Gului-gorod and Lines of Defence

Gului-gorod or Gulyay-gorod

Bereg Line – Pre-Ivan IV

1.    Nizhni Novgorod to Zvenigorod Line (largely riverine line along Moskva river not itself shown)

2     Kolomna to Kaluga Line (along Oka)

Ivan IV (1547–1584)

3.    Novgorod Severski (Desna) Line – Alatir (Sura River) to Putivl’

4.    Zasechnaya Line – Pereslavl-Ryazanski (Oka) to Kozelisk (Zhizdra)

5.    Zasechnaya Line – Alatir to Skopin (Don)

Boris Godunov (1585–1605)

6.    Kromi (Oka) to Elets (near Don)

7.    Kursk (Seum) to Voronezh (Don)

Belgorodskaya Cherta (Seventeenth Century)

8.    Voronezh-Tsna Corridor (1635)

9.    Belgorodskaya Cherta (1635-1646) (Tambov (Tsna) to Akhtyrka (Vorskla))

10.  Simbirskaya Cherta (1648-1684) (Tambov to Simbursk (Volga))

11.  Zakamskaya Cherta (1652-1656) (Simbursk to Meznelunsk (Kama))

12.  Seranskaya Cherta (1683–1684) (Simbirskaya Cherta via Penza to Sizran (Volga))

Izium Cherta

13.  (1680s) Userdsk (Belgorod Line) via Izium to Kolomak River)

Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries the Russian army developed linear barriers called Gului-gorod or walking towns. These were intended for operation on the steppe where they could provide cover from nomad attacks and arrows, and moveable palisades through which firearms could shoot down mounted nomads. These were unlike earlier war wagons, where men fought from, on and between the vehicles, as they consisted of upright rectangular wooden shields, which moved on bogies or runners and which had gun ports. Before battle was joined, the units of the Gului-gorod were coupled together like railway carriages to form a continuous linear barrier. The men stood directly on the ground and there were no gaps between the individual units. Thus something that genuinely looked like a wall was presented to the enemy. Their value eventually diminished when nomads brought with them their own field artillery – as did the Crimean Tatars – but in the sixteenth century they played an important part in the shift of the Russian state from the defensive to the offensive. They were widely used in the sixteenth century wars with the Kazan and later by the Ukrainian Cossacks.

The Battle of Molodi in 1572, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (1547–1584), perhaps marked a turning point in the fight between settled states and nomads. In 1571 Khan Dovlet Girai of the Crimean Khanate had burned Moscow; he reputedly killed 100,000 people and enslaved another 150,000. The following year Russians used the Gului-gorod to shelter their artillery and harquebusiers from Tatar archery. After several days of fighting a detachment of Russians left the protection of the Gului-gorod and attacked the Tatars in the rear while those who had remained behind the Gului-gorod advanced before it, crushing the Tatars. Dovlet Girai’s son, grandson and son-in-law were killed and only 20,000 of an army of 150,000 Tatars returned. The Ottoman Turks had supported their Tatar vassals and the Russian victory at Molodi, although little known in the west, was seen as a key to reversing the northern expansion of the Turks. A crucial role in the victory was accorded to the mobile linear barriers or Gului-gorod.

Zasechnaya Cherta – The Zasechnaya System was built during the reigns of Ivan IV, the Terrible, and his able servant, and then successor, Boris Godunov, who served as Regent from 1585 to 1598, and then Tsar, from 1598 to 1605. (Sometimes the system is called the Bolishnya Zasechnaya Cherta or Great Abatis Line.)

A line ran from Alatir on the Sura River, in the east, via Shatsk to Novgorod Seversky, on the Desna, to the west. Shatsk blocked the Nogai Shlyah.

The main construction effort was the Zasechnaya Cherta which consisted of two continuous lines joined by the Don River. The more westerly line ran from Pereslavl-Ryazanski via Tula (where the Muravsky Shlyah was blocked) to Kozelisk. To the east, and taking up the earlier line from Alatir to Shatsk, the continuous line finished at Skopin on the Don to the west of Shatsk.

Under Boris Godunov further shorter lines appear to have been built across the Muravsky Shlyah between Kromi (River Oka) and Elets (near the Don) and to the southern towns of Kursk (River Seym) and Voronezh (Don).

Belgorodskaya Cherta – This line started as a short barrier blocking the corridor that stretched from Voronezh to Tsna. The line extended over the entire southern frontier.

Kozlov Steppe Wall – Voronezh-Tsna Corridor – As Russian estates and peoples expanded south of the Zasechnaya Cherta they remained vulnerable to the Nogai Tatars who were moving up the Nogai Shlyah. So a decision was made in the mid-1630s to build a twenty-five kilometre earthwork to block the open gap in the Voronezh-Tsna corridor across the Nogai Shlyah between the Polnoi Voroneszh, a tributary of the Voronezh, and the Chelnovaia River, a tributary of the Tsna. Initially a palisade was envisaged, but the risk of its being burnt was considered too great and a linear earthwork was constructed. This was designed by a Dutch engineer, Jan Cornelius von Rodenburg to incorporate both cannon and handgun positions. ‘The earth steppe wall began at Belyi Kolodez’ on the right bank of the Pol’noi Voronezh River, sixteen kilometres west of Kozlov, and ran eastward for twenty-five kilometres until it reached the left bank of the Chelnovaia River.’ To the east of the Chelnovaia was an abatis barrier which filled the gap to Tambov on the Tsna River. The barrier was built on time and budget and it worked immediately. In 1636 a force of 10,000 Tatars was driven off. The success of the Kozlov defences convinced the Russians that it was possible to move the main frontier down from the Zasechnaya Cherta (Abatis Line) to a new line running west from a wall on the Kozlov steppe, so as to cross all the shlyahs.

Belgorodskaya Cherta – This ran along the southern edge of forest steppe from, at the west end, Akhtyrka on the Vorskla, and east to Tambov on the Tsna, for 800 kilometres, of which 140 kilometres consisted of earthworks.

Simbirskaya Cherta – The Belgorodskaya Cherta was continued by the Simbirskaya Cherta from Tambov on the Tsna, to Saransk, west of the Sura, on towards Tagay, between the Sura and the Sviyaga Rivers, and then to Simbirsk on the Volga totalling 500 kilometres. It was completed in 1658.

Seranskaya Cherta – Roughly half way between Tambov and Simbursk, the Seranskaya Cherta split off from the Simbirskaya Cherta and ran about 300 kilometres past Penza to Sizran on the Volga.

Zakamskaya Cherta – The move by Russians eastwards disrupted the Turkic Bashkirs and so further linear barriers were constructed that ran east of the Volga. The Zakamskaya Cherta went east of Simbursk on the Volga, to the Meznelunsk on the Kama, for about 400 kilometres.

Izium Line – In 1679–1680 most of the steppe along the Donets and Oskol rivers was enclosed behind yet another new more southerly barrier, the Izium Line. The enclosed area formed a triangle whose base was the Belgorod Line. The Line ran along the lengths of the Oskol and the Donets Rivers, and at their confluence stood Izium as the point of the triangle. Whereas the eastern end diverged from the Belgorod Line near Userdsk, the western end did not quite return to the Belgorod Line but stopped on the Kolomak River. (Kolomak is about sixty kilometres south-west of the west end of the Belgorod Line at Akhtyrka.) The Izium Line brought the Russian lines another 160 kilometres south-east of the Belgorod Line and about 150 kilometres from the Black Sea. The line itself was over 500 kilometres long. The area inside the line corresponds approximately to Kharkiv Oblast and contains the modern city of Kharkiv which began as a small fort in about 1630, and today is the second largest city in the independent Republic of Ukraine.

Pskov-Smolensk-Briansk line – A rare example of a linear barrier which was built by one state against another was seen when Peter the Great ordered the construction of an abatis against Charles XII of Sweden. From 1706 to 1708 a fortified western border was established along the Pskov-Smolensk-Briansk line as a desperate measure. In 1724, Peter I introduced the fortress system of defending borders (primarily in the west), but Russia continued to use frontier lines in the south and east.

