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Russia: Priced Out Of The Battlefield
   Next Article → AFGHANISTAN: Ignorance Is Blitz
March 28, 2009: There is a debate going on within the Russian military over how to proceed with reforming the military. Many generals believe that the military industries that produced a wide range of weapons for the Soviet Union are now either gone or no longer capable of producing competitive weapons or equipment. An example is the Mi-8 helicopter. This was Russia's answer to  the radical American UH-1 ("Huey"). While the UH-1 was replaced by the much improved UH-60 in the 1980s, the Mi-8 has gone through lots of upgrades (to the current Mi-171), but never a new design. Russian industry has a new design, the Mi-38, but no customers. Even the Russian military cannot afford to buy the more expensive, which is competitive with the UH-60. This is typical of the fundamental situation throughout the Russian military. They cannot afford modern equipment, and as a result, Russian military industries are not getting the orders required to keep them in business. The government has, in the last decade, announced that it was going to buy new equipment for the military. But the new stuff never shows up. Oh, some does, in fits and starts. But, as many of the generals and admirals have noted, the money isn't there. And with the low price of oil, and other raw materials Russia exports, the money won't be there for a while. Many generals oppose the current reforms, which includes dismissing thousands of generals and disbanding the mass reserve army. For over a century, this reserve army was organized to raise millions of troops, armed with low-tech weapons and poorly trained, to defend Russia from invasion.

Further investigation has revealed that the Cyber War attacks on Estonia and Georgia (which temporarily shut down Internet access in those countries), while carried out by nationalistic Russian hackers, was done at the instigation of Russian government officials (who got in touch with leaders of Russian hacker groups and requested the attacks).

The government has reduced the list of weapons subject to export control (you need permission to sell abroad). The weapons still on the list are;  shoulder fired surface-to-air missile systems, portable antitank guided missile launchers (ATGMs), portable anti-tank rocket grenade launchers (RPGs), and portable flamethrowers. Several weapon types, which used to be controlled, are no longer. These include revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles, sub-machineguns, automatic rifles, light machineguns, antiaircraft machineguns, antitank guns, and light and medium mortars (caliber less than100 mm).

In another attempt to clean up the corrupt and inefficient national police, a code of conduct has been issued for the force. Bribery, drinking on the job and adultery (among many other forms of misbehavior) are now forbidden.

The government has ordered army and police authorities in Chechnya to set up a timetable to officially end their operations there. Chechen police have been taking over more of the security work in the province for the last few years. While corrupt and brutal, the local police are capable of dealing with local gangsters and trouble makers (Islamic radicals and anti-Russian nationalists.) The official end to the war would make it easier for Chechen companies to import and export goods.

The Russian Navy announced its intention to resume the use of nuclear warheads for some of its anti-ship missiles (those launched via torpedo tubes by submarines). This would enable these missiles to destroy a group of warships, and to avoid defensive weapons (like Phalanx and SeaRAM). The U.S. and Russia withdrew their tactical nuclear weapons from their navies at the end of the Cold War.

Canada and Russia are engaged in a growing dispute over who controls certain Arctic waters, and natural resources that may be present on the seabed beneath. Russia says it is going to set up a special military force to patrol Arctic waters it believes it "owns". Precisely who controls Arctic waters has never been spelled out by international treaty, and the Russians have expressed a determination to define what they own, by themselves, and see who will do what to oppose these claims.

March 21, 2009: In Dagestan, three days of fighting in a wooded area, left five policemen and at least a dozen rebels (a combination of gangsters, Islamic radicals and people just angry at the corrupt local government) dead.

March 20, 2009: The government admitted that permanent military bases were being established in the former Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two areas have joined Russia, becoming the first Russian territorial annexation since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991 (and broke up an empire that took four centuries to put together.)

