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The Roots of The Russian Purge of the Baltic Fleet Admirals

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On the 29th of June Putin's Ministry of Defence suddenly announced it was firing 50 naval officers, including Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov. They were both fired for cause, as were several other unnamed senior officials from their posts in the Baltic Fleet. This came as a great shock to the country as such a purge of serving top commanders had not been seen since the days of Stalin, during the Yezhovshchina of 1936-38. Earlier, Admiral Viktor Chirkov had been removed in November 2015 officially because of 'health concerns'. Chirkov, who had been Kravchuk's patron in the navy for many years, was rumoured to have also been removed due to complaints about inadequate readiness in some units.[i] This may well have been true but others in the Navy have reported that the unwillingness of the admirals of the already-reduced Baltic Fleet to provide vessels and support to the Russian naval presence in Syria was a more immediate cause of the rift.

In addition to a lacklustre performance in a recent exercise by the two Baltic Fleet minesweepers during exercises that took place in August 2015 and the constant complaint that the Baltic Fleet had been left with only two ageing submarines, the fleet was slow in making available its newer vessels for the Syrian operations. The fleet's four Project 20380 Steregushchiy class corvettes have not deployed to the Mediterranean Sea or Indian Ocean a single time in the nine years since the first of the ships was commissioned into the fleet.[ii]

In late 2014 there had been a smaller purge of the Russian military when Putin dismissed twenty generals from their posts. In February 2014 Putin had dismissed six other generals. These generals were dismissed by a presidential decree announced through the Gazette and without fanfare. The officers dismissed included the lieutenant general of police, Sergey Lavrov, as well as the head of media relations in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Andrei Pilipchuk. Another was the first deputy commander of the central regional military command, Vladimir Padalko. Some other lower-rank officers were dismissed as well at the time.

The Russian Military Has Been Underfunded

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Part of the reason for this purge of Russia's military derives from the recurrent problem of funding. For years after the end of the USSR and the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact forces the Russian Government failed to provide adequately for the returning soldiers. When the Wall collapsed The third largest army in the world, the East German, was out of business. Massive quantities of East German (e.g. ex-Russian) military supplies were being offered at cut prices to the world as the re-unifying German state moved to change over to NATO equipment. One of the Soviet Union's major industries, the arms industry, had the bottom fall out of its market. This was coupled with the enforced withdrawal of Soviet forces stationed in bases across Eastern and Central Europe. The Warsaw Pact disappeared; the COMECON disappeared and there was not enough money in the reserves to keep paying, unilaterally, the costs of keeping Russian troops outside of Russia.

The soldiers were never paid much to begin with but the fall of the Soviet Union meant that they had very little indeed. These soldiers sold, with the connivance of their commanding officers, anything that wasn't nailed down. They sold it for food and they sold it for trophies that they would carry home as they were demobilised. Most importantly there was no place in the physical Russian military establishment where these troops could be stationed. There were not enough bases inside Russia where the returning troops could be housed. There were no jobs for thousands of trained officers and NCOs. The offset costs for the Soviet Occupation paid by their former 'satellites' were no longer forthcoming. There were too many mouths to feed and too few bases in which they could be sheltered. No one was sure what to do but everyone recognised the danger of a disgruntled army full of people with grievances and with nothing to do. The answer was to keep the numbers down and to keep them poor, weak and demotivated.

There was no money or market for new planes and ships. (I travelled to Novolipetsk in 1994 to the major military airport there. There was a giant field full of new MIG29s which had no home. They were produced but there was place to use them and no fuel to fly them. Pilots were flying less than an hour and a half each week because there was no fuel. I went to many airbases in Siberia and the Arctic and saw the unspeakable conditions in which the soldiers were living. It was no different went I went to the Northern Fleet offices in the Arctic and saw the awful conditions under which the navy was operating.) The military demanded money from the government to buy food and shelter. It wasn't only asking for new weapon systems.

