Ivan the Terrible and the Origins of Russian State Security

Ivan the Terrible and Maliuta Skuratov

Ivan IV ‘the Terrible’, Grand Prince of Moscow in 1533 at the age of only three, who became first ‘Tsar of all the Russias’ in 1547, remains the most mysterious as well as the most terrifying of sixteenth-century European monarchs. Though most biographies and many histories of Russia contain portraits of him, all are imaginary. In striking contrast to the contemporary English Tudor dynasty, no authentic likeness of Ivan survives. The written sources are also more fragmentary and more frequently unreliable than in the case of any other major sixteenth-century ruler, though reports by English merchants and diplomats, which were kept secret at the time, fill some gaps in the Russian records.

The reign of Ivan the Terrible cast a long and brutal shadow over the later history of Russian intelligence and security. Stalin, his greatest twentieth-century admirer, called him a ‘great and wise ruler’ but blamed him for not being terrible enough. Had Ivan ‘knifed through’ five more noble families, Stalin claimed, the authority of the Tsar would have been maintained and Russia spared the ‘Time of Troubles’ which reduced it to chaos less than two decades after Ivan’s death in 1584. Stalin himself made no such mistake in the Great Terror of 1936–8 which killed and imprisoned millions of mostly imaginary traitors. In January 1941, Stalin sent instructions to the great film-maker Sergei Eisenstein to make a film about Ivan the Terrible. By commissioning a film showing that Ivan’s Terror was necessary, Stalin sought to justify his own.

Ivan IV lived in constant fear of conspiracies against him. In December 1564 he left the Kremlin for his fortified country estate at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, about 100 kilometres north-east of Moscow, from which he accused boyars, other nobles and Moscow court officials of ‘treasonable deeds’; even clerics, he claimed, were ‘covering up’ for the traitors. In January 1565 he announced his intention to divide his realm into two: the oprichnina (a term derived from oprich, ‘separate’) under his personal control and the zemshchina (from zemlia, ‘land’) ruled by the boyars in Moscow. Though a complete separation between the two parts of Ivan’s realm was never established and he spent much of his time in the Moscow Kremlin rather than in the country, the royal decree establishing the oprichnina gave the Tsar unlimited power to ‘eradicate treason’ and execute ‘traitors’.

Oprichniks in Novgorod by Mikhail Avilov

Ivan gave responsibility for identifying and disposing of traitors to his newly established imperial guard, the oprichniki, who, bizarrely, he liked to think of as a monastic order with himself as ‘Father Superior’. The oprichniki, though their responsibilities went beyond intelligence collection and analysis, were Russia’s first organized security service. Swathed in black and mounted on black horses, they must have seemed like a vision from the Apocalypse as they rode though Russia. Each had a dog’s head symbolically attached to his saddle (to sniff out and attack treason) and carried a broom (to sweep away traitors). A seventeenth-century silver candlestick preserved in the museum at Alexandrovskaya Sloboda shows Ivan himself on horseback with dog’s head and broom.

The use of dogs’ heads by the oprichniki was entirely new as well as deeply macabre. Though Russians, like Western Europeans, had long been familiar with folk-tales of Hounds of Hell, dog-headed men and dog-headed monsters, no writer or artist had ever imagined dogs’ heads carried on horses. Though the Russians did not practise taxidermy and so had no mounted animals’ heads on the walls of their residences as in Western Europe, a dog’s head, drained of blood, froze in the Russian winter and could have been carried by oprichnik horses when Ivan created the oprichnina in January 1565. But in spring the dogs’ heads must have begun to decompose, thus limiting their use for six months of the year to those oprichniki able to obtain a regular supply.

The dog’s head remains the most gruesome symbol ever devised by a security or intelligence agency (far more so than the stylized skull and crossbones of the Nazi SS). It was also a fitting symbol for the chief oprichnik, Grigory Lukyanovich Skuratov-Belski, better known as Maliuta Skuratov – against strong competition, probably the most loathsome figure in the entire history of Russian intelligence. Skuratov, a nickname inherited by Maliuta from his father, meant ‘worn-out chamois’, a reference to his coarse complexion. ‘Maliuta’ referred to his short stature. Mikhail Bulgakov, the greatest writer of the Stalin era, wrote in his forbidden masterpiece The Master and Margarita:

Neither Gaius Caesar Caligula nor Messalina interested Margarita any longer, nor did any of the kings, dukes, cavaliers, suicides, poisoners, gallowsbirds, procuresses, prison guards and sharpers, executioners, informers, traitors, madmen, sleuths, seducers. All their names became jumbled in her head, the faces stuck together into one huge pancake, and only a single face lodged itself painfully in her memory – the face, framed in a truly fiery beard, of Maliuta Skuratov.

By a curious coincidence, the most homicidal of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs, Nikolai Yezhov, in whose honour the years of the Terror became known as the Yezhovshchina, was as diminutive and almost as unpleasant as Maliuta; he was given the nickname ‘Poison Dwarf’. Though Yezhov was responsible for far more deaths than Skuratov, neither he nor any other of Stalin’s intelligence chiefs rivalled Skuratov’s enthusiasm for the role of executioner-in-chief or showed such sadistic pleasure in mutilating and torturing victims. Stalin’s admiration for Skuratov exceeded that for any of his own intelligence chiefs. In 1940 Yezhov was secretly tried, found guilty of nonsensical charges of treason, and taken to execution, hysterically pleading for his life. He quickly became an unperson, airbrushed out of official photographs. By contrast, Stalin continued to praise Skuratov’s historical record. At a meeting with Eisenstein in 1941 to discuss the making of his film Ivan the Terrible, Stalin declared that ‘Maliuta Skuratov was a great army general and died a hero’s death in the war with Livonia.’ When asked by the actor Nikolai Cherkasov, who played the role of Ivan, whether a scene showing Skuratov in 1569 strangling the Metropolitan of Moscow, Filipp Kolychev (who had publicly condemned Ivan’s murders), could appear in the film, ‘Stalin said that it was necessary to retain this scene as it was historically correct.’ Filipp is now a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. Skuratov was probably the only one of Ivan’s closest associates whom he never suspected of plotting against him.