March 16, 2009: Two IL-38 maritime reconnaissance aircraft flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier off the South Korean coast. The Russia aircraft were escorted by U.S. Navy carrier fighters, as the IL-38s came in at 500 feet. All this had no military significance, and was mainly a publicity stunt. This is about all the elderly IL-38s are good for these days. The Russian Navy only has about 30 IL-38s, which are roughly equivalent to the American P-3s, but have not had their sensors and communications equipment updated since the Cold War. There is new equipment for the IL-38s, but only export customers, like India, can afford it.

March 15, 2009:  A Russian Air Force general casually mentioned that Russia might base long range maritime recon aircraft (Tu-142) and bombers (Tu-160) in Cuba and Venezuela. This caused an uproar in the Western hemisphere, with Cuba and Venezuela expressing interest, while there was a less friendly reaction in the United States. But the Russian government soon announced that there was never any intention to build bases in South America, simply to land there and refuel before flying back to northern Russia. Cuba was such a base during the Cold War, but the maritime recon missions were of limited use, because space satellites did the job more efficiently. Making those flights today are PR exercises.

March 13, 2009: A third of Russia's 290 Mig-29 jet fighters have passed inspection and allowed to fly again. But 90 of them are grounded because corrosion was discovered. What was most disturbing was that some of the grounded aircraft had only spent a few hundred hours in the air. But these aircraft had also spent years on the ground, because there was no money to buy fuel or spare parts so they could fly. India is not grounding its 70 MiG-29s, mainly because they are better maintained and flown more frequently.

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Slim Pickinz       3/29/2009 2:14:58 AM
The Russians re-tipping their carrier killers with nukes is a big deal. That could lead to both Russian and the U.S. re-deploying their tactical reserves and destroying what progress we've made in nuclear disarmament.
 
That is unless, this is just another typical propaganda ploy and a lean on Obama to back off Russian interests.
 
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J3    Real danger from Russia   3/29/2009 9:34:55 AM
Everything you are saying about the degredation of the Russian military may be true.  That does not mean however that they are toothless, and that we should cease being vigilant about what they are doing militarilly. To me, there are serious warning signals coming from Russia that they may try to attack and quickly overun the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuwainia and Estonia.  Each of these states is small and lightly defended, so Russian forces could easily reach the Baltic very quickly from Russia, as well as attack from Kallingrad, Russian's enclave on the Baltic to the south, before NATO could respond.  Some Russians may even be betting that NATO will not respond at all because they perceive it as weak and increasingly splintered.  They base these impressions on NATO's weak response to Russian's brief invasion of Georgia and waffling on Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO, as well as Europe's dependence on Russian energy and its growing trade with Russia, particularly between Germany, Europe's strongest country, and Russia.  Very alarming for us was Poland's President's (Prime Minister's) I'm not sure, recent remark that only the US can hold NATO together.
 
These Russians also observe that the Europeans have developed a truly low regard for the US, and that, surprisingly, this pervasive disgust is fully justified because of the disastrous policies of the Bush administration and their arrogant neo-conservative supporters.  These include not only the foolish Iraq war but permitting the US securities industry to wreck the world financial markets and ruin financially billions of people around the globe by knowingly selling fraudulent, worthless securities such as debt obligations backed by mortgages knowingly given to people who could not repay them, and credit default swaps (unregulated, crooked insurance policies against the risk of non-payment of debt).  It is these CDSs that sank AIG and for which we taxpayers are now paying billions.  The key to the success of this government supported fraud was the elimination of Federal and state regulation, which the neo-cons even now still oppose and which the Europeans, particularly Germany (and now hopefully the Obama adminitration) really want.
 
On top of all this, Russian decision making regarding the eastern European states along or near her western boundary, including the new NATO states in the Baltic, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, is increasingly driven by a rising tide of histerical nationalism which rejects the independent sovereignty of these states, wrongfully sees them as threats, and claims an historic right dating back to the Czars to dominate them.  Recently, for example, Russian's ambassedor to NATO accused unnamed small east Erupoean states taking "anti-Russian" actions and asked retorically, "how long can we let this go on?"  In addition, the Russian government has repeatedly accused these states of abusing their Russian minoities.  This is especially ominous because Nazi Germany used similar claims about Germans in Danzig and the Sudetan land of Czeckoslovakia to justify invading those places.  Note that just last week, the head of NATO,  Gen. Craddock, spoke in his testimony before Congress of the need to provide "deterence" against Russain adventurism in Eastern Europe.
 
