September 24, 2009

Words and Steel

At the moment, Russia is holding large-scale Zapad-2009 and Ladoga-2009 military drills right next to the Baltic states. Moscow insists that they are conducted for anti-terrorism purposes, yet the forces deployed and the priority levels of the exercises convey a different message, indicating that Russia has put on a show of power motivated by anti-NATO sentiments, writes Kaarel Kaas, an analyst at the International Centre for Defence Studies.

19.09.2009, Kaarel Kaas
Postimees
At the moment, Russia is holding large-scale Zapad-2009 and Ladoga-2009 military drills right next to the Baltic states. Moscow insists that they are conducted for anti-terrorism purposes, yet the forces deployed and the priority levels of the exercises convey a different message, indicating that Russia has put on a show of power motivated by anti-NATO sentiments, writes Kaarel Kaas, an analyst at the International Centre for Defence Studies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov published an opinion article in the official government newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, last Tuesday, September 8. In his article, the highest-ranking Russian diplomat expresses the hope that “common sense” will prevail in NATO-Russian relations and that “everybody in NATO will realise in the end that it is in the Alliance’s own interest to have constructive relations with Russia.” Russia cooperates with NATO in solving the Afghanistan problem; the Russia-NATO Council has resumed normal operations “despite some difficulties” – this is how Lavrov describes the progress made in restoring good relations between Moscow and NATO
Soon after his inauguration in August, the new NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declared that there were “positive signals” in the Alliance’s relations with Russia, which have previously been strained due to the war in Georgia. In Rasmussen’s words, we have common security threats. For this reason, NATO and Russia should work together in areas like terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and sea piracy.
It is likely that the new secretary general will continue his policy of positive engagement with Russia.
Let me add to the above the recent news from the US about the alleged scuttling of the missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, the entire ‘reset’ policy pursued by the Administration of President Barack Obama in US-Russian relations and the negotiations over the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty – and what we get is a general trend towards warmer diplomatic relations between Russia and the West.
This conclusion is perfectly correct in many ways. From the diplomatic perspective, relations with Russia have definitely become better than they were before or after the war in Georgia or during several years before last August, years that saw Alexander Litvinenko’s murder in London, Vladimir Putin’s speech in Munich (which had been preceded by Putin’s smear campaign against the West, launched in 2004) and promises to redirect Russia’s missiles at European cities.
Then again, diplomacy – a phenomenon that is based to a great extent on words, rhetoric and documents – is only one aspect among many that convey information about a nation’s identity, self-perception, interests and worldview, including the selection criteria for friends and foes, allies and enemies. This aspect is not more significant or less significant, better or worse than others. It is one among many tools of perception that shape political reality.
Another aspect is military planning, the resulting structure of armed forces, the particularities of this structure and, last but not least, the specific military scenarios that are used for staging military exercises. The building and supplying of armed forces require extensive long-term investments; scenarios of actual military exercises reflect the threat assessments of a nation; threat assessments, in their turn, illustrate its foreign and security policy. All in all, this is a process, during which, figuratively speaking, the word becomes steel.
At this point, I would like to return briefly to last Tuesday’s article by Lavrov or, to be more precise, to the article’s publication date, while bearing in mind the saying – ‘do as I say, not as I do.’
Whether it was a coincidence or not, but the joint Zapad-2009 military manoeuvres by Russian and Belarusian armed forces were officially launched on the very same day – September 8. Zapad-2009 is being performed on Belarusian territory next to Lithuania and Poland and in the Kaliningrad Oblast (in Russian military context, Kaliningrad is a special defence district). At the same time, the Ladoga-2009 exercise, involving the entire Leningrad Military District, was getting into full swing – the exercise started on August 10 and it will be completed by the end of September almost on the very same day as Zapad-2009.
These two exercises are officially separate undertakings, yet the Russian General Staff treats them as integral parts of a series of exercises of operational and strategic importance, called Autumn-2009. In terms of actual military planning, it is reasonable to view Zapad-2009 and Ladoga-2009 together as a united exercise, the most extensive exercise carried out by the Russian armed forces in the last 20 years. The reasons for this relate to the apparent scenarios of the drills, which are described below.