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The government was willing to keep the military on a short leash and bereft of adequate supplies. It only turned to the military with offers of funds when the Chechen War began in 1993. However, the Russian military was largely opposed to the war in Chechnya and resisted the Yeltsin government's demands. The military wanted no part of any war against the Chechens. As General Eduard Vorobyov stated as he handed in his resignation it was "a crime" to "send the army against its own people." [iii] Although the actual full-scale war against the Chechens didn't start in earnest until 11 December 1994 there were numerous skirmishes and actions which ramped up the situation. This preparation for a war in Chechnya did not have the support of the Russian military. Yeltsin's adviser on nationality affairs, Emil Pain, and Russia's Deputy Minister of Defence Gen. Borisov also resigned in protest of the invasion, as did Gen. Boris Poliakov. More than 800 professional soldiers and officers refused to take part in the operation; of these, 83 were convicted by military courts and the rest were discharged. Later Gen. Lev Rokhlin also refused to be decorated as a Hero of Russia for his part in the war. This is why the war in Chechnya was fought almost entirely by the military forces of the MVD, not the Army. The border guards (formerly within the KGB) had been moved into the Ministry of the Internal Affairs, Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del (MVD). The MVD also controls the internal troops, the GAI (the traffic police) and has a section which deals with economic crimes. Most importantly it controls the special security police (OSNAZ, OMON, SOBR/OMSN). These MVD forces are now the ones Putin has chosen to be his "Presidential Guard"; the new Russian Praetorians.

The Challenge of the Ukraine

As a result, the policy of keeping the military poor and underfunded continued. This was theoretically changed when Putin led the invasion of the Ukraine and the seizure of the Crimea. Putin's new military posture announced in December 2014 was a rapid injection of cash and resources designed to build up the Russian forces which had largely been ignored and isolated for over twenty years. Billions of roubles were allocated for new tanks, aircraft, naval vessels and nuclear forces. However, with the imposition of sanctions by the West these funds had to be rationed and the investment in technology diminished or deferred. The promised funds were not available.

Equally as important, the staggering cost of Russia's 'secret war' in the Ukraine and the administrative burden of providing social services, pensions, water and electricity to the Donbas and Crimea ate away the army's budget. Technological change was delayed; production targets were extended into the future and most equipment upgrading services were curtailed. In fact, a large part of the Russian war machine (planes, missiles, helicopters, etc.) was designed and built in the Ukraine; particularly in the Donbas. A great deal of the money which has been made available to the military equipment manufacturers has been to transfer the productive capacity of the Ukrainian arms industry back inside Russia.

Russia is extremely dependent on Ukrainian supplies, which accounted for 87 per cent of its military imports, according to the Stockholm International Research Institute.

The military-industrial complex of Ukraine is the most advanced and developed branch of the state's sector of economy. It includes about 85 scientific organizations which are specialized in the development of armaments and military equipment for different usage. The air and space complex consists of 18 design bureaus and 64 enterprises. In order to design and build ships and armaments for the Ukrainian Navy, 15 research and development institutes, 40 design bureaus and 67 plants have been brought together. This complex is tasked to design heavy cruisers, build missile cruisers and big antisubmarine warfare (ASW) cruisers, and develop small ASW ships. Rocketry and missilery equipment, rockets, missiles, projectiles, and other munitions are designed and made at 6 design bureaus and 28 plants.

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Ukraine has certain scientific, technical and industrial basis for the indigenous research, development and production of small arms. A number of scientific-industrial corporations have started R&D and production of small arms. The armour equipment is designed and manufactured at 3 design bureaus and 27 plants. The scientific and industrial potential of Ukraine makes it possible to create and produce modern technical means of military communications and automated control systems at 2 scientific-research institutes and 13 plants. A total of 2 scientific-research institutes and 53 plants produce power supply batteries; 3 scientific-research institutes and 6 plants manufacture intelligence and radio-electronic warfare equipment; 4 design bureaus and 27 plants make engineer equipment and materiel.

Perhaps the best example is the company Motor Sich. It is the sole producer of engines for the MI-8 and MI-24 helicopters. It produces these engines for the Russian helicopter industry and a wide range of other military components. The air firm, Antonov, is based in the Ukraine and is one of the major suppliers of aircraft for the Russian Air Force and for Russian arms exports. Russia's state arms exporter Rosoboronexport sold $13.2 billion in weapons and military equipment to foreign buyers in 2013. These arms deliveries in 2012-2013 included 13 An-140 and one An-148 transport aircraft.

The ability of the Russian industry to fill its own needs is compounded by the fact that it needs Ukrainian parts and subassemblies for its exports. It also supplies the engines for the jointly-produced AN-148 planes Other exporters to Russia include Mykolayiv-based Zorya-Mashproekt, which sells several types of turbines to Russia, including those installed on military ships. Another is Kharkiv-based Hartron, which supplies the control systems for Russian missiles. The volume of Russian imports of major conventional weapons in 2009-2013 was 176 percent higher than for the previous five-year period of 2004-2008 The Yuzhmash plant in Dnipropetrovsk is the only service provider for Satan missiles that Russia uses. The Ukrainians were also the main supplier of spare parts which its armed forces desperately need. So when the Russians spend their billions on defence a good portion of the expenditure is wasted on duplicating what they already had in the Ukraine.

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Dr. Gary K. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting (more...)

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