The Russian Art Of War
By Jeffrey Nyquist
© 1999
For years, we have heard that the Russian Army is a backward, ill-equipped, rag-tag force. But Col. General Anatoly Sitnov paints a different picture. At a Tuesday press conference, Sitnov revealed that the Russian military now has "a rich new arsenal" to test. In this context, because of the civil war in Russia's south, Dagestan and Chechnya have become giant test ranges. Already the Russians have used the upgraded SU-25 attack aircraft against Chechen targets. "If there is ground combat," announced Sitnov, "we will test the Shark [helicopter gunship] as well as other weapons. We will also use advanced gear, such as night vision goggles and new firearms, including the new sniper rifles with increased range ... and also [we have] tanks which provide better protection from the enemy in close combat."
How can this be?
In the early days of the Yeltsin presidency, a curious announcement went largely unnoticed in the West: The Russian government admitted to an increase in armaments spending. While the Kremlin cut back its troop numbers to save money, and while it held back pay to hundreds of thousands of soldiers, it nonetheless decided to modernize its military equipment. Russian soldiers might live in desperate conditions for a few years, and the army might fall to a quarter of its Cold War strength, but in the next war they would have the most advanced weapons.
One of the costs of maintaining a large army is the cost of paying the soldiers. The other great cost is that of purchasing new weapons. The solution to Russia's military backwardness was therefore simple: Neglect the soldiers while you upgrade the weapons. Once the weapons are upgraded, go back to paying the soldiers -- and fill up the armed forces with recruits.
Col. Stanislav Lunev, a defector from the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, noted over a year ago that Russia had as many generals as it did at the height of the Cold War. "It takes eight weeks to make a soldier," said Lunev, "but it takes two years to make a division commander." In other words, Russia's military build-down was equivocal from the start. Russia created a mechanism for rapidly mobilizing millions of men in a short time and putting them into ready-made combat divisions. Today we see that a mobilization is taking place, masked at first by the Yugoslav crisis, then by the current civil war in Russia's south.
The details of Russia's mobilization are fuzzy, the extent of the buildup has been blurred, but it is nonetheless taking place. Hundreds of thousands of additional men have been put under arms since March. Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been manned. The Kremlin's armed forces have engaged in many war exercises, and now there are unprecedented joint naval maneuvers planned with the Chinese Navy. It should be noted that China has been mobilizing troops and ships as well.
But new conventional weapons and conventional mobilizations are nothing compared with Russia's new weapons of mass destruction. Earlier this month, the Russians launched a state-of-the-art ballistic missile. It lifted off from Russia's west Arctic cosmodrome and traveled 6,000 miles before slamming into a target range in Siberia. The missile scored a direct hit.
Russia's new Topol M is the world's finest strategic rocket. It was designed to leave the earth's atmosphere, to glide through space and return to earth with deadly precision. It was even built to evade interception. But the most important fact about the Topol M has yet to be mentioned. The Topol M was built for one purpose -- to attack America.
Russia's military is organized differently than the U.S. military. In America, we have five services: the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. In Russia, they also have five services: the Army, Air Force, Navy, Strategic Rocket Forces and Air Defense Forces. This organizational arrangement tells us a great deal. Russia's nuclear missiles have their own dedicated service branch. Even more interesting, Russia has a special anti-air and anti-ballistic missile service that is dedicated to shooting down American bombers and missiles (the Air Defense Forces). In other words, two of Russia's five service branches are entirely oriented towards nuclear world war.
Russia's current defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, used to be the head of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces. His close friend and relative (by marriage), General Yakovlev, is the current head of those forces. We need to remember that Sergeyev and Yakovlev have been thoroughly schooled in Russian nuclear war theory. You could even say that the theory and practice of nuclear war was the "mother's milk" of their military education. And what does Russian military theory teach about nuclear war? According to "Soviet Military Strategy," the classic text in use when Sergeyev was educated: "The appearance of the nuclear rocket weapon radically changes previous concepts of the nature of war."
Because of its "destructive and death-dealing potential," surprise is the most decisive factor in any future world war. Whoever attacks first not only has the initiative, but a decisive advantage. Therefore, all war preparations must take place under the cover of various "diversions." The enemy must not be allowed to suspect that an attack is being planned.
"Military strategy under conditions of modern war," says the Soviet text, "becomes the strategy of deep nuclear rocket strikes in conjunction with the operations of all services of the armed forces in order to effect simultaneous defeat and destruction of the economic potential and armed forces throughout the enemy territory."
For the Russian theorists, nuclear war is not merely an exchange of nuclear strikes. It is a war involving infantry, artillery, tanks, ships and aircraft. Therefore, troop mobilizations must take place before the first rockets are launched. In this context, it also should be noted that Russia is currently engaged in country-wide civil defense drills. The terrorist bombings against Russian apartment buildings now serve as the pretext for these "civilian exercises."
Russian theorists believe that nuclear weapons dictate new strategies for the battlefield. Under modern circumstances, it is dangerous to concentrate ground forces. The proper strategy is to conceal and disperse one's armies. Continuous defensive lines are now obsolete, and there is no possibility of maintaining a steady supply line. Something like "Sherman's march" is no longer done, because Atlanta is burnt by rocket attack in the first few minutes of the war.
Conventional wisdom about the Russian military says that Russia neglected its conventional forces in order to build up its nuclear forces. It is more accurate to say that Russia neglected its soldiers in order to modernize its hardware -- both conventional and nuclear. As Yeltsin seals off the Russian border, as dissidents are silenced and tens of thousands are arrested throughout the former Soviet Union, our sources of information grow narrower and narrower. With each passing day, we know less and less about the ongoing crisis in Russia.
It would be comforting if our own leaders were aware of the danger that all of this presents, but no such awareness exists. The Russian art of war is something our own leaders apparently know nothing about.