The Airborne Troops and General Staff are currently discussion which path the reforms of the Airborne Troops should take. On November 21 Colonel general Yury Baluevsky, Director of the Main Operational Department and Deputy Chief of the General Staff, announced that in order to improve combat readiness, the Airborne Troops would be relieved of non-profile peacekeeping functions. The staff of the Airborne Troops confirmed this information, adding that the authorized strength of the Airborne Troops would be cut by 5,500 servicemen. The tenth airborne regiment in Gudauta (Abkhazia), the 237th regiment of the 76th airborne division (Pskov), and the 283rd Air Force wing (Podolsk) will be disbanded by the end of this year.
Meanwhile the final decision about depriving the Airborne Troops of their peacekeeping functions has not yet been made, because the President has not yet signed a document stating the military’s new objects. Media report that the staff of the Airborne Troops agrees that reducing some units is necessary, but is averse to taking away all peacekeeping functions from the Airborne Troops. The staff explains its disagreement with the following arguments.
First, there is a presidential decree of May 17, 1997, which states that in peacetime Airborne Troops should form the core of troops participating in peacekeeping operations.
Second, Airborne Troops are mobile. The specificities of their training, tactics, transport capability, armaments, and combat material allow quick air lifting of airborne units to far-away sites. According to airborne officers, this was the main reason that from 1998 tp 2000 the Airborne Troops have participated in over 30 operations to solve ethnic conflicts, provide disaster relief, keep or restore peace and security. The Trans-Dniester Republic and South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Armenia (earthquake disaster relief), Middle Asia and Chechnya represent an incomplete list of the regions of where the Airborne Troops have operated.
Third, the Airborne Troops staff says that the Airborne Troops have built a streamlined system for training and replacing peacekeepers. Since January 1, 2000 the 245th peacekeepers training center has been operating in Ryazan. The center trains and replaces personnel for the peacekeeping contingents in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Abkhazia.
Fourth, over eight years of peacekeeping operations the Airborne Troops have built friendly and respectful relations between the command of the peacekeeping units and personnel with local administrations and residents of the warring parties, have organized close collaboration with military contingents of other countries, and representatives of international organizations (UN, OSCE, and so on).
Fifth, reorienting Airborne Troops for purely combat tasks is also not beneficial from a material standpoint. According to the staff of the Airborne Troops, overall expenditures on the return of peacekeeping units from areas of deployment will total about 900 million rubles, including. The costs break down as follows:
-by rail: 138-150 million rubles,
-by aircraft: 254-280 million rubles,
total: 392-430 million rubles.
-by rail: 168-180 million rubles,
-by air:-288-300 million rubles,
total: 456-480 million rubles.
Officers also say that a withdrawal may prevent the fulfillment of the set up tasks, ruin control over the units, and will disrupt the well established system of collaboration and comprehensive support.
Airborne Troops began participating in peacekeeping operations in March 1992, when the 554th separate Russian infantry battalion of UN 900 men strong organized in Airborne Troops was sent to former Yugoslavia.
In February 1994, in accordance with political decision of the Russian leadership, a part of the 554th battalion was redeployed to Sarajevo and transformed into the separate 629th UN infantry brigade after relevant reinforcement with operational subordination to Sarajevo sector and task of separation of warring parties, and control over the ceasefire agreement observance.
When the powers of UN in Bosnia and Herzegovina were reassigned to NATO in January 1996 the 629th infantry brigade of UN stopped fulfillment of peacekeeping tasks and was withdrawn to Russia.
In accordance with the UN Security Council resolution on gradual reduction of military forces of the UN presence in Eastern Slavonia, the 554th separate infantry brigade was transformed into a guards group and reduced to 203 people in October 1997. In June 1998, the guards group was withdrawn to Russia.
In May 1994, Collective Peacekeeping Troops (CPF) were organized in accordance with the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia. The main task of the CPF is to separate the warring parties, enforce law and order, create conditions so that normal life may resume in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, prevent a resurgence of the armed conflict, and guard of important installations and communication networks.
The CPF include an airborne battalion of the 10th separate airborne regiment.
The peacekeeping units of the 10th separate airborne regiment have redeployed:
-one battalion in the Gallsky District;
-one regiment in the Kadorskoe Ravine;
-one platoon, which guards the CPF headquarters in Sukhumi. The regiment’s servicemen are stationed at one control and six observation checkpoints (six in the Gallsky District, and one in the Kavdorskoe Ravine).
In January 1996, a separate airborne brigade of 1,500 troops was formed for participation in the international peacekeeping operations troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The area of the brigade’s responsibility totals 1,750 square meters, and the overall length of the parties separation line is 75 kilometers (1st battalion- 35 kilometers, and 2nd battalion-40 kilometers). The Russian brigade fulfills the following tasks:
-separation of warring parties;
-enforcement of law and order, return to normal life in responsibility zone;
-participation in humanitarian aid provision;
-assistance in fulfillment of the general framework agreement on peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina of December 14, 1996.
The brigade’s servicemen are stationed at four control checkpoints, patrol routes in the responsibility zone, and conduct reconnaissance and check planned target objects. The brigade’s units are deployed in basic areas of Uglevik, Priboi, Simin-Han, and Vukosavici.
In 1999, the Russian contingent was reduced to 1,150 servicemen, 90 armored vehicles, and 232 automotive vehicles.
In June 1999, in accordance with UN resolution No. 1244 and presidential decree, as well as the “Coordinated clauses of Russian participation in KFOR” signed by Russian Defense Minister and US Secretary of Defense in Helsinki on June 18, 1999, the Russian military contingent of 3,616 troops (including about 2,500 Airborne Troops servicemen) was sent to Kosovo.
The major tasks of the contingent are:
-creation of safe conditions for return and residence of refugees;
-provision of public security;
-mine clearance and liquidation unexploded ordnance and hazardous items;
-cooperation with KFOR in operation of the Pristina (Slatina) airfield;
-protection and enabling free movement for friendly troops, international civil presence, and presence of personnel of other international organizations.
The contingent is stationed in basic areas and control and observation checkpoints, patrols routes in its zone of responsibility, and conducts reconnaissance and check of objects. The Russian contingent is deployed in the basic areas of Slatina airfield, Bania, Velika Hocha, Kosovskaya Kamenica, Done Karmenyane, Srbica, Mon, Devic, and Kosovo Pole. The servicemen are stationed at 15 control checkpoints, 14 observation checkpoints, 13 guard checkpoints, patrol 23 routes, and sent patrols to three populated spots. Nineteen reserve teams and four helicopters remain in permanent readiness. To provide its own security the contingent keeps 10 guard teams, 15 patrol groups, keeps eight checkpoints, and escorts three to six columns daily. The Airborne Troops units in the contingent include:
-131 armored vehicles;
-387 automotive vehicles.
Thus, the Airborne Troops currently have about 5,600 servicemen, over 320 armored vehicles, and over 950 automotive vehicles participating in three peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in cooperation with NATO, and in Abkhazia within the Collective Peacekeeping Forces.