The lines built by Muscovy and then Russia worked on a similar basis to the Kievan Rus’ Zmievi Vali: ‘The object of all these linear defensive systems was impede the advance of the Tatars, restrict the mobility of cavalry, and gain time to allow the civilian population to be evacuated and large forces to be summoned from nearby fortresses. The Tatars had no siege machinery or great knowledge of siege warfare, so unsophisticated earth and earth-and-timber fortifications served the purpose well, and were cheap to build.’

By the admission of the Tatars they were successful: ‘Even the Tatars themselves acknowledged this (fortification had blocked the Nogai Shlyah), some Tatar princes … admitting to Russian interpreters in 1637 that the new defences at Kozlov and Tambov had ‘shut down’ the Nogai Road.’ Also: ‘A 1681 report of the Military Chancellery to the Boyer Duma assessed the impact of the Belgorod Line in the most enthusiastic terms, claiming not only that ‘enemy warriors can no longer attack the Borderland towns by surprise because of that defence line,’ but that military colonisation along the Line had even transformed the national economy by making the southern frontier safe for private colonisation.’ Previously peasants had preferred to risk their chances in Siberia rather than be taken slave by the Tatars. Now they stayed put and opened up the extremely fertile black earth belt. The population of the Moscovite state doubled in the quarter century after the construction of the Belgorod Line.

With the fall of Kiev the heartland of Russia moved to the less hospitable but more defendable north – with Muscovy emerging as the dominant state. It then developed technology involving firearms, linear barriers both moveable (like the Gului-gorod) and static, in addition to infantry and cavalry. Using these means Muscovy managed to stabilise the southern frontier and then to move it further south, displacing the nomads in the process. In the eighteenth century, it was the nomads whose own linear defences were stormed by the Russians when the Perekop Wall across the Crimean isthmus was breached. In Russia, as this chapter has hopefully shown, linear barriers played a crucial and aggressive part in the grand exercise of political and military expansion.



Russia Beslan School Takeover

Overhead map of school showing initial positions of Russian forces.

September 1, 2004.

Chechen terrorists’ preference for large-group attacks and the holding of large groups of hostages was seen two years earlier with the takeover of a Moscow theater. The organization, with other ethnic groups joining them, increased the pressure on the government and the public by taking over an elementary school on the first day of classes.

On September 1, 2004, at 9:00 A.M., 32 terrorists, including Chechens, Kazakhs, Russians, Ingush, Ossetians, and at least 10 Arabs, drove up in a military-style GAZ-66 truck and shot their way into School No. 1 in Beslan in North Ossetia, Russia, near Chechnya, during the morning and took 1,200 people, including hundreds of students and parents, hostage on the first day of school. At least 11 adults died in the initial shootout with the terrorists, who were wearing camouflage. At least two female terrorists wore explosive belts. The terrorists set up a pedal mechanism to an explosive and threatened to blow up the school if rescuers attacked them and said they would kill 50 hostages for every kidnapper killed, 20 for each wounded.

The school had been defended by only three security guards; one was killed and the two others were injured in the initial shootout.

By mid-afternoon, 15 children, who were hidden in the boiler room by their English teacher, ran to safety. The terrorists had attempted to open the heavy iron door with two grenades, with no success.

The hostage-takers demanded the release of 30 Chechen prisoners and Russian withdrawal from Chechnya. By phone, the terrorists asked to talk to the presidents of Ingushetia and North Ossetia.

The terrorists initially refused to permit medicine, food, and drink to be brought in for the hostages. By the third day, the tap water was running short, and some children drank urine. Many of the children stripped to their underwear to try to escape the suffocating heat in the school. The terrorists also rejected safe passage.

Some of the hostages later said that the terrorists were Wahhabis, wearing long beards and prayer caps.

Hundreds of Russian troops surrounded the school with armored vehicles. The perimeter broke down, however, and numerous armed townspeople joined the siege. In the afternoon of September 2, 2004, the terrorists fired rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), setting a car alight. They again fired RPGs the evening of September 3, 2004, injuring a police officer.

A local legislator said on September 2, 2004, at 9:00 P.M. that 20 male hostages had been executed inside the school. The male hostages had been herded to a different location, away from the children and women, and shot. One man had been executed an hour into the siege.

On September 3, 2004, the terrorists freed 26 young children and their mothers. Gunfire was often heard coming from inside the school. Talks were suspended. Freed hostages said the terrorists had mined the school and suspended 16–18 bombs from the ceiling of the gymnasium, where many of the hostages were herded.

The terrorists used gas masks to ensure that if would-be rescuers flooded the area with knockout gas, as had been done in the 2002 Moscow theater siege, they would not be affected.

On September 4, 2004, around 1:00 P.M., the 52-hour siege ended when troops rushed the school after hearing explosions in the gym. The troops had not planned on rushing the school, but had no choice when the terrorists opened fire on fleeing children. At least 338 hostages, including 156 children; 10 Russian Special Forces rescuers; and 30 terrorists died from gunshot wounds, fire from the explosions, shrapnel, and the collapsing roof of the gymnasium.

More than 1 percent of Beslan’s population was killed.

Itar-TASS reported that the attack was financed by Abu Omar as-Seyf, an Arab alleged to represent al Qaeda in Chechnya, and directed by Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev. An escaped hostage said she recognized some of the terrorists as having earlier done construction work on the school, leading investigators to suggest that they had hidden their weapons in the school during construction.

A Muslim group claiming loyalty to Ayman al-Zawahiri claimed credit on a website.

On September 5, 2004, the Russian government announced on state television that it had lied to the public about the scale of the hostage crisis. The broadcast made no apology that the government had claimed that only 354 hostages were inside the school. Questions remained about how many terrorists there were (reports varied from 16 to 40); how many terrorists were alive, free, or captured; how many people died; and how many had been captive. Many believed the death toll was higher than the official figure of 338. (On September 6, 2004, the government dropped the number to 334, including 156 children, and said that 1,180 hostages were involved.)

A captured terrorist identified as Nur-Pashi Kulayev was put on Russian state television on September 6, 2004. He was injured and had trouble talking, but said that “we gathered in the forest and the Colonel—it’s his nickname—and they said we must seize the school in Beslan.” He credited Basayev with giving the orders. He noted that another Chechen commander, Aslan Maskhadov, also gave orders. His group included Arabs, Uzbeks, Chechens, and people of other nationalities. “When we asked the Colonel why we must do it, he said, ‘Because we need to start war in the entire territory of the North Caucasus.’ ” Many of the school terrorists had also taken part in the June raids in Ingushetia that killed 90 people. The Washington Post reported that a Western intelligence service indicated that some of the terrorists came from Jordan and Syria.

Authorities detained relatives of Basayev and Maskhadov on the second day of the siege.

Russian authorities said that surveillance tape of the terrorists indicated that they had argued among themselves as to whether to escape or continue the siege. The group was led by four men and took phoned orders from Chechen commander Basayev. The leaders included a Chechen, a Russian, an Ingush, and an Ossetian, and were identified by their code names of Abdullah, Fantomas, The Colonel, and Magas.

Fantomas was a bodyguard of Basayev.

Abdullah (aka Vladimir Khodoyev, variant Khodov), had fought alongside Basayev earlier. He had upbraided the other gunmen when they permitted hostages to take a drink of water late in the takeover.

The Colonel was often in the gym and was believed by the survivors to be a Russian.

Magas (aka Ali Taziyev), 30, was a former police officer who disappeared on October 10, 1998, while working as a guard for a local official, according to press accounts. He and another police officer were guarding the official’s wife in a market when Chechens kidnapped the trio. She was ransomed in late 1999. The other officer’s body was found in 2000. Magas joined the terrorists and led an attack in Ingushetia in June. Some authorities believed he had staged the kidnapping and had joined the terrorists earlier. He became head of the Ingush Jamaat, a group allied with the Chechens. He led the June raids in Ingushetia, killing dozens of prosecutors and policemen. Magas is a common name, first heard in the terrorist milieu in the April 2004 assassination attempt against Ingushetian president Murat Zyazikov. Police initially believed he was Magomed Yevloyev. A man by that name was killed in Malgobek, but it was later determined that he was an unrelated murder suspect. Another Magomed Yevloyev was killed in Galashki, but he also was not the right Magas.