Political and military mimicry was the main cause why an official line had to be drawn between the two exercises. First, it would have been hard for the rest of the world not to notice extensive military training manoeuvres, the ‘front line’ of which runs along the borders of the Baltic states up to Scandinavia and Russia’s naval bases in Arkhangelsk.
Second, OSCE basic documents set clear limits on the number of troops involved in military exercises: if the limit of 13,000 troops is exceeded, other OSCE participating states – in particular, neighbouring countries – have the right to send their observers to monitor the exercise. According to official sources, the number of troops that take part in Zapad-2009 is slightly lower than 13,000 (about 8,000 troops from Belarus and about 5,000 from Russia); the number of participants in Ladoga-2009 is approximately 7,000 troops. Although the obligations of OSCE participating states are only political and therefore not legally binding, a straightforward refusal to allow foreign observers to be present would probably cause a diplomatic scandal of average proportions, raising many uncomfortable questions for Moscow in the international arena.
In connection with both Zapad-2009 and Ladoga-2009, one should pay particular attention to the scenarios, the scope and nature of the troops involved and the political and military priority of the exercises. All these aspects contribute equally to the overall meaning of the exercises; they complement each other. So, let me start with the issue of priority.
Army General Nikolay Makarov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, is personally in charge of the Zapad exercise. The Baltic Sea Fleet, which participates in the manoeuvres, was inspected in Kaliningrad by Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy. The Ladoga exercise is carried out under the leadership of Vladimir Boldyrev, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces. The involvement of the highest-ranking military leaders in the whole country says a lot about the priority level assigned to the manoeuvres.
Under current plans, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev together with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will observe the final phase of the Zapad exercise.
The scope: according to official information, the exercises involve 13,000 and 7,000 troops, which makes them the largest of their kind after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Military exercises that exceed the 13,000 troop limit have almost never been carried out in OSCE participating states. The actual number of troops is probably even higher. Chief of the General Staff Makarov has talked about the deployment of two fully staffed armies on the territory of Belarus – and that was said only in the Zapad context. A half-joking comment from a military analyst on this statement was that we have not seen anything like this since the end of World War II.
Leaving jokes aside, let us look at the units that actually participate in the exercises. Straight away, it is obvious that doubts about the accuracy of numbers are justified. For example, of the four airborne divisions and one brigade that Russia has, two divisions take part in the Zapad exercise – the 106th Airborne Division based in Tula and the 98th Airborne Division based in Ivanovo. Both divisions are represented by one regiment from the two regiments that every division has. Only these regiments should make up a contingent of about 3,000 troops on the Russian side.
In addition to the naval infantry forces of the Baltic Sea Fleet, three large landing ships with the Black Sea Fleet’s naval infantry and two large landing ships with the Northern Fleet’s naval infantry have been dispatched to the Kaliningrad Oblast to conduct amphibious operations. These forces should number between 800 and 1,000 men – in addition to the Baltic Sea Fleet’s own naval infantry (marines).
We should also take into account tank crews, crews of the Baltic Sea Fleet’s participating vessels, airmen, railroad troops, staff personnel, etc. – it soon becomes clear that the official troop numbers are not credible. By the way, the amassing of naval infantry (marines) and vessels of the two other Russian fleets is in itself quite a noteworthy and unprecedented move by Russians.
The Zapad exercise mostly involves forces of the Moscow Military District. They are supplemented by troops from the Volga-Ural Military District. The majority of the forces participating in the Ladoga exercise are from the Leningrad Military District, while some troops come from the Siberian Military District. Russia has in total six military districts and a special defence region of Kaliningrad. Only two military districts remain outside the scope of these large-scale military drills. Since 1991, there have been no bigger or more significant exercises than these two.

In conclusion, with the exception of the North Caucasus Military District that is preoccupied with the Chechen-Ingush and Georgian ‘issue,’ Russia’s military potential in its European parts has been harnessed almost to the full in the operations zones of the two exercises.
In addition, some details about the participating units and the military activities rehearsed are quite interesting.