Ultimate responsibility for Skuratov’s barbarous purges lay with the Tsar himself. Ivan’s way of warfare (he was at war for all but three years of his reign as Tsar) was brutal even by the standards of the day. A German print made in 1561 during the Russian invasion of Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) shows naked women hanging from a tree above the disembowelled bodies of their children while Russian archers use them for target practice. By the heads of the women hang their children’s hearts. Though there is no corroboration for these atrocities in the sparse Russian sources, since we know that Ivan committed equally appalling acts of brutality against his Russian subjects it is unlikely that he spared the Livonians.

As during Stalin’s Terror four centuries later, none of Ivan’s closest associates (save, probably, for Skuratov) could be certain that they would not be suspected of plotting against him. Among the unlikely figures who figured in Ivan’s conspiracy theories was Prince Ivan Petrovich Cheliadnin-Fedorov, who had been Ivan’s childhood tutor and brought him up in his own household, where his wife had been Ivan’s nanny. For the first two years of the oprichnina he had been close to Ivan. In 1568, however, Ivan’s spies told him, probably wrongly, that Cheliadnin-Fedorov was leading a plot to remove him from power.

According to a probably first-hand account by Albert Schlichting, a German interpreter in the Tsar’s court, Ivan summoned Fedorov to the Kremlin, and ordered him to sit on his throne, dressed in royal attire, and hold the royal sceptre. Ivan bowed and knelt before him, saying: ‘Now you have what you sought and strove to obtain – to be Grand Prince of Muscovy and occupy my place.’ But he added: ‘Since I have the power to seat you upon this throne, so I also have power to remove you from it.’ He then stabbed Fedorov several times in the heart with a dagger. Oprichniki added other dagger blows, ‘so that’, according to Schlichting’s gruesome account, ‘his stomach and entrails poured out before the tyrant’s eyes’. With Ivan at their head, the oprichniki then terrorized Cheliadnin-Fedorov’s estates. According to Baron von Standen, a German who served in the oprichnina: ‘The villages were burned with their churches and everything that was in them, icons and church ornaments. Women and girls were stripped naked and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields.’ In 1569, following rumours that Ivan’s cousin Vladimir of Staritsa was planning to seize the throne (probably as baseless as those about Cheliadnin-Federov), he was forced by Skuratov to drink poison while his children were murdered around him.

Ivan’s reign of terror was no more related to real Russian security needs than Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s. It reached its peak in 1570 with the oprichniki massacre of the people of Novgorod, Russia’s third-largest city, suspected by Ivan of collective treason. Though the level of oprichnik violence may have run out of central control, it is clear that it was premeditated and that Ivan took a personal part in directing it. Before entering Novgorod with the oprichniki, he sent one of his commanders with retinue, probably in disguise, to ‘spy and reconnoitre’ the main targets for pillage and execution. Then, according to Standen, after plundering the bishop’s palace:

He took the largest bells and whatever he wanted from the churches . . . Every day he arose and moved to another monastery. He indulged his wantonness and had monks tortured and many of them were killed. There are 300 monasteries inside and outside the city and not one of these was spared. Then the pillage of the city began . . .

The distress and misery continued in the city for six weeks without interruption . . . Every day the Grand Prince [Ivan] could also be found in the torture chamber in person . . . Several thousand daughters of the inhabitants were carried off by the oprichniki.

According to a contemporary account in a German newsletter, on their triumphal return to Moscow after the victory over imaginary treason in Novgorod, the leading oprichnik had on his saddle the freshly amputated head of a huge English dog (probably a bull mastiff). Ivan’s horse carried a silver replica of a dog’s head whose jaws opened and closed in time with the movement of the horse’s hooves.

During the Stalin era no suggestion was allowed that any of the killings in Ivan’s reign of terror were influenced by the paranoid strain in his personality. Though the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror have long since ceased to be a taboo subject for Russian historians, they are underplayed by the official history of today’s Russian foreign-intelligence service, the Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki (SVR), which devotes its first volume to intelligence under the tsars. The history makes no mention of the role (or even the name) of the leading oprichnik, Maliuta Skuratov. It blames Ivan’s brutality in part on his disturbed upbringing in a court riven by intrigue and brutal rivalries. At the age of thirteen, according to the official chronicler of Ivan’s reign, he ordered the brutal murder of Prince Andrei Mikhailovich Shuisky, who he complained had treated him with disrespect, resting his dirty boots on the royal bed. Shuisky was torn to pieces by the Kremlin’s pack of hunting and guard dogs.