Finally, remeember how quickly and permanently the Soviets built the Berline Wall, all done over a quiet, lazy weekend.  My hope is that we are taking these burgeoning signals seriously.  The struggle is to preserve our Cold War victory against Russian revisionism.
 
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afrc       3/29/2009 2:15:57 PM
I don't think Russia has much interest in Baltic states. They know that those countries are largely against Russia, unlike somewhat favorable mood toward Russia in Ukraine. Invasion of those countries will be a huge PR disaster and will create a enemy pocket within Russia. I am pretty sure Russia realizes that it lost all Baltic states. For now it uses them for government propaganda purposes - to say that NATO is approaching the borders and local governments oppress Russian minority... all to whip Russian people into nationalistic hysteria and consolidate them around the government. Same thing was done with Georgia... although Georgia is at fault for starting a war it could not finish. It lost the disputed provinces long time ago, just like Serbia lost Kosovo. Russia just used the favorable situation to it's advantage. Georgia was warned not to start the war by US and that is why US did not come to it's aid - it was time to show them their place. US cannot support every war some small temporarily friendly country starts without our approval. The situation with Baltic states is different because they are part of NATO and NATO must respond or the idea of that military union (as well as EDF) will be lost and NATO will fall apart immediately. And the main thing to remember is that Russia cannot conduct modern warfare effectively right now - it is not prepared, so I would not expect a war any time soon. For now I would watch closely to make sure that the Russian government would shift further to the right.
 
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Slim Pickinz       3/29/2009 10:25:53 PM
I think afrc has it right. The Russian military is in no way capable of mounting a large scale invasion of the Baltic states and will not be able to for a long time. Just look at how badly the Georgian offensive was for them. Their main thrust into Ossentia was conducted with T-64s and T-72s, and were about evenly matched by the Georgian armor units. There was no attempt at SEAD and as a result they lost several close support aircraft and a strategic bomber to a relatively limited air defence force. The entire operation was conducted with limited pre-war intelligence and a serious lack of communication (their field commanders has to communicate with cellphones!).
 
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J3       3/30/2009 10:28:31 AM
AFRC and Slim - Thx for your cogent thoughts.  My problem is that your reasoning is exactly the kind of mind set that potential attackers will look for in considering whether to invade; ie will their attack be a surprise (the #1 goal) because the enemy does not expect the attack or underestimates the attackers' abilities or will.  Remember Clauswitz:  There is never any excuse for surprised.
What you say reminds me of our attitude toward Japan prior to Peral Harbor.  It was that they would never attack PH because it was so strategically stupid (which it was), and because they knew that we as a superior race would destroy them, they could only copy our tech stuff, etc.  But that was our view of them, no their view of  them.  In their view it made perfect sense to attach a much stronger foe and risk a war in which that foe would eventually defeat them.  So, they pulled off the first trans-oceanic strategic strike with aircraft carriers in history on a lovely Sunday morning against a drunken, hung over foe, and the rest is history.
 
Incredibly, in Dec 1944, Allied commanders in Europe, at the highest level (Montgeomery and Eisenhower), repeated exactly the same thinking in concluding that the Germans would not attack in the west, ie, a German attack would not make sense because it would end in certain defeat, the Allies had pounded the Germans so badly since D-Day that the were incapable of offensive land operations, etc.  But this, again, was our view of Germany's interests, not Hitler's.  We did not consideer his emotional instability or how he might see the war from his bunker in Berlin.  His view was that he could win if he could split the Anglo/American/Russian alliance and fight just the Russians in the east.  This is how Frederick the Great had prevailed against his enemies.  Dividing the alliance was never going to happen, but my main point is that he thought it was possible and so he did it. Put another way, the fact that our analysis of Germany's interests and capabilities at that stage of the war was essentially correct did not mean that Hitler (the Japanese at PH) would not give it a go anyway.  The result was a catastrophe so horrible for the US Army that even today they are unwilling to face the full truth about how they let Hitler surprise them and inflict casualties amounting to about 7% of our total battle casualties since PH.  Impossible as it may seem,  Eisenhower, Bradley and Montgomery let us get "Pearl Habored" twice in one war. 
 