During the exercises, the S-400 Triumf long-range air defence missile systems are deployed in Belarus. The S-400 Triumf, Russia’s latest brainchild, is one of the most powerful and modern anti-aircraft systems in the world with an alleged operational range of up to 400 km. This is more than twice as much as that of an analogous US anti-aircraft missile system, called PAC-3. However, Russia has only a couple of units armed with S-400s and all of them are located around Moscow to counter, among other things, ballistic missile attacks on the capital.
The relocation of S-400s to Belarus creates an air defence ‘umbrella’ over Lithuania, which would serve as a powerful deterrent to any air assets. But the meaning of the move itself is even more significant than the deterrent aspect because the S-400s defend Moscow and therefore form a weapons system of strategic importance to Russia.
According to the Russian Defence Ministry, the Zapad exercise also engages around 40 combat aircrafts and helicopters, from the Mi-8 transport helicopters to strategic bombers like Tu-160 and Tu-95. Today, the Tu-95s mostly serve as weapons platforms, which lift cruise missiles, located in the bomb bay and/or mounted under the wings, into launch positions. The range of these cruise missiles is several thousand kilometres. When fitted with conventional warheads, they are used to attack strategic enemy command posts, airfields, ports, troop assembly points, etc. They would constitute a major military threat to any conventional forces, which would be moving towards Lithuania and other Baltic states.
In the framework of the Zapad exercise, the Russian Air Force also conducts landing and take-off training on road segments that are used as backup airfields – a routine procedure carried out by Soviet and Russian armed forces in case of a full-scale conventional war.
The official scenario of the Zapad exercise envisages a liquidation operation of terrorist groups that have infiltrated into Belarus and the eastern part of the Kaliningrad Oblast from the territory of Lithuania. The Russian Defence Ministry and General Staff insist that these manoeuvres are conducted solely for defence purposes. The Ladoga exercise also involves fighting against terrorists, together with conventional military activities.
To put it diplomatically, the Zapad scenario is hypothetical. There are hardly any terrorists in Lithuania. And if there were, they would not try to break into Belarus and Kaliningrad. And even if they were to do that, it would be overkill to conduct military exercises with strategic bombers and massive troop contingents in order to liquidate them. Special forces are usually used for these kinds of liquidation operations. Let me also remind you that the entire military doctrine of the Soviet Union served only ‘defence purposes.’
The scope of the exercises, the weaponry used, the troops involved and the scenarios rehearsed all indicate unequivocally that Russia is actually rehearsing a full-scale conventional strategic military operation against a conventional opponent. A look at the map makes it clear that there are no other conventional forces in the region than those of NATO member states. In addition, it is also clear that NATO has not planned in the past and will not plan in the future a preventive war against Russia, in case of which it would be necessary to launch a military operation that would serve only ‘defence purposes.’
The deployment of troops in Belarus and Kaliningrad (massive amphibious operations are also rehearsed in the latter location) points to a scenario, which suggests that Lithuania would be cut off from Continental Europe and all three Baltic states would effectively be caught in a pocket. In this context, the Ladoga exercise carried out in the Leningrad Military District starts to make sense – in case of a full-scale conventional war, the northern flank of Russia’s forces, directed against the Baltics, would cover areas close to Scandinavia. Frontier forces would be located in the Arkhangelsk region, where the Northern Fleet – Russia’s most powerful and strategically most important fleet – would be ready and waiting to crush any possible countermoves by NATO.
There is one more telling fact – on the same day of the beginning of Zapad exercise, an extensive drill was carried out by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, the forces that produce most of Russia’s nuclear deterrent effect. This drill involved the rehearsing of military activities in a situation where Russia is engaged in conventional and nuclear warfare. Every conflict with NATO’s conventional forces carries the potential for automatic escalation into nuclear war.
From the military perspective, it should be pointed out that as recently as four or five years ago most military analysts would have considered the conducting of these kinds of massive joint exercises in Russia – involving ground forces, the navy, the air force, airborne and air assault forces, internal troops and border guard troops – to be a utopian dream; the more so as Moscow would not have been able to afford and organise them. Now it is clear that although the scope of Russia’s military development has been limited, the speed of this process has been faster than predicted.