The SVR official history acknowledges the historic achievement of Ivan III ‘the Great’ (Ivan IV’s grandfather, who reigned from 1462 to 1505) in ending Russian subjection to the Mongol ‘Golden Horde’, but it gives the main credit for the origins of Russian diplomacy and foreign intelligence to Ivan IV and his counsellor, Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovaty, who in 1549 became the first head of Russian diplomacy, though Russia had as yet no permanent ambassadors stationed abroad. Since there was no clear dividing line between diplomacy and intelligence work, the SVR also reasonably regards Viskovaty as Russia’s first foreign-intelligence chief. His greatest achievement was probably to conclude the Treaty of Mozhaysk with King Frederick II Denmark in 1562, which gave mutual recognition to both countries’ territorial claims in Livonia (modern Estonia and Latvia). The SVR official history concludes that Viskovaty overcame strong initial opposition from the Danish king by ‘what is now called in professional intelligence jargon the acquisition of “agents of influence”. It took money and remarkable strength of persuasion to secretly win over the Danish nobles who were then at the right moment able to influence the King . . .’

Ivan the Terrible’s childhood experience of internecine feuding in the Russian court gave him a natural interest in internal divisions in the foreign courts with which he dealt, such as that of Denmark, on which Viskovaty kept him informed. The SVR official history, however, exaggerates the extent to which Ivan ‘appreciated intelligence that helped to orient himself correctly in foreign policy’, allegedly rewarding even those who provided useless information to encourage them to remain involved in intelligence collection. As the horrors of Ivan’s reign of terror showed, his deeply suspicious nature made it unusually difficult for him to distinguish between real and illusory threats. His later admirer, Joseph Stalin, suffered from the same problem at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Though Viskovaty’s judgement was greatly superior to the Tsar’s, he suffered from two major handicaps in understanding the outside world by comparison with senior officials in major Western states. First, Russia, like Turkey, had no permanent embassies. Its ambassadors were sent abroad for specific assignments and returned after they were complete or were seen to have failed. The Kremlin was thus deprived of the constant flow of information provided by English and some other European ambassadors. Also like Turkey, though in lesser degree, Russia lacked the print culture which had generated an information revolution in the West. Moscow’s first printing house was not founded until 1553, a century later than in Western Europe. Established by Ivan IV and Metropolitan Makarii of Moscow and All Russia, its purpose was to print religious texts. It was deeply unpopular with traditional scribes and is believed to have been burnt down by a mob in 1568. The Kremlin deacon, Ivan Federov, who was chiefly responsible for running the printing house, was forced to flee to Lithuania, though printing resumed soon afterwards. The travel books which were immensely popular in Elizabethan England and help, for example, to account for Shakespeare’s detailed knowledge of Italy, in which he set thirteen of his plays, did not exist in Russia. Open-source knowledge of foreign countries and cultures was extremely limited.

Ivan’s and Viskovaty’s first and closest diplomatic ties in Western Europe were with England. They began not as the result of a Russian policy decision but, as the SVR official history acknowledges, as the unexpected outcome of a failed attempt by the young English merchant adventurer Richard Chancellor, then in his early twenties, to reach China through the Arctic North-East Passage. Chancellor arrived on 24 August 1553 at the mouth of the Northern Dvina river on the White Sea, at the site of the future port of Archangel, which at the time was only a small fishing village. The SVR account emphasizes how effectively Ivan’s ‘notification system’, designed to warn the authorities of the unexpected arrival of foreigners on Russian territory, operated even in this remote, sparsely populated area.

The local governor came aboard Chancellor’s ship, agreed to ‘afford him the benefit of victuals’, and sent a messenger to seek further instructions from the Tsar. When no instructions had been received after three months, Chancellor decided on 25 November to set off himself by horse-drawn sleigh on what he found a ‘very long and most troublesome’ journey to Moscow. Having covered the greater part of the 600-mile journey, he met coming in the opposite direction a messenger from the Kremlin, who had earlier lost his way, bearing an invitation to him from Ivan IV written ‘with all courtesy’. On arrival in Moscow, Chancellor and his men were kept under surveillance for twelve days before Viskovaty informed them that they were to be received by the Tsar. In the royal court, wrote Chancellor later, ‘there sat a very honourable company of courtiers to the number of one hundred, all apparelled in cloth of gold down to their ankles’. The throne room made Chancellor’s men ‘wonder at the Majesty of the Emperor [Tsar]’:

His seat was aloft, in a very royal throne, having on his head a diadem, or crown of gold, apparelled with a robe all of goldsmith’s work and in his hand he held a Sceptre garnished, and beset with precious stones, and besides all . . . there was a majesty in his countenance proportionable with the excellence of his estate . . .

Chancellor and his men were invited to an enormous dinner which gave an unexpected insight into the nature of Ivan’s personal autocracy. In the course of the meal Ivan addressed each of the many nobles and other diners by name: ‘The Russes told our men that the reason thereof . . . was to the end that the emperor might keep the knowledge of his own household, and withal, that such as are under his displeasure might by this means be known.’

Because of difficulty in transliterating his surname into Cyrillic, official Russian documents referred to Chancellor by his first name, ‘Richard’. Following his return to England in 1554, the Muscovy Company was founded in London to trade with Russia. At a time when Russia still had no outlet on the Baltic coast, the new company offered an important trading link with the West and a valuable source of arms and munitions for Ivan’s many wars, as well as of luxury goods. The Muscovy Company (later known as the Russia Company) also made a lucrative trade by importing furs and ship-building supplies. After Chancellor’s second voyage to Russia in 1555, Ivan ordered the construction of an embassy for English diplomats and merchants within the walls of the Kremlin, and gave the Muscovy Company exemption from Russian customs duties. According to the SVR official history, which largely agrees with Western accounts:

Flushed with success, Chancellor returned home [in 1556] with a rich cargo in his ship and the first Russian ambassador [to England] on board, Osip Nepeya. In a stormy night at the Scottish coast, the ship crashed against the rocks. Whilst trying to save the Moscow ambassador, Chancellor was killed along with his son and most of the crew. Nepeya escaped and was ceremoniously received in London, where local merchants arranged a celebration in his honour.

