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.


Geostrategic Activities

War in Ukraine – Shooting continued unabated on the Donbass frontline during the week of 9-15 September. Three Ukrainian military servicemen were killed and 16 were wounded by the Russian hybrid forces during the week, according to the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation Press Center.

War in Syria – Despite the formal ceasefire in the wider Idlib region, sources collected by the Live Universal Awareness Map reported Russian air strikes in the area near Jisr al-Shughur city, as well as in the southern and southeastern parts of Idlib province and in northern Latakia province.

The Arctic Game – Russian Northern Fleet has set a potentially important precedent, boarding a Russian commercial cargo ship in order to inspect it for the first time. The incident took place near the coast of the Taymyr Peninsula, on the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic. The official reason for boarding was the suspicion that the cargo ship, S. Kuznetsov, had violated sailing regulations. According to the Fleet’s press service statement, “the Northern Fleet troops got their first experience of conducting processual activities during inspection operations in the Arctic.” The possible implication of the precedent and of the official Russian position is the right and intention of the Russian military to board and inspect any commercial vessels, including foreign ones, along the Northern Sea Route.

S. Kuznetsov cargo ship. Source: The Northern Fleet press service

The Northern Sea Route. Source: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report, p. 17

The Arctic Game – The Arctic expedition of the Northern Fleet’s group of ships, launched on 5 August, continued last week, with the ships sailing from the Kara Sea to the Laptev Sea on 9 September. Later the ships conducted a military landing exercise on the Bolshevik Island, with participation of the naval infantry and airborne troops, before turning back towards the Kara Sea.

Moldova’s Foreign Minister Nikolai Popescu once again demanded withdrawal of the Russian troops from Transnistria region, under the control of Russian-backed separatists. Popescu stated that the Russian troops’ presence in Transnistria was a violation of the Moldovan constitution. Russia has about 1,500 troops based in Transnistria and so far has shown no intention to withdraw them.


Structural Changes

Russia’s Western Military District announced it was going to establish 24 new heliports in Moscow, Leningrad, Kaliningrad, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Smolensk, Bryansk, Belgorod, Tambov and Kursk Oblasts. Notably, the list includes all four Russian administrative regions within the boundaries of the Western Military District that border Ukraine. The helicopter bases will be constructed by the engineer units of the 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Saint Petersburg). The bases will be able to serve all types of the District’s combat and transport helicopters.


Military Strategy

The UK Royal Air Force assistant chief of staff Air Commodore Julian Ball stated that Russian S-400 air defense missile system, Bastion-P anti-ship missile system and Iskander tactical ballistic missile constituted a challenge to the British military forces’ “access to future operational environments” that required a response.


Rearmament and Modernization

According to Russia’s Southern Military District, in August 2019 its forces received “about 100 units of modern equipment,” including tanks, armored vehicles and artillery pieces, among other categories of military equipment.

The 33rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Rogachevo, Novaya Zemlya, Arkhangelsk Oblast) has completed its transfer to the newer S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from the S-300PM systems it had been armed with before. The transfer is another of Russia’s recent steps to bolster its military capabilities in the Arctic region.

S-400 systems in Rogachevo. Source: DigitalGlobe, Inc., from

The 1536th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast) has reportedly also received the S-400 surface-to-air missile systems instead of the S-300PM systems.

The 155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai) has been armed with T-80BV tanks.



The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said “it’s not an overstatement to say that we’re at another Sputnik moment,” referring to America’s need “to keep the nation’s competitive advantage in space against adversaries such as Russia, China, and to a lesser extent, Iran and North Korea.” According to General Dunford, Russia and China are placing greater emphasis on their space capabilities, and have developed technology and weapons that could disrupt or destroy satellites.



Troops from Russia and Belarus launched their joint Union Shield 2019 exercise on 13 September. The exercise took place in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast and involved 12,000 troops.

In Astrakhan Oblast, Russia’s and Serbia’s air defense forces held a joint exercise of their own – Slavic Shield 2019. The participating Russian forces included S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and Pantsir-S medium-range surface-to-air missile systems.

Over 3,000 mechanized troops, with armor and artillery, belonging to the 20th Army (HQ in Voronezh) held an exercise in Voronezh and Bryansk Oblasts, on the border with Ukraine.

A Russian artillery piece during an exercise in Voronezh Oblast. Source:

The Black Sea Fleet’s Bastion-P and Bal mobile coastal defense missile systems, as well as Bereg self-propelled coastal artillery guns, conducted an anti-ship operations exercise in the occupied Crimea, Ukraine.

Air defense units of the Russian occupation forces in Abkhazia, Georgia also held an exercise last week.


Arms Exports

On 15 September, Turkey’s Defense Ministry announced that delivery of the second battery of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems had been completed. Initial deliveries of the S-400 systems from Russia to Turkey started in July 2019.

Algeria has signed agreements to buy the Russian fighter aircraft for USD 2 billion. The aircraft include 16 Su-30MKI(A) and 14 MiG-29M/M2 multirole fighters.


*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, involvement of numerous units and locations, and/or involvement of other nations’ territories under the Russian occupation.