How should the world react to all of this? Let me answer by quoting George F. Kennan, an American diplomat and probably one of the most perceptive Russian experts in the West, who wrote in his Long Telegram in 1946: “Impervious to logic of reason, and it [Moscow] is highly sensitive to logic of force. For this reason it can easily withdraw–and usually does when strong resistance is encountered at any point. Thus, if the adversary has sufficient force and makes clear his readiness to use it, he rarely has to do so. If situations are properly handled there need be no prestige-engaging showdowns.”
It should also be noted that Kennan has later said that his ideas had been misinterpreted – when using the word ‘force,’ the grand old man of US diplomacy had meant political and diplomatic force as well as military force.
The author expresses his personal views in this article.

The Ladoga-2009 military training exercise
·        The exercise is held from August 10 to September 28.
·        The active phase lasts from September 22 to September 28.
·        Army General Vladimir Boldyrev, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces, is in charge of the exercise.
·        The exercise involves all troops from the Leningrad Military District; airborne troops; some units from the Siberian Military District; the Northern and the Baltic Sea Fleets; internal troops that are subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs; the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and border guard troops that are subordinated to the FSB; and the Ministry of Emergency Situations.
·        The front line of the exercise is about 1,500 km long and the exercise zone is about 300 km wide.
·        According to official information, the number of troops that participate in the exercise is about 7,000 (the actual number is probably higher than that).
·        According to the official scenario, the exercise involves the implementation of a joint command and control system for both military and civilian structures; fighting against terrorist groups; the liquidation of ‘enemy’ forces in a conventional military conflict; and the protection of the citizens and economic interests of the Russian Federation.
·        The Northern Fleet’s surface vessels and submarines practise the firing of missiles during the exercise.
·        A naval infantry (marine) brigade of the Northern Fleet rehearses amphibious assaults, etc.
·        Warships sail around Scandinavia to the Baltic Sea.
·        Of the units of the Russian armed forces that are located closest to Estonia, one regiment of the two regiments of the 76th Airborne Division, which is based in Pskov, and the 138th Detached Motorised Rifle Brigade, which is based in Kamenka near St. Petersburg, participate in the exercise.
·        Probably the largest military exercise that has been held in the Leningrad Military District after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
The Zapad-2009 military training exercise
·        The exercise is held from September 8 to September 29.
·        Preparations for the active phase are carried out from September 18 to September 22; the active military operation lasts from September 23 to September 29.
·        The exercise is performed on Belarusian territory next to Lithuania and Poland and in the Kaliningrad Oblast.
·        The exercise involves troops from the Russian Moscow Military District, the Volga-Ural Military District and the Kaliningrad Special Defence Region; airborne troops (the 106th and the 98th Airborne Divisions); vessels and naval infantry of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Northern Fleets; units of the Strategic Rocket Forces; and, in addition, units of the Belarusian armed forces.
·        Army General Nikolay Makarov, Chief of the Russian General Staff, is in charge of the exercise; Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko are expected to observe the final phase of the exercise.
·        According to official information, the number of Russian and Belarusian troops that participate in the exercise is about 13,000, but the actual number is probably much higher (the Russian side has mentioned the deployment of two fully staffed armies and of up to 60,000 troops).
·        According to official information, around 40 combat aircrafts and helicopters, including Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers, take part in the exercise on the Russian side.
·        The official scenario of the exercise envisages a liquidation operation of terrorist groups that have infiltrated into Belarus and the eastern part of the Kaliningrad Oblast from the territory of Lithuania. A joint naval infantry force of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Northern Fleets rehearses massive amphibious operations in Kaliningrad in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border.
·        The official objective of the exercise is to test the new brigade-based structure of the Russian armed forces and the network-centric command and control system of the forces.
·        Probably the largest military exercise that has been held in Russia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
A training exercise by the Strategic Rocket Forces
·        An extensive exercise by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, which are armed with nuclear weapons, began on September 8 and it lasted for several days.
·        According to official information, the exercise involved about 2,000 servicemen of the Strategic Rocket Forces and in total about 150 theatre- and tactical-level command and control posts.
·        The objective of the exercise was to rehearse activities by the Strategic Rocket Forces in a military conflict involving both conventional and nuclear weapons.
Sources: Interfax-AVN, RIA Novosti, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye, Kommersant, the Russian Defence Ministry, the Russian General Staff, the Russian Leningrad Military District.

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