All four leaders were killed in the gun battle.

The terrorists videotaped the siege; the tape was shown on Russian television on September 7, 2004, and picked up around the world. Authorities also reported that they had tapped into a walkie-talkie call from a terrorist. President Putin reported, “One asks, ‘What’s happening? I hear noise,’ and the other says, ‘It’s okay, I’m in the middle of shooting some kids. There’s nothing to do.’ They were bored, so they shot kids. What kind of freedom fighters are these?” Russian demanded the extradition from the United Kingdom of Zakayev and other Chechen separatists who had been given political asylum.

Security services reported on September 8, 2004, that the terrorist leader shot one of his own men who did not want to take children hostage, then blew up the two women by flipping the electronic control on their detonators. Police also said they had been aided by a local police officer. Authorities said the gym explosion had been an accident when the terrorists were trying to rearrange the explosives. The Kremlin also backtracked on saying that 10 Arabs were involved but continued to claim that a multinational group of extremists was involved. Moscow offered a $10 million reward for the capture or killing of Basayev and Maskhadov. The next day, Chechen rebel websites offered a $20 million bounty for President Putin’s capture.

By September 9, 2004, Russian officials had identified six Chechens and four Ingush as involved in the attack squad. Bomb techs defused 127 homemade bombs in the school.

On September 10, 2004, President Putin approved a parliamentary investigation into the attack. He also complained about American and British calls for negotiations with Chechens, suggesting that this was equivalent to calling for negotiations with al Qaeda. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained that Western countries were giving asylum to Chechen separatists.

On September 16, 2004, a key advisor to President Putin, Aslakhanov, said that the president had been prepared to release 30 Chechens during the siege. Aslakhanov said that he was about to go into the school to talk to the hostage-takers, with whom he had spoken by phone three times, when the explosives went off.

The next day, Basayev, using the alias Abdallakh Shamil, said on Kavkaz-Center, an Islamic website based in Lithuania, that his group was responsible and threatened more attacks on Russian civilians if independence was denied. He said:

The Kremlin vampire destroyed and wounded one thousand children and adults by giving the order to storm the school for the sake of imperial ambitions. . . . We are sorry about what happened in Beslan. It’s simply that the war, which Putin declared on us five years ago, which has destroyed more than forty thousand Chechen children and crippled more than five thousand of them, has gone back to where it started.

The posting said that the terrorists “made a fatal mistake” by allowing a Russian emergency services vehicle onto school grounds to remove bodies of people killed in the initial storming of the building. He claimed that two terrorists who went outside to watch the removal of the bodies were shot by troops. He said that the terrorists had deployed 20 mines, connected together in one circuit. “I personally trained this group in a forest, and I tested this system. Either all bombs would have exploded or not a single one. . . . We suggest that independent experts should check the fragments and types of wounds,” implying that Russian bombs had killed the children. The posting claimed that there were 33 hostage-takers, including 2 Arabs. Basayev said that the operation cost 8,000 euros (circa $9,800) plus some weapons stolen from Russian forces. “I don’t know bin Laden, don’t receive any money from him, but would not mind.”

On January 29, 2005, the parliamentary investigating commission said that some law enforcement officers were involved. Two accomplices had been detained, three were being sought, and paperwork was in the process to arrest two more. On May 29, 2007, a Russian court granted amnesty to three police officers who had been charged with negligence for failing to prevent the attack.

On May 17, 2005, the trial began of lone surviving terrorist Kulayev on charges of murder and terrorism in the case. On May 16, 2006, the chief justice of the Supreme Court in North Ossetia ruled that Kulayev had taken part in murder and terrorism. On May 26, 2006, he was sentenced to life in prison.

The Evolution of Russian Military Doctrine

Syria a Russian “hybrid armed conflict” 

The two common features of the Russian Military Doctrines of 1987, 1993, 2000, 2010 and 2014 is their defensive nature and the growing attention paid to the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) phenomena. Despite widespread belief in the West, the key thesis of Russian Doctrine is to avoid conflicts and manage disagreements peacefully. In cases where a conflict cannot be prevented, the Doctrine states that Russia localize and neutralize military threats. Political, diplomatic and other non-military settlement is defined as preferable at both global and regional levels.

The current Russian Military Doctrine can be traced back to documents of the late Soviet era, and particularly to the military strategy that was outlined by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988. A key component of this is Russian reliance on its status as a leading nuclear weapons power to contain aggression against itself and its allies – the CSTO states (Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There are also informal security guarantees that Russia provides for Transnistria and Donbass.

Among its highest priorities in international relations, Russia sees ensuring equal dialogue on European security with the EU and NATO, and supporting construction of a new security model in the Asia-Pacific based on the principles of collectivity and nonalignment. Local border conflicts are considered the main causes for use of Russian military forces. Indeed, as Russian Joint Staff Head Valeriy Gerasimov has pointed out: “Large-scale wars may not be denied, and we cannot afford to be unprepared for them. But today the highest threat for the country is coming from conflicts in our neighbourhood.”

The distinguishing feature of Russia’s understanding of defense in the last twenty years has been the realization of the existing asymmetry of capabilities between itself on the one side and NATO states on the other. For this reason, Moscow has been consistently, and notwithstanding any circumstances, modernizing its strategic nuclear forces, allowing for the ability to deter a potential conflict between Russia and the West. The maintenance of strategic parity with the west, and particularly the US, is the key element of the Russian Military Doctrine. Accordingly, recent efforts by the US and its allies to pursue and build regional antimissile defense systems or to implement the concept of (a potentially disarming) Global Strike program are perceived with real concern and strong resistance in Russia.

The contemporary Russian military concept is rooted in the Military Doctrine of the Warsaw Pact states of 1987.9 This document took shape in conditions of roughly equal parity in military capabilities between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. However, unlike previous Soviet doctrines, it proclaimed the renunciation of confrontation, reflecting the international political environment at that time, as well as the commitment of the Soviet leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev to “new political thinking,” which called for fundamental revision of the problem of war. In 1985 the Soviet-US negotiations on limiting nuclear and space weapons met with great success, which encouraged the two states, first, to restrain and then – to bring an end to the arms race. Later, in 1986, during the 27th convention of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev’s initiative on creating a universal system of international security was also received with strong support. In these circumstances the Soviet leadership proposed the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a step towards this goal.

With the ongoing decrease in the intensity of confrontation between the Western and the Socialist blocs the objective of reaching a strategic balance at the lowest level possible was set. The 1987 Soviet Military Doctrine for the first time stressed its defensive character – unprecedentedly, it lacked the term “potential enemy.” It also set as its main objective “to prevent war.” The text read that under no conditions would the Warsaw Pact states initiate a war against any other state or a group of states, unless they themselves become a victim of military aggression. Additionally, the Warsaw Pact states declared their commitment to not using nuclear weapons first. International disputes were to be settled peacefully and by political means exclusively.

Soviet military defense was established on the principle of “sufficiency” to prevent leaving a nuclear attack unpunished. The “sufficiency” principle for conventional weaponry involved having military forces and equipment in sufficient quantity and quality to ensure collective security. The limits of “sufficiency” were set by the US and NATO actions. The Warsaw Pact states did not seek more security than NATO, however, they did not want to put up with any less security than that of NATO and opposed any military superiority over themselves. The Doctrine stated that the strategic military parity remained the key factor in preventing war.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Soviet scholars were the first ones to identify that a new range of technological innovations presents a fundamental discontinuity in the nature of war. In the USSR this phenomenon was labeled Military-Technical Revolution. Later, the Soviet approach to these transformations in military affairs would be analyzed by the US, becoming the intellectual inspiration for the Revolution in Military Affairs concept. Soviet and Russian strategists thus had an unparalleled advantage in reviewing the 1991 Gulf War and the American talk of a RMA.