Nepeya returned to Russia in 1557 on the ship of Chancellor’s successor, the experienced sea captain Anthony Jenkinson (‘Anton Iankin’ in Russian documents), who acted as both English ambassador and Moscow representative of the London Muscovy Company. With them, at Nepeya’s request, travelled English craftsmen, doctors, and gold and silver prospectors. Unsurprisingly, after his terrifying voyage to London, Nepeya expressed ‘great joy’ on his safe return to Russia.

The different roles of Nepeya and Jenkinson exemplify the gulf between English knowledge of Ivan IV’s Russia and Russian understanding of Tudor England. Nepeya had come to London on a temporary diplomatic mission to cement the trading relationship begun by Chancellor. He left no Russian embassy or representative behind him in London. Because of Russia’s lack of any direct sources of information in Tudor England, news of the death of Edward VI, the accession of Mary, her marriage to Philip II, Mary’s death and the accession of Elizabeth seem to have been brought to Moscow by Chancellor and Jenkinson. It is highly unlikely that the Tsar and his advisers understood the political and religious complexities of these regime changes. In addition to the problems of translating Tudor diplomatic communications written in Latin, they found them more generally confusing. Ivan later complained to Elizabeth: ‘How many letters we have received in all this time, and all with different seals! That is not the royal custom. And such documents are not trusted in any State. Rulers of States have only one seal.’ Ivan, however, claimed to have believed all these documents and to have done as Elizabeth had asked.

Unlike Nepeya in London, Jenkinson established a permanent English embassy and trade mission in Moscow. He quickly became the most influential foreigner at Ivan’s court. Jenkinson’s warm welcome in the Kremlin in December 1557, when he presented letters to Ivan from Queen Mary and her husband, Philip II, must have owed something to Nepeya’s account of how Chancellor had been drowned saving his life during the voyage to England. A gargantuan dinner followed on Christmas Day, 1557. Jenkinson already knew from Chancellor’s account of his first visit to the Kremlin that the dinner would enable him to judge the extent of the Tsar’s favour. Ivan made clear to the whole court that Jenkinson was an exceptionally honoured guest. Seated by himself at a table of his own next to the Tsar’s, ‘the emperor sent me divers bowls of wine and mead, and many dishes of meat from his own hand’. Ivan showed his favour once again at the Twelfth Night dinner in Ivan’s Kremlin palace, where, wrote Jenkinson, ‘I sat alone as I did before directly before the emperor, and had my meat, bread and drink sent me from the emperor.’ Despite the warmth of the royal welcome, Jenkinson had no illusions about Ivan’s tyrannical regime: ‘He keepeth his people in great subjection; all matters pass his judgment be they never so small.’

Though Chancellor’s and Jenkinson’s accounts of their pioneering missions to the court of Ivan the Terrible are nowadays recognized as important historical sources, at the time they were treated by both the Muscovy Company and the Tudor court as intelligence reports to be kept secret. None of Chancellor’s reflections on his time in Russia were published until 1589, five years after Ivan’s death. Ivan and Viskovaty, among others, would have been outraged by Chancellor’s frank comments on Ivan’s tyrannical rule, on the Tsar’s court (‘much surpassed and excelled by the beauty and elegancy of the houses of the kings of England’) and on some beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church (‘foolish and childish dotages of . . . ignorant barbarians’). Chancellor provided military as well as political intelligence, notably a report entitled ‘Of the discipline of war amongst the Russes’, which would also have caused offence in the Kremlin. He made, however, the wildly exaggerated claim, probably derived from boasting in the Kremlin, that, in time of war, the Tsar ‘never armeth a less number against the enemy than three hundred thousand soldiers’. The Muscovy Company regarded even Chancellor’s less controversial reports on the main Russian cities as commercial intelligence which was too valuable to potential rivals to be made public.

Ivan’s personal favour allowed Jenkinson unlimited freedom to travel through Russia and cross its borders. After a perilous expedition to Central Asia, he returned to the Kremlin in September 1559 to a hero’s welcome, bringing with him twenty-five Russians whom he had rescued from slavery, as well as six Tatar envoys. No British representative since has ever won such favour in the Kremlin. After spending a year back in London, Jenkinson returned to Russia for the third time in 1561 and, in the course of his own travels further east, became the first English envoy to be used as a secret emissary by a Russian Tsar. In 1562 Ivan personally entrusted him with a hazardous mission to Abdullah-Khan, ruler of Shirvan in the eastern Caucasus, whence he returned a year later with a large consignment of silk and jewels as well as what Ivan regarded as favourable letters from both Abdullah-Khan and the ruler of Georgia. Jenkinson was rewarded with further concessions for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan continued to take Jenkinson into his confidence to a remarkable degree, unaware that in 1566 he wrote to William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s Secretary of State, denouncing the oprichniki campaign of terror against nobles suspected of plotting against the Tsar. In the summer of 1567 Ivan began telling Jenkinson that, because of (probably largely imaginary) plots against him, he might have to seek asylum in England. Having taken leave of Ivan on 22 September 1567, Jenkinson returned to England by sea with an official letter and a secret message from the Tsar, both of which he delivered personally to Elizabeth in November. Remarkably, Ivan had thus selected for what he regarded as an important secret assignment a trusted English adventurer in preference to a Russian envoy. In the messages Ivan stressed his desire for a Russian–English alliance, to be negotiated via Jenkinson, and made the extraordinary proposal (unique in the history of English foreign relations) that each monarch should have the right to take refuge in the other’s country: ‘The Emperor [Tsar] earnestly requireth that there may be a perpetual friendship and kindred betwixt the Queen’s Majesty and him.’ Ivan may well have wished to conceal his request for political asylum from Viskovaty and other Kremlin officials.

