|Author: David Batashvili|
Following the publication of Issue 1 of the Russian Military Transformation Tracker, in which we covered changes in the Russian military structure that had occurred from August 2018 to July 2019, we continued to monitor such changes. We reflected the results of this monitoring in our weekly Rondeli Russian Military Digest and showed them on our regularly updated interactive map of the Russian military forces.
This second issue of the Tracker is a summary of the changes in the structure of the Russian armed forces that occurred or came to light in the period from 1 August 2019 to 15 December 2020.
The Rondeli Foundation will continue to monitor developments within the Russian armed forces in the future.
Russia has been strengthening its strategic position in the Middle East. This trend included the Russians upgrading and expanding their military bases in Syria as well as getting a new naval base on the coast of the Red Sea in Sudan.
The Russians upgraded their Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval base in Syria. In late August 2019, the Russians reported the development of infrastructure at the Khmeimim base, including the construction of closed aircraft hangars. A month later, an expansion of the base was reported which included “rebuilding a second landing strip to allow the facility to serve more aircraft” and setting up “new buildings to house aircraft at the site that will defend against drone attacks.” In August 2020, it became known that “Syrian authorities have agreed to give Russia additional land and coastal waters in order to expand” the Khmeimim air base. Russian media reported an ongoing infrastructure development at the Tartus naval base in August 2019, saying the base would soon get a ship repair facility for the Russian naval vessels operating in the Mediterranean Sea. The facility became operational in October 2019.
Russia exploited the U.S. withdrawal from most of northern Syria in the fall of 2019 by expanding its own military presence there. In November 2019, the Russians stationed military helicopters and Pantsir air defense systems at the Al-Qamishli airport which was then turned into another of their military bases in Syria. The Russians also began to use other bases in northern Syria formerly employed by the U.S. forces, including the Sarin airport.
By November 2020, Russia reached an agreement with Sudan to establish a naval base in the country. It will be located in Port Sudan. The agreement was officially signed on 8 December 2020. The base has been granted to Russia for at least 25 years with possible ten-year prolongations after that period. Russia can simultaneously station up to four naval vessels and 300 troops at the base according to the terms of its agreement with Sudan.
The Ukrainian Frontier
After having established three new mechanized divisions on Ukraine’s border during the previous four years, Russian armed forces conducted new structural changes and military infrastructure development in the area in the second half of 2019 and in 2020.
In June 2020, the Russians completed the establishment of a new Special Forces strengthened company in Voronezh Oblast under the 20th Army (HQ in Voronezh) command. The unit had been in the process of being established since December 2018.
The 1536th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Rostov-on-Don, Rostov Oblast) of the 51st Air Defense Division (HQ in Rostov-on-Don), 4th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Rostov-on-Don) was re-armed with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems instead of S-300PM systems in September 2019.
The 108th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Voronezh) of the 32nd Air Defense Division (HQ in Rzhev, Tver Oblast), 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Saint Petersburg) was re-armed with S-300PM2 surface-to-air missile systems instead of S-300PM systems in November 2019.
Anti-UAV units were established within the 20th Mechanized**Brigade (Volgograd) of the 8th Army (HQ in Novocherkassk, Rostov Oblast) by April 2020.
In October 2020, about ten anti-UAV electronic warfare groups were established in the units of the 20th Army (HQ in Voronezh), based in Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Moscow, Smolensk and Voronezh Oblasts.
Russian Defense Ministry information from 20 August 2019 revealed that the 378th Air Base of Army Aviation at the Dvoyevka air base in Vyazma, Smolensk Oblast had been transformed into a separate helicopter regiment. It is a part of the 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Saint Petersburg). A separate piece of information revealed the unit’s name – it is the 440th Separate Helicopter Regiment.
In March 2020, the Russian Naval Aviation’s only two Ka-31R airborne early warning and control helicopters were transferred to the 318th Mixed Aviation Regiment (Kacha air base, occupied Crimea, Ukraine). Previously they had served with the Northern Fleet at the Severomorsk-1 air base while officially belonging to the 859th Centre for Combat Application and Training of the Naval Aviation Air Crews (Yeysk air base, Krasnodar Krai).