A new Russian Military Doctrine was adopted in 1993 – two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The document was a product of a different epoch, when Moscow started showing its first signs of dissatisfaction with the results of the way the Cold War had ended. The international environment, as well as the internal conditions in Russia, went through fundamental and largely negative changes. Most notably, by 1993, Moscow’s hopes for equal participation in the major apparatus of international security regulation slowly faded away, and the Russian leadership returned to considering its military forces as an instrument for implementing policy. Russia was left alone to face an escalation of local conflicts in its neighborhood – in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh and Tajikistan.

However, the 1993 Doctrine was still based on the key principles of Gorbachev’s 1987 Doctrine; for instance, the term “potential enemy” was not used. Moreover, shortly before the adoption of the 1993 Doctrine, Russia and the US signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) I and START II nuclear arms control treaties. The focus of the new Russian Military Doctrine shifted towards internal threats with nationalist and separatist organizations, whose actions aimed at internal destabilization. The 1993 document, the same as the current Military Doctrine, stated that the key threats for international peace and stability are local and armed conflicts. Another threat mentioned in the Doctrine was the enlargement of military blocs and alliances to the disadvantage of Russian military security. In other words, Russian disapproval of NATO expansion was explicitly mentioned for the first time.

Still Russia intended to respond to these challenges by means of preventing war. The 1993 Doctrine retained the defensive nature proclaimed in 1987 and made clear its intention of not starting military actions first, and instead taking the first hit from an adversary on its territory. Apart from that, Russia’s regional priorities, which would later become far more important, were set for the first time. These were, namely, “securing stability in the Russian neighborhood … and in the world in general.” Meanwhile, the Doctrine abandoned the nuclear no-first-use principle and proclaimed its right for a first nuclear strike should such a need arise. Nuclear weapons were seen not as an instrument to be used in military actions, but as a political containment tool against the growing threat from the West. Still the “reasonable sufficiency” principle remained – the Doctrine claimed the need to maintain the military potential on the level that could allow Russia to adequately react to the existing and developing threats.

Seven years later – in 2000 – a new edition of the Military Doctrine was approved. The document preserved its defensive character, but at the same time reflected Russia’s growing concern over its vulnerability in the face of emerging conflicts within its immediate neighborhood. For the first time Russia stated its position on RMA, which Moscow had been observing for some time from afar, particularly since the 1991 Gulf War. The unfavorable international and internal environment was weighing heavily on the country’s leadership. With the First Chechen War lost and a new one beginning, Russia was struggling to prevent the state from collapsing. In the meantime, NATO started its expansion and launched a military operation in Yugoslavia, which was strongly opposed by Moscow with the Russian leadership experiencing for the first time what it is like to be an object of Western aggression. Nonetheless, as Vladimir Putin came to power, Russia initiated a number of proposals on cooperation with NATO. It started to look like – at least for a short time – Russian membership or at least greater participation in the Alliance was a likely possibility. Indeed, the 2000 Military Doctrine remained essentially defensive in character. It read that, Russia

… is consistently committed to peace, however, [the country] is prepared to take decisive measures to secure its national interests and guarantee military security for the Russian Federation and its allies.

The key objectives for ensuring Russia security, according to the Doctrine, were in prevention, localization and neutralization of military threats with political, diplomatic and other non-military instruments. The document reiterated Russia’s right of the use of nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other weapons of massive destruction against itself and its allies, in addition to a large-scale aggression carried out by means of conventional weapons “if it poses a threat to the national security.”

The main military threats for Russia in the new Doctrine were essentially a restatement of the theses of the 1993 document. The most prominent of these being the enlargement of military alliances’ that endanger Russian military security (i. e. NATO) as well as the activities of extremist, nationalist, religious, separatist and terrorist movements and organizations. The US and NATO policies towards European security were criticized and defined as destabilizing factors. In particular, Moscow saw the NATO operation in Yugoslavia as an effort to weaken the existing mechanisms for ensuring international security, namely the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and to ignore the universally accepted principles and norms of international law – the notion that later became the leading idea in Russian foreign and defense policies.

The 2000 Military Doctrine was the first one to give a detailed overview of the Russian stance on RMA. It stated the current international trend of enhancement of means and instruments of armed fighting, its increasing spatial scope and spread into new spheres. In this context, new threats were identified that consisted of aggressive actions aimed at hindering the functioning of strategic nuclear capabilities, and the building of missile warning, missile defense and space control systems. In addition to this, the term “information aggression” was introduced. These ideas became an integral part of the Russian Military Doctrine that would be developed in other later military documents.

In order to counter these threats, the 2000 Doctrine set the priority of implementing a complex program of military reform that would concentrate on the introduction of innovative command and control systems, as well as precision-guided munitions and mobile non-nuclear weaponry. Russia’s commitment to its sovereignty in weapon production and its intention to strengthen its scientific, technical and resource independency in developing and producing major types of armaments were also reflected in the Doctrine.

The contemporary Military Doctrine was adopted in 2010 and then specified in parts in 2014. These two documents belong to the period of revival for Russian military forces and their first use in twenty years, which happened in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict in 2008. This war provided another painful experience for the Russian military since the brief conflict showed many shortages in military organization, equipment and outdated concepts of warfare. In fact, 2007, when the Russian military first started to receive new armaments, is considered to be the date of reference for the new epoch, but in 2008 the impact of this change was still to be fully felt. Previously, the only equipment the military received were intercontinental ballistic missiles – the step aimed at maintaining combat-ready Russian strategic nuclear forces for the last resort containment of possible conflicts.

The gradual increases in Russian military capabilities did not change the defensive nature of its military doctrine, even as the focus of the new documents shifted towards unconventional threats and new ways of responding to them by means of the RMA-type thinking. The sources of these unconventional threats are both terrorist activities and acts of aggression, including latent forms of these on the part of unfriendly states.

The new Doctrine points out that military dangers and threats are likely to emerge primarily from the information space and within Russian territory itself. At the same time, the list of military threats proposed by the 2014 edition of the Doctrine remains almost unchanged, and includes the classic theses on aggravation of the military-political situation in the neighboring states and the hindering of state and military control systems and strategic nuclear forces. Special attention is drawn to the main characteristics and distinguishing features of the modern military conflict largely influenced by RMA. The Doctrine argues that today’s wars are waged with the complex use of military, political, economic, information and other non-military instruments, including the use of the protest potential of the population and special operations.

Among the main features of military action, the documents mention massive use of precision-guided munitions, hypersonic weapons, electronic warfare, and weapons based on new physical principles, comparable to the nuclear weaponry in its effectiveness, as well as unmanned aerial and autonomous marine machines and controlled robotic weapons and military equipment. The doctrine clearly states its priority in the sphere of military building, which is strengthening centralization and automation of military command and transforming the exclusively hierarchical system of command into universal network automated control systems.

The 2010 and 2014 documents for the first time state Russia’s readiness for “hybrid armed conflicts” and the use of indirect and asymmetric modes of action. For instance, they point out the potential of creating permanent war zones on the territories of adversary states and the participation of irregular armed groups and private military companies. The Doctrine also mentions the phenomena of the widespread use of political groups and social movements financed and controlled from outside among the main characteristics of the modern conflict.

The concrete military threats for Russia are seen in the US policies of realizing the Global Strike concept, Washington’s intention to place weapons in outer space, in addition to the deployment of strategic nonnuclear systems of precision-guided weapons. Moscow considers these actions as damaging to global stability and the existing balance of power in the missile and nuclear field.

The Color Revolution experiences in the post-Soviet space are also reflected in the documents. The Doctrine states that there is a possibility of the use of information and communication technologies for political and military causes in order to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Among the listed threats, the documents mention establishing unfriendly regimes in the Russian neighborhood in the result of toppling legitimate authorities of states.

The latest 2014 edition of the Military Doctrine for the first time includes the term “non-nuclear deterrence,” which implies measures to prevent aggression against Russia by means of non-nuclear instruments and, mainly, the use of precision-guided munitions. At the same time, it points out that mutual nuclear containment and strategic parity have not lost their urgency. Russia reiterates its right for the first nuclear strike in response to the use of nuclear and other weapons of massive destruction against itself and its allies, as well as aggression carried out with the use of conventional weaponry in cases when “it poses a threat to the existence of the state.”