Ivan had expected Jenkinson to return to Russia with Elizabeth’s reply. Jenkinson, however, was replaced by a new envoy: the diplomat Sir Thomas Randolph, former Master of Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford. Randolph was the brother-in-law of Elizabeth’s intelligence chief and Foreign Secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, who probably had a hand in his appointment. Walsingham later used his influence on three occasions to help Randolph become MP for Maidstone. No record survives of what Randolph discovered after his arrival on the White Sea coast in July 1568 about the oprichniki reign of terror, but he clearly feared for his own personal safety, writing to William Cecil even before he reached Moscow that he was anxious to conclude his mission and return to England as quickly as possible. George Turberville, Randolph’s secretary and a former Fellow of New College, Oxford, privately denounced the Russians in poems sent to his friends as ‘a people passing rude, to vices vile inclin’d’. Randolph’s reception on arriving at Moscow late in September added to his anxieties. There was no one to welcome him; even members of the English embassy were not ‘suffered to meet us’. As he later acknowledged, the contrast between his own initial reception and that of Jenkinson ‘bred suspicion in me’. Though supplied with victuals, he was disturbed by the hostile manner of the Russian appointed to ensure that he did not leave the embassy and received no visitors: ‘We had no small cause to doubt that some evil had been intended unto us.’

After seventeen weeks under house arrest, Randolph was finally invited to an audience with the Tsar on 20 February 1569. Ivan failed to invite him to dinner, as he had done Chancellor and Jenkinson, but freed him from house arrest: ‘I dine not this day openly, for great affairs I have; but I will send thee my dinner, and give leave to thee and thine to go at liberty, and augment our allowance to thee in token of our love and favour to our sister the Queen of England.’ A few days later Ivan summoned Randolph for over three hours of secret talks in the early hours of the morning. The Tsar then left Moscow for Alexandrovskaya Sloboda, believed by Randolph to be ‘the house of his solace’. On his return to the Kremlin six weeks later, Ivan summoned Randolph for further talks, during which Randolph claimed to have secured all the ‘large privileges’ he had sought for the Muscovy Company.

Ivan, however, was seriously dissatisfied. He had hoped to secure an alliance with England, directed mainly against Poland. Randolph stuck to his instructions to ‘pass these matters with silence’, leading the Tsar to complain in a letter to Elizabeth that her envoy’s ‘talk was of boorishness and affairs of merchants’, and failed to address ‘our princely affairs’. To accompany Randolph on his return voyage to England in October 1569, Ivan sent his own ambassador, Alexander Grigoryevich Sovin, with a draft treaty of alliance to which he was instructed to obtain Elizabeth’s signature. Sovin was told that no changes could be accepted in the draft, predictably failed in his mission, and returned to Russia in the following year.

Ivan’s diplomacy and intelligence collection suffered a major self-inflicted blow on 25 July 1570 with the execution of Viskovaty, who fell victim to another of the Tsar’s conspiracy theories, bizarrely accused of plotting with Lithuania and urging the Ottoman Turks and the Khan of Crimea to invade Russia. In reality, as contemporary records show, so far from plotting with Viskovaty, Lithuanian envoys found him ‘not well disposed’ and ‘intractable’ in negotiations with them. Having refused to beg forgiveness for treason he had not committed, Viskovaty was strung up in a market square and sliced to death. Skuratov began the execution by cutting off his nose, another oprichnik removed his ears and a third hacked off his genitals. Ivan complained that Viskovaty died too quickly. Over a hundred other gruesome executions followed of probably innocent victims. Viskovaty’s fate prefigured that of Stalin’s three most powerful intelligence chiefs, all of whom were also executed for imaginary acts of treason, which, absurdly, included spying for Britain.

The bizarre nature of Ivan’s relations with England in the aftermath of Viskovaty’s execution reflected the Tsar’s loss of his diplomatic expertise. On 24 October 1570, outraged by Elizabeth I’s refusal to sign the draft alliance delivered by Sovin, Ivan personally penned a letter to the Queen which, so far as is known, was the rudest she ever received. According to the translation prepared for Elizabeth, he said that his previous willingness to correspond with her on ‘weighty affairs’ of state had been based on the mistaken belief that ‘you had been ruler over your land, and had sought honour to yourself and profit to your Country . . . But now we perceive that there be other men that do rule, and not men but boors and merchants, the which seek not the wealth and honour of our majesties, but they seek their own profit of merchandise . . . And you flourish in your maidenlike estate like a maid’, he added insultingly, before announcing the cancellation of the rights previously granted to the Muscovy Company: ‘The privilege that we gave to your Merchants be from this day of none effect.’