Lest you think these surprise attacks are abberations, consider how we were completely unprepared for North Korea's surprise attack on the south in 1950 and Saddam Hussein's surprise assault on Kuwait in 1991.  IN EACH CASE, just as before PH and the Bluge, we ignored real danger signals.  Re Korea, Dean Atchison, the US Sec/St, sloppilly failed to include South Korea in a list of red line strategic places we would defend, and our governement then ignored the possible effect of this omission on the Soviets, which was, "Let's grab the south."  Re Kuwait, thx largely to April Galdsby, our incompetent ambassador in Bagdad, we concluded Saddem would not invade Kuwait even though he claimed it historically as part of Iraq and was saying very clearly that he was broke and desperately needed Kuwait's oil  to pay Iran war debts and other expenses.
 
There is a pattern here, something like a national historic blindness to clear and present dangers of attack. All the reasons you give for Russian's not attacking the Baltic states make sense.  But you are not asking the right question, which is, how do the Russian's see it?  Do they think gaining control of those countries is in their interests?  Do they think an invasion would succeed?  Do they think the price of a successful invasion would be worth it?  Most important, what is the Russian "estimate of the situation" in terms of what resistence a Russian invasion would actually meet?  Since my last blog, I have learned two things which the Russian's may view as enhancing the chances of succes.   First, NATO's European members sharply split from the US over Gen Craddock's stupid memo ordering NATO troops in Afganistan to murder any and all Afgans who are involved in the drug trade even if they are not Taliban.  European nations were outraged and refused to obey the order, and thankfully Gen. Craddock is on his way out.  Perhaps the Russians see these events as reducing the abilitiy of the Americans and
 
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Slim Pickinz    J3   3/30/2009 8:41:33 PM
I understand your point of view J3, and I don't underestimate Putin's tenacity or Russia's ability to put forward a large and credible military force regardless of their current state of operations, but I have to argue that such an amibitious takeover of the Baltics is still out of Russia's capability.
 
Despite the disasterous state of Russia's conventional armed forces, they still possess a formidable arsenal of weaponry. In addition to the standing army, Russia can also call up the millions of reserve conscripts in times of crisis, and still maintains a massive stockpile of arms dating back to WWII.
 
If Russia decided to invade the Baltics, it would have the forces necessary, but it would be a terribly bloody campaign for Ivan; A large force made up mostly of conscripts who havent trained in years, commanded by reserve officers with little training of themselves, using equipment and weapons that are decades old and completely obsolete against modern opponents, operating in foreign countries with sporadic logistical support at best, and limited intelligence and C3 capabilities. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.
 
In addition to that, the Russians just do not have the manufacturing and industrial capacity currently to support such a campaign. Also, the Russian economy right now is based primarily on the exporting of oil and gas resources, especially to middle and western Europe. These would be the very countries they plan to invade, putting Russia in a very bad position by potentially crippling their economy. The only way to successfully take the Baltics would be a quick and short war, just like Hitler's plan for Europe. That cannot be done with Russia's dilapidated armed forces, and they simply do not have enough front line units for the scale of the operation.
 
My biggest issue with your arguement, is that times have changes, and it's almost impossible to achieve the kind of strategic suprise needed to make such an operation succeed with today's technology. Satellite surveillance would make a Russian buildup of troops, equipment, and supplies impossible to hide. A large scale operation into the Baltic states would be detected months before the invasion date. Even if it was disguised as a training exercise, NATO forces would be put on alert regardless. Such suprise offensives were possible in WWII and Korea, because we didn't have the intelligence assets available to us now, but in today's world you just can't hide such an attack, especially by such a well-monitored country as Russia.
 