On 14 August 2020, Russian media reported that a Forpost reconnaissance UAV squadron had been established within the 318th Mixed Aviation Regiment (Kacha air base, occupied Crimea, Ukraine) in the spring of 2019.
The Buyan-M / Project 21631 class corvette Ingushetia and Project 22160 class large patrol ship Pavel Derzhavin joined the Black Sea Fleet, respectively, in December 2019 and November 2020. Ingushetia’s home base is in Sevastopol while Pavel Derzhavin’s – in Novorossiysk. On 28 December 2019, the Russian navy commissioned the Alexandrit / Project 12700 class minesweeper Vladimir Yemelyanov which was also set to join the Black Sea Fleet.
The Kashin / Project 61 class destroyer Smetlivy was decommissioned from the Black Sea Fleet in October 2019.
Correction: It was suggested in Issue 1 of this Tracker that the new tank regiment established in 2019 in Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast, within the 144th Mechanized Division (HQ in Yelnya) of the 20th Army (HQ in Voronezh), was named the 228th Tank Regiment. It was later revealed that the name of the regiment is in fact the 59th Tank Regiment.
The main Russian military transformation event in the Caucasus during the period covered in this issue was the Russian armed forces gaining a new foothold in the South Caucasus by establishing bases in Nagorno-Karabakh. As a consequence, Russia now has military units stationed on the territory of all three nations of the South Caucasus. In the North Caucasus, the Russians established the 19th Mechanized Division and strengthened their naval infantry and air mobile infantry forces.
The ceasefire that ended the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan (27 September-9 November 2020) was brokered by Moscow. By the terms of the ceasefire, Russia stationed its troops in Nagorno-Karabakh with a peacekeeping mandate. The deployment took place on 10-20 November 2020. The force officially includes 1,960 troops. The 1st and 2nd Mechanized Battalions of the 15th Mechanized Brigade (Roshchinsky, Samara Oblast), 2nd Army (HQ in Samara) are its main component. The force has its headquarters in Stepanakert/Khankendi. It is to stay in Karabakh for at least five years with possible five-year prolongations after that period.
By June 2020, the Russians established the 19th Mechanized Division within the 58th Army (HQ in Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania) in the eastern North Caucasus. The details about the division’s structure are not yet available but it was certainly created on the basis of 19th Mechanized Brigade (Sputnik, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania). Previously, unofficial sources had suggested that the 19th Division would include the 19th Mechanized Brigade, the 4th Military Base (mechanized brigade-sized unit in occupied Tskhinvali Region, Georgia) and additional forces that would be newly established, including in the Republic of Ingushetia.
A reconnaissance battalion and a new naval infantry battalion were established within the Caspian Flotilla’s 177th Naval Infantry Regiment (Kaspiysk, Republic of Dagestan and Astrakhan, Astrakhan Oblast) in December 2019 and by May 2020, respectively. The regiment had already included two naval infantry battalions.
Reports in Russian sources revealed the existence of air mobile groups in the 42nd Mechanized Division (HQ in Khankala, Chechen Republic) and the 136th Mechanized Brigade (Buynaksk, Republic of Dagestan) of the 58th Army (Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania) and in the 205th Mechanized Brigade (Budyonnovsk, Stavropol Krai) of the 49th Army (Stavropol). It is possible that air mobile groups have been established in other Russian units of the Southern Military District as well without yet having been noted in the public sources.
Mobile anti-UAV detachments were established in various units of the Southern Military District in January 2020.
A Russian media report from 28 July 2020 revealed that a flight of fighters is stationed at Makhachkala airport (Kaspiysk, Republic of Dagestan). The construction of a military sector in the airport was set to begin in 2021. The Su-30SM were identified to be the fighters operating in Dagestan in a report from December 2018.
Correction: It was indicated in Issue 1 of this Tracker that an air defense battalion, armed with Buk-M3 medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, had been established in the Caspian Flotilla in late 2018 or early 2019. In fact, it was established in November 2017.
The Baltic Region
On the Baltic Sea, the Russians continued to strengthen various components of their forces in Kaliningrad and Leningrad Oblasts while announcing plans to establish a mechanized division in Kaliningrad Oblast in 2021.
In August 2019, Russia’s Western Military District announced the establishment of a new helicopter base on the Gogland Island in the Gulf of Finland between the coasts of Finland and Estonia.
