Author: David Batashvili

Rondeli Russian Military Digest is a weekly brief that reports key activities by and developments within the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Researchers, civil servants and everyone else interested in what is going on in the military of one of the most dangerous nations on the planet – tune in and enjoy.

For a comprehensive geographic view of the Russian military structure see our Interactive Map of the Russian Military Forces.

A note to readers: Since most of us are probably going to take a New Year break from the grim matters to which this digest is dedicated, we are going to skip our publication next week. We shall come back with Issue 20 in the middle of the week of 6-12 January 2020. Issue 20 will cover two weeks.


Geostrategic Activities

War in Ukraine – Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and five were wounded by the Russian hybrid forces on the frontline in Donbass during the week of 16-22 December 2019. One civilian was killed by Russian fire near the town of Marinka. According to the Ukrainian military, as of 17 December, Ukraine’s casualties on the Donbass frontline in 2019 had been 97 killed and 499 wounded.

War in Syria – Russian air force conducted heavy bombardment of the rebels in the wider Idlib region during the week of 16-22 December 2019. Many of the airstrikes directly supported the Assad regime forces’ offensive, launched during the week, contributing to their success in breaking through the rebel lines and conquering the south-eastern areas of the rebel-held territory in Idlib Province. In the Golan area on Israel’s border, Russian troops reportedly fired at an Israeli UAV that had entered the Syrian airspace.

The US Coast Guard reported that Russian Vishnya / Meridian / Project 864 class intelligence collection ship Viktor Leonov was “operating in an unsafe manner off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia,” in the vicinity of the U.S. naval bases.

Viktor Leonov. Source: USNI News


Structural Changes

Russians are planning to expand their Iskander-M missile brigades. While presently these brigades include 12 missile systems each, in the future they will have 16 Iskander-M systems.


Military Strategy

Chief of the Russian General Staff Valery Gerasimov denied the rumors that the Northern Fleet Joint Strategic Command is to become the fifth military district in the Russian armed forces. Also according to Gerasimov, Russia will keep both brigade and division-regiment structure models.


Rearmament and Modernization

Russian air force keeps getting the new Il-76MD-90A model strategic air lifters. Supplies of this model to the Russian armed forces started in 2019, and, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense, will continue in 2020. So far, the Il-76MD-90A planes have been supplied to the 235th Military Transport Aviation Regiment (Ulyanovsk Vostochny airbase, Ulyanovsk Oblast). The regiment belongs to the 18th Military Transport Aviation Division (HQ in Orenburg) of the Military Transport Aviation Command (HQ in Moscow)



Russia is creating a new missile attack warning satellite system. The previous one, consisting of the Oko-1 type satellites, ceased functioning in 2014. The new system uses Kupol satellites. Three are in orbit currently, with Russians planning to have nine by 2022.



3,000 Russian troops launched drills in Georgia’s occupied Abkhazia region. Meanwhile, the Russian Black Sea Fleet Naval Aviation conducted a dogfighting exercise in occupied Crimea, Ukraine, and Russian snipers exercised both in Crimea and in another Russian-occupied Georgian region of Tskhinvali/South Ossetia.

Russia and Syria conducted their first joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. Russia was represented by its surface naval ships and aircraft from the Russian airbase in Khmeimim, Syria, while Syrians took part with their missile boats and minesweepers.


Arms Exports

Russians have begun supplies of the Mi-35M attack helicopters to Uzbekistan. Four of these helicopters are set to be delivered by the end of 2019, and another eight in 2020.

Russia delivered the first two Su-30SM fighters to Armenia. The contract for the supply of four fighters of this model had been signed in January 2019. Armenia has also received Russian Tor-M2KM short-range surface-to-air missile systems.


One of the two Su-30SM fighters delivered to Armenia by Russia. Source:

* The weekly number of exercises in the Russian armed forces is very large. Therefore, all cannot be included in this digest. The exercises that are included are selected by the author for their strategic significance, particularly large scale, the involvement of numerous units and locations, and/or involvement of other nations’ territories under the Russian occupation.