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J3       3/30/2009 10:37:03 PM
Slim - I appreciate your thoughts.  They are persuasive, and I hope you are right.  All the best. 
 
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razputin       3/30/2009 10:50:16 PM
You guys are worrying about the baltics too much. The only way we Russians invade the Blatics is if the russian economy takes a major plunge and we need a national rallying point so to speak. Control over baltics could be achieved through other means and military invasion is the last one of them. There is a possibility to exploit the current political and economic situation in the baltic states which is being done but a military invasion is not going to happen any time soon.
 
Ukraine is much more ripe for unrest and invasion than any of you might think. It is on the verge of failing economically and politically as a state. We might have to interfere.
 
The real reason why US could not help Georgia was the US military being stretched thin by the operation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe we will let US rebuild the Georgian military and then give georgians a good beating again only this time with imrpoved combined arms tactics and test all the new equipment and toys. And the US satellite assests are mostly trained on the middle estern theater of operations. So Russia is actually not so well monitored as someone assumed here.
 
In any case anyway you look at it NATO is fucked. Germany is spoiling things for the US inside NATO. And this US attempt at putting all your eggs into the afghan basket stinks of desperation. I guess someone in Washington thinks that the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-India pipeline is still possible. And this is the last attempt to stake your claim to CA natural resources. We have you by the balls in Afghanistan. Obama chose to work with Pakistan instead of collaborating with russia and give up in Gergia. Well then watch elements within afghani resistance sport some new weapons and improved tactics. WE have plenty of surprises prepared. Payback time...
 
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RHylton       3/31/2009 9:10:57 AM



 We have you by the balls in Afghanistan. Obama chose to work with Pakistan instead of collaborating with russia and give up in Gergia. Well then watch elements within afghani resistance sport some new weapons and improved tactics. WE have plenty of surprises prepared. Payback time...
 
 

That for one, assumes the Russian military could find it's ass with both hands........
 
and for another, that you would do any better in Afghanistan this time than the last. with a military a fraction of the size, power, and skill it once had.
 
Throwing your weight around in your backyard, is one thing. having "the balls" to do it against someone who can bloody your nose, that is something else.
 
I think I need to go take a cold shower now, got myself into a nationalistic fervor for a second there.
 
 
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Slim Pickinz    Raz   3/31/2009 4:36:41 PM
Raz- I agree with you over the Baltics. They are not a high priority and can be controlled through alternate means other than than military conflict. We were just debating whether such an attack is possible.
 
As for everything else, you are completely wrong.
 
"The real reason why US could not help Georgia was the US military being stretched thin by the operation in Iraq and Afghanistan."
 
- The reason the US could not help Georgia is because they did not want to help. The Georgians started the war by attacking South Ossentia, so they were not the victim, and Georgia is still not a member of NATO so the US was not obligated to help anyways.
 
"Maybe we will let US rebuild the Georgian military and then give georgians a good beating again only this time with imrpoved combined arms tactics and test all the new equipment and toys"
 
- You had your chance to try out all your new "toys" the first time around, and yet you were still using Cold War equipment (ie T-64s!). SO I guess that means you have no new toys to try out, or at least none that are close to being battlefield-ready. And all your new gadgets still didn't provide you with accurate intelligence (ie your aircraft bombed the wrong targets, or the same targets even after they were destroyed), and all your electronic warfare tech and anty-radiation missiles didn't save you from losing a Backfire (proving another point that you need to use a strategic bomber as a recon bird because you don't have adequate satellite intel or enough UAVs), to a low level air defence system.
 
"the US satellite assests are mostly trained on the middle estern theater of operations. So Russia is actually not so well monitored as someone assumed here"
 
- Raz, are you really that stupid to assume that just because the Middle East is the new hot zone, the US just stops monitoring a former superpower who still wields thousands of nuclear weapons? I don't think so. And while US assets are focusing on the ME right now, Russia is still under careful surveillance. Even with limited satellite coverage a large military buildup would still be detected months in advance. Like I said before, you just can't hide that kind of operation nowadays.
 
 
 
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