19th, 2013.
Yuriy Ustimenko, Vice admiral, former Head of the North Navy of the Russian military forces shot himself in his apartment on January 3rd, 2014.
Vyacheslav Apanasenko, Counter admiral of the Russian Navy tried to commit suicide by shooting himself to the head on February 7th, 2014. He died later in the hospital. His daughter informed the public that he had a cancer but no painkillers.
Boris Saplin, Major general retired committed suicide by shooting himself suing his commemorative gun on March 18th, 2014. The death note confirmed that he suffered from the headache, which was causing by the late stage of cancer.
Victor Gudkov, Major general of the GRU shot himself on June 8th, 2014 in the southern part of Moscow. He ‘suffered from a serious illness and depression was a reason for such action’.
Boris Kolesnikov, Major general, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Interior Affairs Division on the Economic Security & Corruption Fighting committed suicide during his interrogation by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation on June 16th, 2014. No reasons or details of this death are known.
Sergey Mishanin, Major general died in his office on July 21st, 2014. He served as a military commissioner in the Nizhny Novgorod region since 2010. He was a commander of the 205th mechanized brigade and 122nd mechanized division before that appointment. Suicide is named as a cause of death.
Vyacheslav Buchnev, Major general, Defense Minister of the Mari El Republic was discovered in his office with a deadly wound in his head on January 3rd, 2015. It was stated that he committed suicide using his commemorative gun.
Anatoliy Kudryavtsev, Lieutenant general hanged on a shoelace because he ‘suffered from the cancer pain’ on January 6th, 2015.
Alexander Shushukin, Major general, Deputy Head if the Russian Navy Staff died on December 27th, 2015 as a result of a heart attack. It was Shushukin who planned and leaded the Crimean annexation in 2014. He also took part in the military operations in the Northern Caucasus and Yugoslavia.
Igor Sergun, Colonel general, Head of the Russian General Staff Chief Intelligence Division, Deputy Head of the General Staff of the Russian Army had suddenly died on January 3rd, 2016. His position tells us a lot but it is important to note that he is responsible not only for the annexation of Crimea but for the entire operation against Ukraine. He took part in preparation and maintenance of the Russian aggression in the Eastern parts of Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – where murders, crimes, and violence are going one and have become a ‘new normal’ for the so-called ‘Donetsk Peoples’ Republic’ and ‘Luhansk Peoples’ Republic’. There is a possibility o connect his name with the MH-17 catastrophe near Torez town (when Boeing-777 was shot by a surface-to-air missile). Russian media claims that he died in the Moscow region but Stratfor reports about his death in Livan on January 1st, 2016.
The list is not complete and more data may be added. It is possible to conclude that the Kremlin purges its top-level military staff after each more or less significant fight. The scale of the Russian crimes in Syria and Ukraine allows to believe that a new ‘generals’ star falling’ is on its way. There are only two ways for each Russian general: to escape and seek asylum while revealing all crimes to the military tribunal or to become another ‘paratrooper’, die in a loop ‘because of a cancer’. There are always the options.[iv]
It is unlikely these are the last.
[i] Hans M. Kristensen, Matthew McKinzie, Theodore A. Postol,, "How US Nuclear Force Modernization Is Undermining Strategic Stability: The Burst-Height Compensating Super-Fuze "
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1, 2017
[iii] Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev, "Russian Soldiers Are Secretly Dying In Syria They were in Syria as private contractors deployed by the Kremlin. ", Reuters 5/11/16
[iv] Christina Dobrovolska,, “The Russian Generals’ Funeral March”, InformNapalm, 23/11/16