The Doctrine has the most detailed overview in twenty five years of the Russian approach to military development and the modernization of military forces guided by the notions of “a new face” and the RMA. The technological independence of Russia in the sphere of arms production, the preservation of state control over the defense industry and its objects of strategic importance, development of military and civil critical technologies that will encourage technological breakthroughs to create fundamentally new kinds of weapons – are set as priorities.

Russian Army of Ivan the Terrible

A policy change introduced at this time was of major importance in the evolution of the relationship between the Tsar, the landowning class and the armed forces. For most of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the main fighting force had been composed of cavalry, largely based on the princely appanages with little centralized organization. By the mid-sixteenth century these princely private armies were to be found only, if at all, in the appanages of Lithuanian origin, such as those of the Bel’skys and Mstislavskys, and in the retinues of the Russian ‘service’ princes of the Upper Oka, such as the Odoevskys and the Vorotynskys.

The development of a Russian army dependent on the grand prince alone began in the reign of Ivan III, who had already extended the grand prince’s control over the armed forces where he had been successful in absorbing a principality and destroying its separate identity. Princes and boyars, when not acting as governors and local commandants, were usually absorbed as commanders and senior officers in grand princely regiments, in accordance with the ranking laid down by the code of precedence, or mestnichestvo. The general run of service gentry, originally of mixed social origins, was gradually sorted out into those who served the grand prince directly, as members of his dvor, received estates in service tenure (pomest’ia), and were merged into the dvoriane or future service gentry, and those who had served local princes and boyars and who continued to carry out their service as pomeshchiki on a provincial basis. Lower-ranking cavalry officers were thus attached to provincial towns, resided on their estates and were summoned when required by the grand prince, bringing their servants with them. Both these groups received lands on a service tenure which in the early days of the system could not be sold or pledged, but could be passed on the death of the holder to a son or son-in-law fit to perform service. The service to be given was strictly calculated in terms of the amount and quality of land.

The system of pomest’ia was devised to enable cavalrymen to serve when called upon, and was to remain the basic way of paying for the cavalry army until the reign of Peter the Great. The Pomestnyi Prikaz, or Estates Office which administered the recruitment and the provision of land to the mounted cavalry, was founded in 1475. Further distribution of lands as pomest’ia took place under Vasily III and Ivan IV from a variety of sources. The estate was not regarded as the private property of the pomeshchik; it provided a fixed income for his maintenance and his equipment, and he was not expected to concern himself with its exploitation. He was not therefore a landowner in the Western sense of the word, but a land user entitled to a certain income from the land. It was thus quite distinct from the votchina or the patrimonial estate which formed the basis of the wealth of the aristocracy and the service gentry, which many pomeshchiki owned in addition to the land granted by the government.

The first major initiative in the remodelling of the armed forces taken in Ivan IV’s reign occurred in 1550. The Tsar’s dvor numbered some three thousand all told, and a specific group of one thousand cavalrymen, divided into three categories, was now provided with pomest’ia in the central provinces to enable them to lodge in Moscow and provide all their supplies from lands relatively near to the capital. They were to be available for immediate service as required, serving on a rota. The estates they were allotted were provided mainly from the Tsar’s own lands or from lands of free peasants around Moscow.46 Aleksei Adashev was one of these cavalrymen.

A corps of infantry equipped with firearms was also formed by Ivan, pishchal’niki, or ‘harquebuzzers’, as Jerome Horsey, a later English visitor, called them, who had already been used in 1480 in the nonexistent battle of the Ugra and who were replaced in 1550 by musketeers or strel’tsy, also on foot. These, together with Ivan’s chosen one thousand cavalry corps, formed his personal guard, ‘the forerunners of Peter I’ s guards regiments’, presumably to protect him against the sort of rioting which had so frightened him in 1547. The strel’tsy were to be part of the military scene until the reign of Peter the Great. Their function was not to fight with cold steel or pikes in hand-to-hand combat, but to use firepower. Their numbers fluctuated and probably reached some twenty thousand by the end of the sixteenth century. They were, unlike the cavalry levy, a permanent uniformed corps. Unlike the Ottoman janissaries they were free men; they received salaries in money and goods according to rank, but also maintained themselves and their families partly by artisan production and small-scale trading activities. Their officers belonged to the gentry and were allotted pomest’ia as well as salaries. The whole corps came under the authority of a new Streletskii Prikaz.

Artillery was also extensively and effectively used in Russia, and Ivan may have taken a personal interest in the manufacture of guns – from Russian-produced iron ore – and their utilization by his army. Each regiment was allocated a certain number of guns in the 1550s. Ivan took 150 heavy and medium pieces of artillery to Kazan’ with him in 1552, and in this respect Russia was not inferior to her Western enemies, though supplies of gunpowder and lead had to be imported and could therefore be subject to enemy blockade on land.

The origin of the idea of this corps of strel’tsy has been much debated in Russia. Clearly Russia needed more modern weaponry, namely firearms and heavy artillery, for her wars against Poland, Sweden and in Livonia, rather than cavalry armed with bows and arrows. Contemporaries and many military specialists have speculated on whether the new formations were borrowed from the Ottomans through the writings of a certain Ivan Semonovich Peresvetov, which may perhaps have been known to Ivan IV. For a long time Peresvetov’s very existence was in doubt and he was thought to be an assumed name or a collective personality. Not until the beginning of the twentieth century was his existence actually established. In the 1950s he was unfortunately treated as one of the powerful humanist thinkers of sixteenth-century Europe, comparable to Machiavelli or Bodin. A revision of his human and intellectual qualities has not yet been undertaken, nor is it certain that all his alleged writings can be attributed to him; thus his influence still needs to be questioned.

Born and bred in Lithuania, conditioned by life in this borderland, divided between Polish Catholicism and Russian Orthodoxy, offering his sword as a Polish cavalryman now to the Hungarian Jan Zapolya, a vassal of the Ottomans, now to the Habsburg King of Bohemia, now to the voevoda Peter IV Raresh of Moldavia, Peresvetov was a fairly senior officer serving with six or seven horses and the corresponding number of grooms and servants. Evidently resentful at his failure to make good in service, and distrusting boyars and their ilk, he attempted to enter Russian service in 1538, during the regency of Elena. He may have been attracted to Russian service by his connexion with Peter of Moldavia, whose wife was Elena’s cousin by marriage. He tried to interest the Russian court in a model shield ‘in the Macedonian manner’ which he had invented, and was taken up by the boyar M. Iu’rev Zakhar’in, the uncle of the future Tsaritsa Anastasia, and provided with a workshop and a pomest’ie. Unfortunately for Peresvetov, Zakhar’in died, he lost his patron, and all interest in his patent shield evaporated.

Peresvetov continued in increasingly impoverished circumstances for some ten years, after which all traces of him vanish. This was not surprising since he had no connexions in Russia with any of the boyar clans, or even with the gentry, who tended also to be united by fairly close local associations. Reduced in his own eyes to poverty, in 1549, at the time of the gathering of the so-called ‘assembly of reconciliation’, he personally submitted a petition, together with a number of other written works, to Tsar Ivan, accusing the ‘great’ of having despoiled him of his land, leaving him naked and destitute, without even a horse. Peresvetov’s not unjustified hope of achieving more in Russia, where a simple horseman could now count on some support as a pomeshchik, was not to be fulfilled, and as a man he disappears from sight. But the various writings attributed to him survived in a number of manuscript copies of the early seventeenth century and have led to a belated acceptance of his existence as a man and his importance as a ‘spokesman’ of the gentry or the holders of pomest’ia, as against the rich and powerful, in the sixteenth century.

