June 26 top-ranking officers of the Defense Ministry met to discuss further reforms for the Airborne Forces and other units of permanent readiness. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov chaired the meeting and Airborne Forces Commander Colonel General Georgy Shpak read the main report.
Participants at the meeting noted that the Airborne Forces, which form the basis of the mobile strategic reserve of the Armed Forces “can, in general, fulfill their tasks.” At the same time, officers expressed their concern about the slow resolution of certain problems concerned with the maintenance of the Airborne Forces, as a result of which this branch of the Armed Forces “does not fully comply with the requirements for the units of permanent readiness.” During the meeting, the Ministry outlined specific measures for the development of the Airborne Forces and the improvement of combat readiness of the units of permanent readiness.
Thus, airborne units will be included in the coalition forces of the member states of the Collective Security Treaty in the Central Asian theater. Expenditure on the training of airborne officers, and the purchase of parachutes and other material will be increased. According to the new plans, if the situation in Central Asia, for example in Tajikistan, worsens, Russian airborne units will help mechanized infantry and border guards to secure stability in the Republic. The Ministry prepared such plans not only for the Central Asian theater but also for other region where the interests of the country need to be defended.
Meanwhile, Defense Ministry officials deny reports in the mass media that 3,000 paratroopers may possibly be sent to the Tajik-Afghan border in case of a large scale aggression against the Central Asian member states of the CIS. Officers from the Staff of the Airborne Forces say that there are no such movements plans.
However, they do not deny that the Airborne Forces as a reserve of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and the basis of the mobile forces currently being formed are ready for operations in any hot spot in Russia and CIS. Thus, the Airborne Forces could also be used in Tajikistan. This Republic is a member of the Collective Security treaty and has an agreement with Moscow, according to which official Dushanbe may receive military assistance.
Defense Ministry officials comment, “There is no need to make a sensation of this. Very much has recently been said about the establishment of a regional security system in Central Asia and the formation of coalition forces to provide it. At this point Airborne Forces are simply indispensable.” Officers from the Defense Ministry add that these actions have a legal basis. Last October, member states of the Collective Security Treaty signed an agreement “On the status of formation of forces and means of the collective security system” and “On the development of military-political integration in the framework of the Collective Security Treaty and measures for formation of regional systems of collective security.”
In addition to Russian paratroopers, other member states of the Collective Security Treaty (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and forces and means of the Russian Armed Forces and border guards already deployed in Tajikistan can also participate in the possible parrying of aggression from Afghanistan on the southern borders of the CIS. These are primarily the units of the united Air Defense Forces group of the CIS, the 201st mechanized infantry division, as well as forces and means of the Moskovsky, Pyandzhsky, Itum-Kalinsky, Khorogsky and Ishkalimsky border guards’ detachments.
Officers from the Defense Ministry do not deny that emergency plans imply paratrooper operations on the Tajik-Afghan border and in other regions of Central Asia. According to this plan, after arriving in Tajikistan, airborne units should be operationally subordinated to the 201st mechanized infantry division and take part in covering 11 directions of the Tajik-Afghan border, to guard important economic objects (airfields, engineering communications and so on).
According to information from the staff for coordination of military cooperation of CIS countries, the member states of the Collective Security treaty are currently forming collective rapid response forces. These forces will include Russian Airborne Forces and similar units from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and probably Armenia and Belarus. In this case a regional staff, currently being organized in Bishkek, will command the rapid response forces.
Thus, tasks for the Airborne Forces are prepared taking into account a real geopolitical situation in the former Soviet republics. As a result, these forces will be reduced less than the others (by just 5,500 servicemen).
After the reduction, the Airborne Forces will consist of four divisions and one brigade with a total strength of 32,000 servicemen. They will account for approximately 4% of all of the Russian Armed Forces. Incidentally, after the radical reduction of the Armed Forces between 1997 and 1998, the Airborne Forces accounted only for 2.5% of all Armed Forces. According to unofficial information, the current authorized strength of the Airborne Forces is 32,500 servicemen, almost 15% of whom are peacekeepers operating outside Russia. One-third of the Airborne Forces is currently participating in the antiterrorist operation in Chechnya.
Officers from the Airborne Forces Staff note that in two or three years the Airborne Forces will lose some of their peacekeeping functions, focusing instead on the increase of mobility and the readiness to operate in any hot spot in Russia and the CIS in which it is necessary to defend the country’s interests. The Airborne Forces will still partially fulfill peacekeeping functions in Abkhazia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During the planned replacement, beginning July 17, the Russian military contingent there will be reduced by 250 people. The airborne brigade deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be reorganized in the 22nd separate airborne regiment. According to Nikolai Bragin, Director of the Press Service of the Airborne Forces, the number of Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina is being reduced because the situation in the republic is becoming normal, and the scope of the peacekeepers’ tasks has therefore decreased. Henceforth it will be the Ground Forces who command the entire process of preparation and control of peacekeeping operations. A special peacekeeping section is being organized within the Main Command of the Ground Forces. Formerly, such a section existed in the General Staff.
Henceforth, this section in the General Staff will be liquidated, and Ground Forces Commander and Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev will be in charge of peacekeeping operations. The post of Deputy Commander of the Airborne Forces for peacekeeping operations will be reduced, and a similar post of the Deputy Commander of the Ground Forces for peacekeeping operations will be introduced in the Main Command of the Ground Forces.
Thus, reform of the Armed Forces continues dynamically and according to quite clear legislation. The General Staff is being deprived of certain functions, focusing on operational planning and interaction with other security agencies in the country.