Moscow is trying to enforce its defense potential

Between June 21 and 26 in accordance with the combat training plan of the Armed Forces strategic staff command exercises “Zapad-99” were conducted under command of Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev.

This were the largest military exercises of the last ten years in Russia. Staffs and commands of five military districts (Leningrad, Moscow, North Caucasus, Privolzhsky and Ural) and three fleets (Northern, Baltic and Black Sea) participated in the exercises, as well as about twenty command bodies of the Armed Forces branches and command of three airborne formations.

In the exercises also participated the Strategic Missile Forces. Nuclear weapons use was also planned. Overall in the exercises participated about 50,000 servicemen, more than 1,000 tanks and armored vehicles, more than 100 aircraft and helicopters, more than 50 warships and fast boats and around 1,000 field communication centers.

In the exercises also participated the operational group of the Belarussian Defense Ministry. Representatives of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan were present as observers.

Public relations service of the Defense Ministry reported that the main objectives of the exercises were “improvement of the methods of work of the command and operational bodies of the united branches of the Armed Forces of the Western region in commanding of troops (forces) under conditions of military-political situation aggravation, appearance of armed conflicts and their transformation into a regional war.”

The exercises were carried out in three stages. At the first stage (June 21-22) the Armed Forces and other troops and command bodies of the Western region were put in the highest degrees of combat readiness. The troops of Leningrad Military District were put in complete combat readiness. At the second stage (June 23-25) preparation and use of the groups of the Russian Armed Forces, allied countries, and other troops “for parrying of aggression in the West” was trained. Cooperative actions with Belarussian military command with participation of the regional group of forces were also tested.

At the third stage (June 26) “defeating of an aggressor and restoration of territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and allied countries” was tested. Results of the exercises have been summed up.

During the exercises the command bodies, formations and units of the Armed Forces in cooperation with the other troops were also trained to organize defense of important state and military objects and liquidate consequences of natural disasters and accidents.

According to Colonel General Yury Baluevsky, Director of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff, who was acting chief of staff of the exercises, all planned tasks were fulfilled and all planned objectives achieved. The combat skills were improved not only in the staffs, but also in the troops. During the exercises tens of company and battalion exercises with firing practice were conducted, as well as voyages of the ships of three fleets, firing practice of Air Defense Forces and aerial battles with real bomb dropping.

It is interesting that Defense Minister Igor Sergeev actively participated in the exercises.

On June 21 he visited St. Petersburg. In the airport of the city Sergeev announced that these exercises “are very important,” because “during the time, which passed since the beginning of the Armed Forces reforming, large structural transformations occurred, and at present it is necessary to adjust the command and refresh the skills of the operational commanders.” The Minister stressed that this is a priority task.

In turn, Vlladislav Putilin, Director of the Main Organizational-Mobilization Department of the General Staff, announced that the exercises were pre-planned, and cannot be considered as reaction to the NATO operation against Yugoslavia. According to him, decision about the exercises organization was made at the end of the last year, and “we cannot speak about their targeting against some actions of the North Atlantic Treaty.”

“Organization of military exercises in the Western region is also stipulated by the plan of operational and combat training of the Armed Forces,” added Putilin, in the Eastern region such exercises were conducted in 1997.

In turn, answering the question if the experience of NATO combat operations on the Balkans was taken into account during the exercises, General Yury Baluevsky, Director of the Main Operational Department, answered that it was. However he pointed out that the exercises should not be considered as “demonstration of muscles” to NATO. The troops were occupied with the regular combat training.

On June 22 Defense Minister Sergeev arrived in Murmansk. Here he inspected the readiness of naval staffs for the Navy command in combat conditions. In the exercises on the Northern Fleet Petr Veliky heavy missile-carrying cruiser was used, large landing craft and escort ships of the seventh operational squadron and Air Defense and Air Force units.

On the North the Minister also made a few important statements: “it is necessary to observe decisions of President Boris Yeltsin about the stable financing of the military reform, otherwise there will be no reform as such.”

According to the Minister, the President decreed that 3.5% of the GDP are to be assigned for the defense needs. Sergeev hopes that the Federation Council and Duma agree with this and pay attention to the Armed Forces reform. Moreover, added the Marshal, “the situation, which we experienced in Europe, can be repeated.”

The Minister is not quite consent with the work of legislators on support and reforming of the Armed Forces. In particular, he added, the Defense Ministry prepared many documents, and dynamic work of the legislators on approval of corresponding laws is necessary. Sergeev complained that there is still not law on the Armed Forces in the country.

On June 23-24 Defense Minister visited the Moscow Region. On June 23 he was present at the central command post of the Moscow District of Air Force and Air Defense Forces together with his Belarussian counterpart, then observed the bomb dropping exercises conducted by aircraft at Kushalino testing ground (Tver Region). On June 24 the Defense Ministers of Belarus and Russia visited the front command post in one of the villages of the Moscow Region, and on June 25 Sergeev already arrived in Kaliningrad, where he inspected the training of ground and naval forces of Kaliningrad Special District,

At this point we need to take into account that the Caspian Flotilla and Group of Russian Forces in Transcaucasia is operationally subordinated to the North Caucasus Military District. Although nothing was reported about the measures taken there, we cannot rule out that in the Caspian Sea, as well as in Armenia and Georgia the troops were also fulfilling operational-strategic tasks. At least at one of his press conferences Baluevsky did not rule out such variant. The 201 th mechanized infantry division is operationally subordinated to Privolzhsky Military District. Hence the staff command exercises could also be conducted there.

Thus, we see that many issues of the military build up theory are currently finding their practical embodiment in Russia. Despite the financial problems, the Kremlin demonstrates its readiness to strengthen the combat power of the Army and Navy.

However after the staff command exercises financing of the troops combat training can be stopped, because too little money is assigned by the military budget for this purpose, just 2.6% of the GDP. If the military spending is not increased, the recent exercises can turn out to be the last in 1999.

Simultaneously with Russia and Belarus in Central Asia Uzbekistan started its own exercises, Staff command exercises of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan were conducted between June 22 and 26 in Tashkent and Tashkent Region. Representatives of the Defense Ministry of Uzbekistan reported that during the exercises the Defense Ministry units were trained to cooperate with the other ministries and agencies in provision of security in the capital of the republic, as well as defense of the most important economic objects and communications, and increase the combat readiness of units and formations within the framework of the Armed Forces reforming, Nothing was reported about any cooperation of Uzbek Armed Forces with the Russian ones. However the staff command exercises in the Tashkent Region can be considered as reaction of Uzbekistan to the military activities of Russia in Tajikistan.