It is this interpretation of the ‘class’ role of Peresvetov, considered to have been insufficiently appreciated by pre-revolutionary historians, which has contributed to his great importance in Soviet historiography. The relevant texts attributed to Peresvetov are ‘On the conquest of Tsar’grad by the godless Tsar Magmet Amuratov, son of the Turkish Tsar’, ‘The Tale of Magmet Saltan’, and ‘The Great Petition’, which contains Peresvetov’s account of the five months he spent in the service of Peter IV Raresh, his only Orthodox patron. Mehmet II’s victory over the last Paleologus emperor, Constantine, was in great part attributed by Peresvetov to the selfishness, cowardice and incapacity of the ‘great’ men surrounding the Emperor and his failure to support the more lowly men-at-arms. (‘The rich never think of fighting, they think of peacefulness and gentleness and rest.’) He argued in favour of a centrally recruited, controlled and paid army, like the Turkish janissaries, but he also argued that free men fight better than slaves, and the Russian cavalry was free, while the janissaries were slaves as were all the civil employees of the Ottoman court. In Russia the kholopy or bondsmen of various kinds in the armed forces were at this time mainly employed either in the transport of food, fodder and munitions, or in labouring on engineering projects.

Another great virtue of the Ottoman system in Peresvetov’s eyes was its concentration on pravda rather than vera – truth or justice, rather than faith. This makes one wonder whether the long years in foreign parts, before he came to Russia, had somewhat dented the purity of Peresvetov’s Orthodox faith. The sense of the Russian word ‘pravda’ is impossible to convey in English, where in dictionaries the emphasis is almost always on the notion of truth, whereas in Russian the notion of justice or righteousness is fundamental. The most articulate expression of Peresvetov’s ideas (if they were his ideas) comes in his version of the tale of Prince Peter IV of Moldavia, where the Prince praises Mehmet the Conqueror for having restored justice to Constantinople, and explains that ‘God does not love faith, but pravda or justice’. Through his Son he left us the gospel of truth (pravda), loving the Christian faith above all other faiths, and showed us the path to heaven. But the Greeks, though they honoured the gospel, listened to others and did not carry out the will of the Lord and fell into heresy (i.e. the decision to unite with Rome, taken at the Council of Ferrara/Florence).

But Peresvetov was primarily concerned with the practical problems of governing a warlike society. He favoured the institution of a professional army (like the Ottoman janissaries), but free, government by state employees, and the bridling of the high nobility. It is difficult to see in him the spokesman of the gentry, he seems rather to place his faith in a state ruling by ‘groza’, terror or awe. Mehmed was again quoted as an example, for when he discovered that his judges were being dishonest he had them flayed alive, saying:

if their flesh grows back again their crime will be forgiven. And he ordered their skins to be stretched out and ordered them to be stuffed with cotton and ordered them to be affixed with an iron nail in places of judgment and ordered it to be written on the skins: without such terrors, justice and sovereignty cannot be introduced.

Mehmed was also praised for being dread, or terrible, in fact ‘grozen’: ‘If a tsar is mild and peace-loving in his realm, his realm will become impoverished and his glory will diminish. If a tsar is dread and wise, his realm will expand and his name will be famous in all lands.’ ‘A kingdom without terror [groza] is like a horse without a bridle.’ Peresvetov’s admiration for the efficiency of Ottoman rule is by no means unique at that time, when it was very much a lieu commun in that part of Europe which had had dealings with the Porte.

To be ‘dread’ Ivan did not need any advice from Peresvetov, and there is not in fact any evidence that Ivan IV ever read anything written by Peresvetov; and if the idea of creating the corps of musketeers came from outside Russia, a more convincing source is in fact Moldavia, where voevoda Peter Raresh had introduced a corps of musketeers who were not slaves like the janissaries, but free like the strel’tsy, and with which of course Peresvetov would have been familiar. It seems, therefore, unlikely that Peresvetov exercised any influence on Ivan’s policy in the 1550s as a spokesman for the gentry.

Su-25SM Today

The Su-25SM (Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi) is an “affordable” upgrade programme for the Su-25, conceived by the Russian Air Force (RuAF) in 2000. The programme stems from the attempted Su-25T and Su-25TM upgrades, which were evaluated and labeled as over-sophisticated and expensive. The SM upgrade incorporates avionics enhancements and airframe refurbishment to extend the Frogfoot’s service life by up to 500 flight hours or 5 years.

The Su-25SM’s all-new PRnK-25SM “Bars” navigation/attack suite is built around the BTsVM-90 digital computer system, originally planned for the Su-25TM upgrade programme. Navigation and attack precision provided by the new suite is three times better of the baseline Su-25 and is reported to be within 15 m (49 ft) using satellite correction and 200 m (660 ft) without it.

A new KA1-1-01 Head-Up Display (HUD) was added providing, among other things, double the field of view of the original ASP-17BTs-8 electro-optical sight. Other systems and components incorporated during the upgrade include a Multi-Function Display (MFD), RSBN-85 Short Range Aid to Navigation (SHORAN), ARK-35-1 Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), A-737-01 GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Karat-B-25 Flight Data Recorder (FDR), Berkut-1 Video Recording System (VRS), Banker-2 UHF/VHF communication radio, SO-96 Transponder and a L150 “Pastel” Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).

The R-95Sh engines have been overhauled and modified with an anti-surge system installed. The system is designed to improve the resistance of the engine to ingested powders and gases during gun and rocket salvo firing.

The combination of reconditioned and new equipment, with increased automation and self-test capability has allowed for a reduction of pre- and post-flight maintenance by some 25 to 30%. Overall weight savings are around 300 kg (660 lb).

Su-25SM weapon suite has been expanded with the addition of the Vympel R-73 highly agile air-to-air missile (albeit without helmet mounted cuing and only the traditional longitudinal seeker mode) and the S-13T 130 mm rockets (carried in five-round B-13 pods) with blast-fragmentation and armour-piercing warheads. Further, the Kh-25ML and Kh-29L Weapon Employment Profiles have been significantly improved, permitting some complex missile launch scenarios to be executed, such as: firing two consecutive missiles on two different targets in a single attack pass. The GSh-30-2 cannon (250 round magazine) has received three new reduced rate-of-fire modes: 750, 375 and 188 Rounds per Minute. The Su-25SM was also given new BD3-25 under-wing pylons.

The eventual procurement programme is expected to include between 100 and 130 kits, covering 60 to 70 percent of the RuAF active single-seat fleet, as operated in the early 2000s. By 2020, 80 aircraft are to be modernised to SM version. By March 2013, over 60 aircraft are to be upgraded. In February 2013, ten new Su-25SMs were delivered to the Air Force southern base, where operational training is was conducted.

Report early 2016

While some believe that the Russian Air Force (RuAF) has used its assets deployed to war-torn Syria in a decisive manner to demonstrate an effective use of air power to achieve political results, there has been no noticeable influence on the ground situation during the first two months of operations. Given the strength of the main militant groups under Russian attack (including Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, known as the official al-Qaeda affliate in Syria) and the huge swathes of territory under their control, the nation’s air campaign could take many months to degrade the anti-Assad forces. Moreover, the somewhat limited offensive capabilities of Assad’s land forces will not achieve significant territorial gains in the foreseeable future.

As of December 4 2015, the RuAF composite air brigade stationed at Latakia Basel alAssad airport, dubbed Hmeimim Air Base by the Russians, had flown 3,389 combat sorties; 128 more were flown from bases in Russia. Between September 18 and 20, 12 Su-24M Fencer and four Su-34 Fullback bombers, 12 Su-25SM/Su-25UB Frogfoot attack aircraft and four Su-30SM Flanker Mass raids flown between November 17 and 20 also involved eight Su-34s based at Krymsk in Russia flying 16 combat sorties. The majority of Russian fixed-wing operations during the first two months of the campaign were pre-planned, against fixed targets with a known position. Only a small proportion of the sorties were of search-and-destroy type, necessitating loitering in a pre-assigned zone while waiting to receive updated targeting information from the combat control centre.

Bombers tasked with pre-planned missions generally operated at an altitude above 16,000ft to avoid the engagement zones of anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) and manportable air defence (MANPAD) systems.

The most common types of unguided weapons being employed are the 250kg and 500kg general-purpose free-fall bombs (OFAB-250-270 and FAB-500M-62 respectively), deployed by the Su-24M, Su-34M and Su-25SM. Other unguided weapons include the 500kg BetAB-500 penetrator bombs used against underground bunkers or shelters and the 500kg OFZAB-500 high-explosive fragmentation incendiary bombs.