Despite the rudeness of the letter, Elizabeth and her advisers clearly believed that the trading privileges of the Muscovy Company were too important to abandon. It was therefore decided to ignore Ivan’s insults and send the Tsar’s favourite Englishman, Anthony Jenkinson, on a new mission to Moscow as English ambassador as well as Company representative to try to restore relations. His mission began badly. After landing on the Arctic coast in July 1571, he was stranded for over six months as the result of travel restrictions imposed after an outbreak of plague. His first report to William Cecil (newly ennobled as Baron Burghley) gave further details of atrocities committed during the oprichniki reign of terror. Jenkinson eventually had an audience with Ivan in the Kremlin on 23 March 1572. His instructions were to persuade Ivan to agree to reinstate the privileges of the Muscovy Company by hinting at the possibility of an Anglo-Russian political alliance but to make no binding commitments. Such was the Tsar’s confidence in Jenkinson that, at their next meeting on 13 May, Ivan agreed to restore all the Company’s privileges and complimented ‘Anthony’ on his role in restoring Russian–English relations. Jenkinson arrived back in England on 23 July after what the Dictionary of National Biography terms ‘a brilliant culmination to a career which won him a permanent place in the history of Anglo-Russian relations’.

By the time Ivan began negotiations with Jenkinson, his main anger was directed not against Elizabeth I but against his own oprichniki, whom he blamed for failing to defend Moscow against a devastating Tatar raid in 1571, which (as reported by Jenkinson to Cecil) laid waste much of the city outside the Kremlin. In 1572 Ivan formally abolished the oprichniki. Though Jenkinson did not return to Russia after 1572, Ivan continued to make occasional secret use of other English diplomats. In 1580 he entrusted an English diplomat in Moscow, Jerome Horsey (later knighted), with what he regarded as a secret mission to England to obtain supplies of ‘powder, saltpetre, lead and brimstone’.50 Horsey doubtless reported his secret mission to his patron, Sir Francis Walsingham, and later dedicated to him a book on his travels in Russia.† Horsey’s seventeen years in Moscow epitomize the frequent sixteenth-century overlap between diplomacy and espionage. What is remarkable in Horsey’s case is that, because of Russia’s lack of both diplomats and spies in England, his services (like those of Jenkinson before him) were used by the Tsar, as well as, more frequently, by Walsingham. Horsey was so trusted by Ivan that he was invited into his Treasury and, in 1581, given a secret letter, hidden in a flask, to take to Queen Elizabeth.

During the final years of his reign, Ivan continued to suffer from uncontrollable fits of rage. During one of them in 1581, he accidentally killed his son and heir. Ilya Repin’s famous painting, which shows the Tsar grieving over the bloodstained body of his son Ivan, which was completed in 1885, four years after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, so disturbed his son Alexander III that he had it temporarily removed from Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

The SVR official history plausibly argues that, after the death of his son, in the final years before his own death, in 1584, Ivan began to ‘repent’ that he had ordered so many executions. From 1583 all monasteries started regular ‘Remembrances of the Disgraced’. The execution Ivan most regretted was almost certainly that of Viskovaty, whose expertise had never been replaced. Ivan personally sent to the Holy Trinity Monastery 223 rubles for the ‘remembrance of the soul of Viskovaty’ as well as another twenty-three rubles to pay for candles. No other intelligence chief has ever been remembered in this way by a ruler who ordered his execution.

Ivan IV was succeeded by his devout but simple-minded younger son, Tsar Fedor I (a ‘silly prince’, in the opinion of Sir Jerome Horsey). Real power, however, lay with a faction-ridden regency council in which Boris Godunov (best known nowadays as the anti-hero of Mussorgsky’s popular nineteenth-century opera) eventually won a prolonged power struggle. Horsey, who, as under Ivan IV, was occasionally used by Godunov for secret missions, reported that at one point during the power struggle, also like Ivan, Godunov told him he might seek refuge in England. He found Godunov ‘of comely person, well favoured, affable . . . not learned but of sudden apprehension, and a natural good orator’. But Godunov was also superstitious (‘affected much to necromancy’) and ‘revengeful’. He had a sinister past both as an oprichnik from the age of about twenty and as the son-in-law of the most bloodthirsty of all the oprichniki, Maliuta Skuratov. To rise in the court of Ivan the Terrible, he must have shown enthusiastic support for the brutal execution of imaginary traitors in Novgorod and Moscow. Probably largely at the expense of his victims, Godunov built up enormous wealth. The historian Catherine Merridale describes him as the nearest sixteenth-century ‘equivalent of a twenty-first-century oligarch’.

Unlike Ivan IV, however, Godunov tried – successfully – to avoid foreign wars. He deserves much of the credit for the twenty-year period of peace which followed Ivan’s death. During the regency Godunov also showed no liking for the public execution of traitors. Instead he proceeded behind the scenes, built up a large network of informers and disposed secretly of some of his main rivals. While ambassador in Moscow from 1588 to 1589 on a mission to settle disputes involving the Russia Company, the English writer and diplomat Giles Fletcher, a former Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, felt under almost continuous hostile surveillance. As he complained to Burghley, ‘My whole entertainment from my first arrival till towards the very end was such as if they had devised means of very purpose to show their utter disliking both of the trade of the Merchants, and of the whole English nation.’ Though he was eventually able to negotiate an agreement, according to the well-known writer Thomas Fuller when he returned home in the summer of 1589 ‘he heartily expressed his thankfulness to God for his safe return from so great a danger; for the Poets cannot fancy Ulysses more glad to be come out of the Den of Polyphemus, than he was to be rid out of the power of such a barbarious Prince’.

