For years, we have heard that the Russian Army is a backward,
ill-equipped, rag-tag force. But Col. General Anatoly Sitnov paints a
different picture. At a Tuesday press conference, Sitnov revealed that
the Russian military now has “a rich new arsenal” to test. In this
context, because of the civil war in Russia’s south, Dagestan and
Chechnya have become giant test ranges.
Already the Russians have used the upgraded SU-25 attack aircraft
against Chechen targets. “If there is ground combat,” announced Sitnov,
“we will test the Shark [helicopter gunship] as well as other weapons.
We will also use advanced gear, such as night vision goggles and new
firearms, including the new sniper rifles with increased range … and
also [we have] tanks which provide better protection from the enemy in
How can this be?
In the early days of the Yeltsin presidency, a curious announcement
went largely unnoticed in the West: The Russian government admitted to
an increase in armaments spending. While the Kremlin cut back its troop
numbers to save money, and while it held back pay to hundreds of
thousands of soldiers, it nonetheless decided to modernize its military
equipment. Russian soldiers might live in desperate conditions for a
few years, and the army might fall to a quarter of its Cold War
strength, but in the next war they would have the most advanced weapons.
One of the costs of maintaining a large army is the cost of paying
the soldiers. The other great cost is that of purchasing new weapons.
The solution to Russia’s military backwardness was therefore simple:
Neglect the soldiers while you upgrade the weapons. Once the weapons
are upgraded, go back to paying the soldiers — and fill up the armed
forces with recruits.
Col. Stanislav Lunev, a defector from the Main Intelligence
Directorate of the Russian General Staff, noted over a year ago that
Russia had as many generals as it did at the height of the Cold War.
“It takes eight weeks to make a soldier,” said Lunev, “but it takes two
years to make a division commander.” In other words, Russia’s military
build-down was equivocal from the start. Russia created a mechanism for
millions of men in a short time and putting them into ready-made combat
divisions. Today we see that a mobilization is taking place, masked at
first by the Yugoslav crisis, then by the current civil war in Russia’s
The details of Russia’s mobilization are fuzzy, the extent of the
buildup has been blurred, but it is nonetheless taking place. Hundreds
of thousands of additional men have been put under arms since March.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been manned. The Kremlin’s armed forces
have engaged in many war exercises, and now there are unprecedented
joint naval maneuvers planned with the Chinese Navy. It should be noted
that China has been mobilizing troops and ships as well.
But new conventional weapons and conventional mobilizations are
nothing compared with Russia’s new weapons of mass destruction. Earlier
this month, the Russians launched a state-of-the-art ballistic missile.
It lifted off from Russia’s west Arctic cosmodrome and traveled 6,000
miles before slamming into a target range in Siberia. The missile
scored a direct hit.
Russia’s new Topol M is the world’s finest strategic rocket. It was
designed to leave the earth’s atmosphere, to glide through space and
return to earth with deadly precision. It was even built to evade
interception. But the most important fact about the Topol M has yet to
be mentioned. The Topol M was built for one purpose — to attack
Russia’s military is organized differently than the U.S. military.
In America, we have five services: the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines
and Coast Guard. In Russia, they also have five services: the Army,
Air Force, Navy, Strategic Rocket Forces and Air Defense Forces. This
organizational arrangement tells us a great deal. Russia’s nuclear
missiles have their own dedicated service branch. Even more
interesting, Russia has a special
anti-air and anti-ballistic missile service that is dedicated to
shooting down American bombers and missiles (the Air Defense Forces).
In other words, two of Russia’s five service branches are entirely
oriented towards nuclear world war.
Russia’s current defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, used to be the head
of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces. His close friend and relative (by
marriage), General Yakovlev, is the current head of those forces. We
need to remember that Sergeyev and Yakovlev have been thoroughly
schooled in Russian nuclear war theory. You could even say that the
theory and practice of nuclear war was the “mother’s milk” of their
military education. And what does Russian military theory teach about
nuclear war? According to “Soviet
Military Strategy,” the classic text in use when Sergeyev was educated:
“The appearance of the nuclear rocket weapon radically changes previous
concepts of the nature of war.”
Because of its “destructive and death-dealing potential,” surprise is
the most decisive factor in any future world war. Whoever attacks first
not only has the initiative, but a decisive advantage. Therefore, all
war preparations must take place under the cover of various
“diversions.” The enemy must not be allowed to suspect that an attack
is being planned.
“Military strategy under conditions of modern war,” says the Soviet
text, “becomes the strategy of deep nuclear rocket strikes in
conjunction with the operations of all services of the armed forces in
order to effect simultaneous defeat and destruction of the economic
potential and armed forces throughout the enemy territory.”
For the Russian theorists, nuclear war is not merely an exchange of
nuclear strikes. It is a war involving infantry, artillery, tanks,
ships and aircraft. Therefore, troop mobilizations must take place
before the first rockets are launched. In this context, it also should
be noted that Russia is currently engaged in country-wide civil defense
drills. The terrorist
bombings against Russian apartment buildings now serve as the pretext
for these “civilian exercises.”
Russian theorists believe that nuclear weapons dictate new strategies
for the battlefield. Under modern circumstances, it is dangerous to
concentrate ground forces. The proper strategy is to conceal and
disperse one’s armies. Continuous defensive lines are now obsolete, and
there is no possibility of maintaining a steady supply line. Something
like “Sherman’s march” is no longer done, because Atlanta is burnt by
rocket attack in the first few minutes of the war.
Conventional wisdom about the Russian military says that Russia
neglected its conventional forces in order to build up its nuclear
forces. It is more accurate to say that Russia neglected its soldiers
in order to modernize its hardware — both conventional and nuclear. As
Yeltsin seals off the Russian border, as dissidents are silenced and
tens of thousands are arrested throughout the former Soviet Union, our
sources of information grow narrower and narrower. With each passing
day, we know less and less about the ongoing crisis in Russia.
It would be comforting if our own leaders were aware of the danger
that all of this presents, but no such awareness exists. The Russian
art of war is something our own leaders apparently know nothing about.