Russian reports suggest the use of unguided weapons in the prevalent good weather found in Syria during October and November, combined with the accurate targeting systems of the Su-24M (upgraded with the SVP-24 targeting system) and the Su-34, resulted in a reasonable hit accuracy. However, the definition of reasonable is subjective.

Only 15% of the total munitions used by the Russian Air Force so far are precision-guided. Types used by the Su- 34 include the KAB-500S GPS-guided and KAB-500Kr EO-guided bombs, while the Su-24M has been seen carrying Kh-25ML laser-guided missiles.

Other guided weapons deployed by the Russian brigade are the 1,500kg KAB- 1500LG laser-guided bomb and the 500kg RBK-500SPBE-D cluster bomb. The latter contains 15 infrared-guided sub-munitions used against armoured targets.

During the first two peaks of Russian air activity in mid and late October, the Latakia-based aircraft conducted between 48 and 96 sorties per day. This statistic might not seem particularly impressive until you consider that there are 32 combat jets assigned to Latakia, about 28 of which are in combat-ready configuration at any moment, meaning that every serviceable aircraft few no less than three combat sorties per day.

Combat air operations intensified after the Sinai-based affiliate of IS publicly claimed responsibility for downing the Russian MetroJet Airbus A321 airliner over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board. Between November 17 and 20 the Russian brigade few 100 sorties each day.

Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] I


Battle of Kulikovo

The armies of north-eastern Russia from the Mongol conquest until the accession of Ivan the Terrible. Dvor were the paid troops of the prince and the more important boyars. This period saw the rise of Moscow to preeminence under the protection of Mongol overlordship. Muscovite rulers were said to be skilled in both ingratiating themselves with the Mongols and in discreetly leaving Mongol armies on the eve of battle. Open war in 1380 saw the defeat of the Mongols at the epic battle of Kulikovo. Russian armies of this period were predominantly of cavalry, and their tactics were similar to those of the Mongols. The usual formation consisted of an advance guard, a strong centre, the “bolshoi polk”, left arm, right arm and rearguard, the right arm having seniority over the other divisions. Infantry were first used for offensive campaigning by Ivan III in 1469 and provided almost exclusively by town militia in separate bodies of spearmen and bowmen and by Cossacks. Muscovite grand prince Ivan III began using the term TSAR to introduce an added level power and majesty to his rule. Cossacks (“adventurers”) were originally renegade Tartars and Russian peasants not on the tax rolls or who refused to work another’s land and were free associations who settled along distant borders in areas of uncertain control. Although we think of them today as light horse, they at this time provided many infantry and specialised in boat work, taking quickly to handguns when these became available.


The musketeers, or streltsy (literally “shooters”), were organized as part of Ivan IV’s effort to reform Russia’s military during the sixteenth century. In 1550 he recruited six companies of foot soldiers armed with firearms, organized into tactical units of five hundred, commanded and trained by officers from the nobility. These units were based from the beginning in towns, and eventually took on the character of garrison forces. Over time their numbers grew from three thousand in 1550 to fifty thousand in 1680.

Militarily, they were ineffectual, mainly because of their economic character. The musketeers were a hereditary class not subject to taxation, but to state service requirements, including battlefield service, escort, and guard duties. During the seventeenth century, the state provided them with grain and cash, but economic privileges, including permission to act as merchants, artisans, or farmers, became their principal support. One particular plum was permission to produce alcoholic beverages for their own consumption. They also bore civic duties (fire fighting and police) in the towns where they lived. Pursuing economic interests reduced their fighting edge.

Throughout the seventeenth century the musketeers proved to be fractious, regularly threatening, even killing, officers who mistreated them or represented modernizing elements within the military. By 1648 it was apparent that they were unreliable, especially when compared with the new-formation regiments appearing prior to the Thirteen Years War (1654–1667) under leadership of European mercenary officers. Rather than disband the musketeers entirely, the state made attempts to westernize them. Many units were placed under the command of foreigners and retrained. Administrative changes were made during and after the war, including placing certain units under the jurisdiction of the Tsar’s Privy Chancery, which appointed officers and collected operations reports. The Privy Chancery, and by extension, the Tsar, was at the center of the attempt to transform the musketeers into more thoroughly trained western-style infantry.


The Imperial Russian Army and Navy owed their origins to Peter I, although less so for the army than the navy. The army’s deeper roots clearly lay with Muscovite precedent, especially with Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich’s European-inspired new regiments of foreign formation. The Great Reformer breathed transforming energy and intensity into these and other precedents to fashion a standing regular army that by 1725 counted 112,000 troops in two guards, two grenadier, forty-two infantry, and thirty-three dragoon regiments, with sup- porting artillery and auxiliaries. To serve this establishment, he also fashioned administrative, financial, and logistical mechanisms, along with a rational rank structure and systematic officer and soldier recruitment. With an admixture of foreign- ers, the officer corps came primarily from the Russian nobility, while soldiers came from recruit levies against the peasant population.

Although Peter’s standing force owed much to European precedent, his military diverged from conventional patterns to incorporate irregular cavalry levies, especially Cossacks, and to evolve a military art that emphasized flexibility and practicality for combating both conventional northern European foes and less conventional steppe adversaries. After mixed success against the Tatars and Turks at Azov in 1695–1696, and after a severe reverse at Narva (1700) against the Swedes at the outset of the Great Northern War, Peter’s army notched important victories at Dorpat (1704), Lesnaya (1708), and Poltava (1709). After an abrupt loss in 1711 to the Turks on the Pruth River, Peter dogged his Swedish adversaries until they came to terms at Nystadt in 1721. Subsequently, Peter took to the Caspian basin, where during the early 1720s his Lower (or Southern) Corps campaigned as far south as Persia.

After Peter’s death, the army’s fortunes waned and waxed, with much of its development characterized by which aspect of the Petrine legacy seemed most politic and appropriate for time and circumstance. Under Empress Anna Ioannovna, the army came to reflect a strong European, especially Prussian, bias in organization and tactics, a bias that during the 1730s contributed to defeat and indecision against the Tatars and Turks. Under Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, the army reverted partially to Petrine precedent, but retained a sufficiently strong European character to give good account for itself in the Seven Years’ War. Although in 1761 the military-organizational pendulum under Peter III again swung briefly and decisively in favor of Prussian- inspired models, a palace coup in favor of his wife, who became Empress Catherine II, ushered in a lengthy period of renewed military development.

During Catherine’s reign, the army fought two major wars against Turkey and its steppe allies to emerge as the largest ground force in Europe. Three commanders were especially responsible for bringing Russian military power to bear against elusive southern adversaries. Two, Peter Alexandrovich Rumyantsev and Alexander Vasilievich Suvorov, were veterans of the Seven Years War, while the third, Grigory Alexandrovich Potemkin, was a commander and administrator of great intellect, influence, and organizational talent. During Catherine’s First Turkish War (1768–1774), Rumyantsev successfully employed flexible tactics and simplified Russian military organization to win significant victories at Larga and Kagul (both 1770). Suvorov, meanwhile, defeated the Polish Confederation of Bar, then after 1774 campaigned in the Crimea and the Nogai steppe. At the same time, regular army formations played an important role in suppressing the Pugachev rebellion (1773–1775).

During Catherine’s Second Turkish War (1787–1792), Potemkin emerged as the impresario of final victory over the Porte for hegemony over the northern Black Sea littoral, while Suvorov emerged as perhaps the most talented Russian field commander of all time. Potemkin inherently understood the value of irregular cavalry forces in the south, and he took measures to regularize Cossack service and bring them more fully under Russian military authority, or failing that, to abolish recalcitrant Cossack hosts. Following Rumyantsev’s precedent, he also lightened and multiplied the number of light infantry and light cavalry formations, while emphasizing utility and practicality in drill and items of equipment. In the field, Suvorov further refined Rumyantsev’s tactical innovations to emphasize “speed, assessment, attack.” Suvorov’s battlefield successes, together with the conquest of Ochakov (1788) and Izmail (1790) and important sallies across the Danube, brought Russia favorable terms at Jassy (1792). Even as war raged in the south, the army in the north once again defeated Sweden (1788–1790), then in 1793–1794 overran a rebellious Poland, setting the stage for its third partition.


