If Russia is to respond to the new challenges it faces, Moscow must scrap the existing military districts (MDs) introduced by former defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov and create new MDs that correspond to the new challenges the country faces, according to Yuri Selivanov, a military expert with close ties to the General Staff.
At present and as a result of Serdyukov’s innovations, they are not well-fitted for that, he says, and nowhere is the situation worse than in the Southern MD. Its headquarters is only a 100 kilometers from Ukraine, but it extends to the Caspian and so remains responsible for organizing military exercises there as well (regnum.ru/news/polit/1882937.html).
Of course, it has a large staff and can handle many tasks simultaneously, but “there is only one commander and the military hierarchy does not divide easily into parts.” Moreover, the Southern MD is not the only one adjoining Ukraine and having divided tasks. So too is the Western MD, even though its primary task is dealing with NATO.
Under the current arrangements, he says, “there are two military districts on the border Russia has with Ukraine which have such an enormous sphere of responsibilities that the Ukrainian problem risks simply being lost,” not to speak of the problems certain to arise as a result of the difficulties of having the two cooperate.
These problems arise, Selivanov continues, as a result of the division of the country into only four MDs, a decision that was taken by Serdyukov “not so much out of military-political considerations in which he was clearly not strong so much as from economic and possibly even commercial motives.”
But the problems with the Seryudkov arrangement of only four military districts are not limited to this or to Ukraine, he argues. Having a large number of MDs makes it far more difficult for an enemy to decapitate the armed forces; having a small number makes sense only if there is no immediate threat.
Moreover, as the military is modernized under President Vladimir Putin’s direction, its tasks become more complicated and diverse, arguing for greater subdivisions rather than fewer as Serdyukov imposed and is currently the case. The current four simply face an “unbearable burden” given the new arms buildup.
And finally, there is the political aspect of the situation, Selivanov says. The central government has always before drawn the borders of the MDs in order to protect the territorial integrity of the country from any challenge. But the current arrangement does not work nearly as well.
“Both in tsarist Russia and in the Soviet Union, the political leadership” prevented the appearance of any separatist movements by so organizing military structures that they would be able to work against them effectively. But that is not the case now, nor is it even the case that the MD borders may not in fact encourage separatists to challenge Moscow.
“For example,” Selivanov says, “the very same Eastern MD controls at present practically all of Siberia and the Far East, including the nuclear rocket-equipped Pacific Fleet. Despite that, its staff is in Yekaterinburg, a city known not only for its glorious military and labor traditions but also for the periodic appearance in the heads of some” there of “the foolish ideas of creating some kind of ‘Siberian Republic.’”
In the pre-Serdyukov period, there were three MDs beyond the Urals as well as an independent Pacific Fleet, an arrangement that Selivanov suggests undercut any such thinking.
As far as the Ukraine “direction” is concerned, the military commentator says, one possible way forward would be to create a South-West Strategic Command “which would take on itself the functions of regional coordinator for all efforts of the military structures connected with the Ukrainian issue.”
The Southern MD should focus on the Caspian area and have its headquarters not in Rostov as now but rather somewhere in the Middle Volga, “where at one time existed the Volga MD.” And the Western MD, which has already been freed from responsibilities over the Arctic should focus on its traditional task of “restraining our ‘cursed friends’ from NATO.”