A Russian report from October 2019 revealed the existence of a Special Forces unit in the 6th Army (HQ in Agalatovo, Leningrad Oblast).
The 1490th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Ulyanovka, Leningrad Oblast) of the 2nd Air Defense Division (HQ in St Petersburg), 6th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Saint Petersburg) was fully re-armed with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in February 2020.
In November 2019, Russian media reported that a Forpost reconnaissance UAV detachment had been established within the 689th Fighter Regiment of the Baltic Fleet Naval Aviation’s 132nd Mixed Aviation Division (Kaliningrad Oblast) in the summer of 2019.
On 1 December 2020, Russian media reported that a mechanized division would be established in Kaliningrad Oblast in 2021.
Russia continued to increase its power projection capabilities in the Arctic region during the period covered in this issue.
On 5 June 2020, President Putin signed a decree to make the Northern Fleet a separate command with the status similar to a Russian military district. The new command covers the territories of Arkhangelsk and Murmansk Oblasts, Komi Republic and Nenets Autonomous Okrug.
The 414th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment was established by December 2019 in Tiksi, Sakha Republic, within the 3rd Air Defense Division (HQ in Rogachevo, Novaya Zemlya, Arkhangelsk Oblast) of the 45th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Safonovo, Murmansk Oblast). It is armed with the S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems.
The 33rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Rogachevo, Novaya Zemlya, Arkhangelsk Oblast) of the 3rd Air Defense Division (HQ in Rogachevo), 45th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Safonovo, Murmansk Oblast) was fully rearmed with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems instead of S-300PM systems in September 2019.
In November 2019, Russian sources revealed the existence of a coastal missile battalion armed with Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile systems on the Alexandra Land Island of the Franz Josef Land Archipelago.
In December 2019, the 7050th Air Base (Severomorsk-1 air base, Murmansk Oblast) was divided with three new units being established in its place – the 403rd Separate Mixed Aviation Regiment, the 830th Separate Shipborne Anti-Submarine Helicopter Regiment and a separate helicopter squadron. The units belong to the Northern Fleet Naval Aviation.
A group of Mi-8AMTSh-VA transport and attack helicopters (from the 18th Army Aviation Brigade (Bolshoy air base, Khabarovsk) of the 11th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Khabarovsk)) and a flight of MiG-31BM interceptors (of the Pacific Fleet Naval Aviation, probably from its 317th Mixed Aviation Regiment (Yelizovo air base, Kamchatka Krai)) were stationed at the Anadyr air base in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, respectively, in November 2019 and November 2020.
The Russians upgraded the Nagurskoye air base on the Alexandra Land Island, Franz Josef Land Archipelago. In April 2020, they reported that the base had become operational during the whole year (previously it was so only in the winter period). Later it was reported that they were extending the runway at the base to make it capable of supporting all types of military aircraft.
The Admiral Gorshkov / Project 22350 class frigate Admiral Kasatonov joined the Northern Fleet in July 2020. The Project 955A Borei-A class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine Knyaz Vladimir did so in May 2020 and the Project 20183 class special purpose ship Akademik Aleksandrov – in March 2020. The latter was reportedly “built on an order from the Main Directorate for Deep Sea Research, the top secret unit directly subordinated to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.” On 15 December 2020, the Ivan Gren / Project 11711 class landing ship Petr Morgunov also joined the Northern Fleet. Admiral Kasatonov’s home base is in Severomorsk, Murmansk Oblast, Knyaz Vladimir’s – in Gadzhiyevo, Murmansk Oblast, Petr Morgunov’s – in Polyarny, Murmansk Oblast, and Akademik Aleksandrov’s – in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelst Oblast.
In March 2020, the Russians announced plans to build a repair base for submarines in Dikson, Taymyr Peninsula, Krasnoyarsk Krai.
The Far East
Russian land forces in Primorsky Krai were strengthened while area denial systems were stationed on the Kuril Islands and two new submarines were commissioned to serve in the Pacific Fleet.