In 1591 Fletcher tried to publish a book based on his experiences, entitled Of the Russe Commonwealth, or, The manner of government by the Russe emperor . . . with the manners, and fashions of the people of that country. The best and most detailed account by any Elizabethan traveller to Russia, it made clear Fletcher’s loathing for the Russian political system: ‘The state and form of their government is plain tyrannical.’ The worst of the tyrants had been Ivan the Terrible:

To show his sovereignty over the lives of his subjects, the late emperor Ivan [IV] Vasilevich in his walks or progresses, if he had misliked the face or person of any man whom he met by the way, or that looked upon him, would command his head to be struck off, which was promptly done, and the head cast before him.

The governors of the Russia Company no doubt believed, as they had done after Richard Chancellor produced an account of his mission a generation earlier, that publication of Fletcher’s book would reveal valuable commercial intelligence to their competitors. But their main fear was that, if the Godunov regime discovered what Fletcher had written about their ‘tyrannical’ rule, ‘the revenge thereof will light on their people and goods remaining in Moscow, and utterly overthrow the trade forever’. Burghley clearly agreed and the book was suppressed. Its contents were still highly sensitive two and a half centuries later. In 1848 Tsar Nicholas I ordered the confiscation of the first Russian translation of Of the Russe Commonwealth and severe punishment of the officials of the Imperial Moscow Society of Russian History and Antiquities who had dared to publish it in their Proceedings. No other British intelligence report on Russia has remained so controversial for so long.

On the death of Fedor I in 1598, Boris Godunov became Tsar. Though most of the details of his surveillance system will probably never be known, his network of spies and informers increased. Servants were encouraged to inform on their masters. Even slaves were used as informants. Boris’s uncle, Semen Nikitich Godunov, his chief inquisitor and an enthusiastic torturer, reported to him regularly on the evidence of treason he claimed to have uncovered during his brutal interrogations. But Godunov’s surveillance system and secret intrigues failed to secure the succession. On his death in April 1605 he was succeeded by his son, the well-educated sixteen-year-old Fedor Borisovich Godunov, who was crowned Tsar Fedor II. In May the army mutinied and many of its commanders sided with a pretender to the throne, the so-called first ‘False Dmitrii’. In June Fedor II and his mother (Skuratov’s daughter) were strangled in the Kremlin by Dmitrii’s agents and their bodies put on public display. The hated Semen Godunov was thrown into a prison cell and left to starve to death. There followed years of chaotic civil war and Russia’s ‘Time of Troubles’.

 

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Cold War Warships: Krivak Class Frigate

In 1970, as construction continued on the final units of the Kashin class, the Soviet Union completed the first of its Krivak-class guided missile frigates. These were the largest of the frigates produced in this age. The hull of one of these vessels measures 405 feet, 3 inches by 46 feet, 3 inches by 15 feet, 1 inch and displaces 3,300 tons. Designed for ASW duty, the armament consists in part of one SS-N-14 ASW box launcher mounted in the bow that holds four missiles. Entering service in 1969, this missile measures 25 feet long and has a range of 30 nautical miles. It can also be used against surface ships. In addition, the ship also possesses two RBU- 6000 ASW rocket launchers and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes. A Krivak-class warship also carries two SA-N-4 SAM launchers with 20 reloads each and four 3-inch guns mounted in dual-piece gun houses located in the stern. A subsequent version of the type, Krivak II, mounts two 4-inch guns in single-mount gun houses in place of the original gun armament. The top speed is 32 knots. Crew complement consists of 200 officers and men. The Soviet Union completed 33 Krivak-class warships between 1970 and 1982.

The production program of the Soviet Union did not approach that of the United States. This was due to both the struggling Soviet economy by the 1980s and the coming to power in March 1985 of Mikhail Gorbachev. The new Soviet leader greatly curtailed the construction of new warships and began to lessen the extent of seaborne operations for existing units to ease some of the burden on the Soviet economy. As a result, Soviet production was a far cry from that of the first decades of the Cold War. The Soviet Union constructed nine more Krivak-class frigates to counter the production of the United States and its NATO allies.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, financial difficulties have rendered the former Soviet Navy a shadow of its former self, as there is not a great deal of money to provide for new construction. Production has not ended, and in 1993 the Russians commissioned one frigate of an improved Krivak design. This vessel, however, represents the only new unit in service (as of 2004) and certainly cannot make up for the losses of the fleet through financial cutbacks. Of the enormous number of destroyers and frigates produced by the Soviet Union, only 1 of the 18-ship Kashin class remains, and that unit is not fully operational. In addition, 15 of the 42 Krivak-class frigates are in service and 22 of the 43-unit Grisha-class frigates are operational. The frigate fleet also includes the 11 vessels of the Parchim class. However, the frigates are largely coastal defense vessels ill-suited to bluewater operations. In 2004, Russia operated 61 frigates of oceangoing capability and 33 smaller frigates.

Units: This class comprised 42 units.

Type and significance: This design was a large frigate that was unusual for the Soviet Union, which constructed mostly small frigates for coastal defense.

Dates of construction: All units were laid down and completed between 1970 and 1991.

Hull dimensions: 405’3″ x 46’3″ x 15’1″

Displacement: 3,300 tons

Armor: None

Armament: One SS-N-14 SAM launcher located on the bow, two SAN-4 SAM launchers, four 3″ guns, two RBU-6000 ASW launchers, eight 21″ torpedo tubes, and 20 mines. Some of these ships, known as Krivak II, have 4″ guns in place of the 3″ weapons. In 2004, most of the surviving units carried eight SS-N-25 SSM in two quadruple-cell launchers, two SA-N-4 SAM systems, four 3″ guns, eight 21″ torpedo tubes, and two RBU-6000 ASW launchers.