Military Parade of Emperor Paul in front of Mikhailovsky Castle painting by Alexandre Benois.

Under Paul I, the army chaffed under the imposition of direct monarchical authority, the more so because it brought another brief dalliance with Prussian military models. Suvorov was temporarily banished, but was later recalled to lead Russian forces in northern Italy as part of the Second Coalition against revolutionary France. In 1799, despite Austrian interference, Suvorov drove the French from the field, then brilliantly extricated his forces from Italy across the Alps. The eighteenth century closed with the army a strongly entrenched feature of Russian imperial might, a force to be reckoned with on both the plains of Europe and the steppes of Eurasia.


Soldiers of the Tsar [Czar] II



At the outset of the century, Alexander I inherited a sizeable and unaffordable army, many of whose commanders were seasoned veterans. After instituting a series of modest administrative reforms for efficiency and economy, including the creation of a true War Ministry, the Tsar in 1805 plunged into the wars of the Third Coalition. For all their experience and flexibility, the Russians with or without the benefit of allies against Napoleon suffered a series of reverses or stalemates, including Austerlitz(1805), Eylau (1807), and Friedland (1807). After the ensuing Tilsit Peace granted five years’ respite, Napoleon’s Grand Armée invaded Russia in 1812. Following a fighting Russian withdrawal into the interior, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov in September gave indecisive battle at Borodino, followed by another withdrawal to the southeast that uncovered Moscow. When the French quit Moscow in October, Kutuzov pursued, reinforced by swarms of partisans and Cossacks, who, together with starvation and severe cold, harassed the Grand Armée to destruction. In 1813, the Russian army fought in Germany, and in 1814 participated in the coalition victory at Leipzig, followed by a fighting entry into France and the occupation of Paris.

The successful termination of the Napoleonic wars still left Alexander I with an outsized and unaffordable military establishment, but now with the addition of disaffected elements within the officer corps. While some gentry officers formed secret societies to espouse revolutionary causes, the Tsar experimented with the establishment of settled troops, or military colonies, to reduce maintenance costs. Although these colonies were in many ways only an extension of the previous century’s experience with military settlers on the frontier, their widespread application spawned much discontent. After Alexander I’s death, unrest and conspiracy led to an attempted military coup in December 1825. Tsar Nicholas I energetically suppressed the so-called Decembrist rebellion, then imposed parade- ground order. His standing army grew to number one million troops, but its outdated recruitment system and traditional support infrastructure eventually proved incapable of meeting the challenges of military modernization. Superficially, the army was a model of predictable routine and harsh discipline, but its inherent shortcomings, including outmoded weaponry, incapacity for rapid expansion, and lack of strategic mobility, led inexorably to Crimean defeat. The army was able to subdue Polish military insurrectionists (1830–1831) and Hungarian revolutionaries (1848), and successfully fight Persians and Turks (1826–1828, 1828–1829), but in the field it lagged behind its more modern European counterparts. Fighting from 1854 to 1856 against an allied coalition in the Crimea, the Russians suffered defeat at Alma, heavy losses at Balaklava and Inkerman, and the humiliation of surrender at Sevastopol. Only the experience of ex- tended warfare in the Caucasus (1801–1864) afforded unconventional antidote to the conventional “paradomania” of St. Petersburg that had so thoroughly inspired Crimean defeat. Thus, the mountains replaced the steppe as the southern pole in an updated version of the previous century’s north- south dialectic.


Alexander II’s era of the Great Reforms marked an important watershed for both services. In a series of reforms between 1861 and 1874, War Minister Dmitry Alexeyevich Milyutin created the foundations for a genuine cadre- and reserve-based ground force. He facilitated introduction of a universal service obligation, and he rearmed, reequipped, and redeployed the army to contend with the gradually emerging German and Austro-Hungarian threat along the Empire’s western frontier. In 1863–1864 the army once again suppressed a Polish rebellion, while in the 1860s and 1870s small mobile forces figured in extensive military conquests in Central Asia. War also flared with Turkey in 1877–1878, during which the army, despite a ragged beginning, inconsistent field leadership, and inadequacies in logistics and medical support, acquitted itself well, especially in a decisive campaign in the European theater south of the Balkan ridge. Similar circumstances governed in the Transcausus theater, where the army overcame initial setbacks to seize Kars and carry the campaign into Asia Minor.

Following the war of 1877–1878, planning and deployment priorities wedded the army more closely to the western military frontier and especially to peacetime deployments in Russian Poland. With considerable difficulty, Alexander III presided over a limited force modernization that witnessed the adoption of smokeless powder weaponry and changes in size and force structure that kept the army on nearly equal terms with its two more significant potential adversaries, Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. At the same time, the end of the century brought extensive new military commitments to the Far East, both to protect expanding imperial interests and to participate in suppression of the Boxer Rebellion (1900).


Under Russia’s last Tsar, the army went from defeat to disaster and despair. Initially over-committed and split by a new dichotomy between the Far East and the European military frontier, the army fared poorly in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Poor strategic vision and even worse battlefield execution in a Far Eastern littoral war brought defeat because Russia failed to bring its overwhelming re- sources to bear. While the navy early ceded the initiative and command of the sea to the Japanese, Russian ground force buildups across vast distances were slow. General Adjutant Alexei Nikolayevich Kuropatkin and his subordinates lacked the capacity either to fight expert delaying actions or to master the complexities of meeting engagements that evolved into main battles and operations. Tethered to an 8-thousand-kilometer-long line of communications, the army marched through a series of reverses from the banks of the Yalu (May 1904) to the environs of Mukden (February–March 1905). Although the garrison at Port Arthur retained the capacity to resist, premature surrender of the fortress in early 1905 merely added to Russian humiliation.

The years between 1905 and 1914 witnessed renewal and reconstruction, neither of which sufficed to prepare the Tsar’s army and navy for World War I. Far Eastern defeat fueled the fires of the Revolution of 1905, and both services witnessed mutinies within their ranks. Once the dissidents were weeded out, standing army troops were employed liberally until 1907 to suppress popular disorder. By 1910, stability and improved economic conditions permitted General Adjutant Vladimir Alexandrovich Sukhomlinov’s War Ministry to undertake limited reforms in the army’s recruitment, organization, deployment, armament, and supply structure. More could have been done, but the navy siphoned off precious funds for ambitious ship-building programs to restore the second arm’s power and prestige. The overall objective was to prepare Russia for war with the Triple Alliance. Obsession with the threat opposite the western military frontier gradually eliminated earlier dichotomies and subsumed all other strategic priorities.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1914 came too soon for various reform and reconstruction projects to bear full fruit. Again, the Russians suffered from strategic overreach and stretched their military and naval resources too thin. Moreover, military leaders failed to build sound linkages between design and application, between means and objectives, and between troops and their command in- stances. These and other shortcomings, including an inadequate logistics system and the regime’s inability fully to mobilize the home front to support the fighting front, proved disastrous. Thus, the Russians successfully mobilized 3.9 million troops for a short war of military annihilation, but early disasters in East Prussia at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes, along with a stalled offensive in Galicia, inexorably led to a protracted war of attrition and exhaustion. In 1915, when German offensive pressure caused the Russian Supreme Command to shorten its front in Russian Poland, withdrawal turned into a costly rout. One of the few positive notes came in 1916, when the Russian Southwest Front under General Alexei Alexeyevich Brusilov launched perhaps the most successful offensive of the entire war on all its fronts.

Ultimately, a combination of seemingly endless bloodletting, war-weariness, governmental inefficiency, and the regime’s political ineptness facilitated the spread of pacifist and revolutionary sentiment in both the army and navy. By the beginning of 1917, sufficient malaise had set in to render both services incapable either of consistent loyalty or of sustained and effective combat operations. In the end, neither the army nor the navy offered proof against the Tsar’s internal and external enemies.