The Russians continued to develop the 127th Mechanized Division (Sergeyevka, Primorsky Krai) of the 5th Army (HQ in Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai), established on 1 December 2018, as we reported in Issue 1 of this Tracker. The 84th Separate Tank Battalion and the 872nd Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment were established within the 127th Division in 2019. The 70th Mechanized Brigade in Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai, was transformed into the 114th Mechanized Regiment of the 127th Division, also in 2019. The name of one of two mechanized regiments initially established (on the basis of former mechanized brigades) in the 127th Division when it was created in December 2018 has been clarified – it is the 394th Mechanized Regiment in Sergeyevka, Primorsky Krai.
A tank company was established in the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai ) of the Pacific Fleet by September 2019.
The 38th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade was established on the basis of the former 1724th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment in Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, by December 2019. It is armed with S-300V4 surface-to-air missile systems. The brigade’s formation was completed by September 2020.
By 1 December 2020, an air defense unit of the S-300V4 surface-to-air missile systems, likely belonging to the 38th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, was stationed on the Iturup/Etorofu Island one of the Kuril Islands disputed between Russia and Japan.
The 1529th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Khabarovsk) of the 25th Air Defense Division (HQ in Komsomolsk, Khabarovsk Krai), 11th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Khabarovsk) was re-armed with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems instead of S-300PS systems on 1 October 2020.
Mobile anti-UAV detachments were established in various units of the Eastern Military District in January 2020.
In August 2019, Russian media reported that Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile systems had been based on the Matua Island which is one of the Kuril Islands.
Ural, Siberia and the Central Asia
A new Special Forces unit was established within the 41st Army (HQ in Novosibirsk) in December 2020. Earlier official Russian information indicated that the SF unit in question is likely a company based in Shilovo, Novosibirsk Oblast. Also in December, an engineer regiment was established in Ishim, Tyumen Oblast, under the 41st Army command.
A Russian air defense battalion armed with S-300PS surface-to-air missile systems was established in Tajikistan in October 2019.
The 185th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Beryozovsky, Sverdlovsk Oblast) and the 568th Anti-Aircraft Regiment (Samara) of the 76th Air Defense Division (HQ in Samara), 14th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Yekaterinburg) were re-armed with S-400 surface-to-air missile systems instead of S-300PS systems in late 2020.
A UAV detachment armed with Forpost and Orlan-10 UAVs was established at the Russian Kant air base in Kyrgyzstan by February 2020.
In June 2020, Russia decided to end its use of the Dnepr type missile attack early warning radar installation in Gulshat, Kazakhstan since it had been substituted by the Voronezh-M type radar near Orsk, Orenburg Oblast.
In November 2019, Russian media reported that the Russian armed forces had created a new elite Special Forces platoon consisting of about 30 officers selected from 4,500 candidates.
The 81st Military Transport Aviation Regiment was established at the Severny air base in Ivanovo, Ivanovo Oblast, on 1 December 2020. It belongs to the 12th Military Transport Aviation Division (HQ in Tver) of the Military Transport Aviation Command (HQ in Moscow) and is equipped with Il-76MD strategic airlifters.
A mixed aviation squadron was established at the Plesetsk air base in Mirny, Arkhangelsk Oblast, on 1 December 2020, within the 566th Military Transport Aviation Regiment (Seshcha air base, Bryansk Oblast), 12th Military Transport Aviation Division (HQ in Tver) of the Military Transport Aviation Command (HQ in Moscow). It is equipped with An-26 transport aircraft, Mi-8 helicopters and Orlan UAVs.
In June 2020, the Russian government-controlled media misleadingly claimed that “Russia increases defensive forces on the western strategic direction” in relation to the supposed addition of the 27th Mechanized Brigade (southwestern outskirts of the city of Moscow) to the 1st Tank Army (HQ in Bakovka, Moscow Oblast). In fact, the 27th Brigade had long been in existence and no increase of Russian forces occurred on this occasion. Some western journalists were goaded by this Russian informational maneuver, incorrectly reporting that “Russia sends more troops west.”
*This section does not include unofficial Russian deployments conducted by the Wagner group or similar forces in Libya, Venezuela, the Central African Republic and other countries. Information concerning events in the South Caucasus and Central Asia is presented in other sections of this brief.
**The official Russian term for its mechanized units is motostrelkovy which literally means “motor rifle.” In order to avoid confusion with motorized units and to employ clear terms, I call the units what they actually are – mechanized.