Machinery: Diesel and gas plant capable of 48,600 shaft horsepower.

Speed: 32 knots

Complement: 200

Notes: On 8 November 1975, a portion of the crew of one of these vessels, Storozhevoy, staged a mutiny in an effort to seize the ship and defect from the Soviet Union. Their endeavor ultimately failed. Today, 15 of these units remain in service. Of the others, three were transferred to Ukraine in 1997, and many of the others have been scrapped.

This very large class of anti-submarine escorts was in continuous production from 1968 until 1990. Some 39 were built in three distinct subgroups and the original Krivak I was the world’s first major class of warship to be powered entirely by gas turbines, the uptakes venting through a single squat funnel set well aft The Krivak I disposed the missile armament mostly forward, quadruple torpedo tubes amidships and two twin 3in (76mm) gun mountings right aft This arrangement was repeated in the Krivak II, but the gun armament was altered to two single 3.9in (100mm) guns.

Neither of these versions had any provision for operating a helicopter, but the Krivak III, of which eight were completed between 1983 and 1993, incorporated some substantial changes including the provision of a hangar and flightdeck on the stem. A single Kamov Ka-27 Helix is carried. This alteration necessitated the deletion of the after SA-N-4 launcher and also the two gun mountings. Instead, a single 3.9in (100mm) automatic was mounted on the foredeck in place of the quadruple launcher for the SS-N-14 ASW missiles, which were no longer carried. Interestingly, the Krivak Ills were not originally built for the Soviet Navy but for the USSR Border Guard, which was run by the KGB. However, all are now in regular naval service with the exception of the last to be completed, which was ceded to the Ukraine after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

In 1997 India ordered six frigates based on the Krivak III hull and machinery, but armament and equipment installation is yet to be decided and may well differ from that of the Russian ships. The first ship of this order is being built at St Petersburg and is due for completion in 2002.

A total of 20 Krivak Is were completed between 1970 and 1982, and these were followed by 11 Krivak lis, which commissioned between 1975 and 1982. Many of these two groups have been retired and three ships were transferred to the Ukraine Navy in 1997, although none appear to be currently operational.

Battleship Potemkin

By 1905 the Imperial Russian Navy was a relatively potent force, possessing a powerful battle fleet and with auxiliary squadrons disposed in the farthest dominions of the Tsar. In February 1904 the Japanese attacked the Russians in the Liaotung Peninsula where, in ports leased from the Chinese, they over-wintered their Pacific Fleet. This the Japanese swiftly defeated, and gained the ascendancy, besieging Port Arthur and compelling the Russian High Command to dispatch Admiral Rozhdestvensky’s Baltic Fleet half-way round the world to recover the initiative. Unfortunately Rozhdestvensky was annihilated off the island of Tsu Shima by Admiral Togo in May, and the resulting national humiliation further inflamed an already simmering social unrest in Russia itself.

The defeat of Rozhdestvensky’s fleet was attributed to inefficiency inherent in the privileged system over which the Tsar presided. Because of the war Russia’s finances were in a mess, and hundreds of thousands of lives had been squandered. The civil disturbances occurring throughout the country attracted a severe backlash from the representatives of autocracy, and encouraged those in Russia who sought an overthrow of the traditional and outmoded system of government, any opposition to which was pitilessly crushed. Significantly, the ranks of the navy included a large number of political activists mostly belonging to the Social Democratic Party. A substantial proportion of these were in ships belonging to the Black Sea Fleet, which had taken no part in the Russo-Japanese War and whose morale was already low in consequence of the monotony of their duties and the long periods they lay inactive at their base at Sebastopol. At the end of June the news of Tsu Shima cast a further gloom over this squadron, which was then ordered to sea for gunnery exercises.

The first ship to leave, ahead of the others though escorted by the torpedo boat N267, was the Kniaz Potemkin Tavritchesky, better known to history as the `Battleship Potemkin’. Kapitan II Ranga Evgeny Golikov headed from Sebastopol for Tendra Bay, close to the Romanian border and not far from Odessa, where he anchored his ship. On Tuesday 27 June Golikov was enjoying his lunch when he received a report from his executive officer, Kapitan III Ranga Ippolit Giliarovsky, that the men were in a mutinous mood. The political activists had been seeking a pretext to foment trouble, and it had come to hand in the form of stinking, maggot-infested meat which the men refused to eat. This had been taken on board shortly before the battleship sailed in circumstances which bred a swift-travelling rumour that the contractors were corrupt and the captain and officers had profited from the swindle.

Golikov cleared the lower deck and, having learned that the meat was certified fit for the consumption of the sailors and stokers by Surgeon Smirnov, addressed the crew. Smirnov apparently agreed that the meat had attracted the eggs of some flies, he told them but there were only on the surface and after proper cooking the meat was edible. Golikov concluded by recalling his ship’s company to their duty to the Tsar, and then dismissed them. All might have passed off peaceably, for the majority of the Potemkin’s crew were long-service men who if not docile were certainly not radicals, had not Giliarovsky recalled the muster. Golikov meanwhile had retired to his cabin, unaware that his younger second-in-command had decided to take a harsher line with the mutineers.

Giliarovsky now paraded the ship’s marines under arms, and it is alleged that he ordered a tarpaulin to be spread on the sacred planking of the quarterdeck. Neither the purpose of the tarpaulin nor indeed its actual presence is clear; the horrors of this insurrection were much embellished by the later effects of Sergei Eisenstein’s film, purporting to be documentary in intent but in fact perverse and propagandist. Whether the tarpaulin was there or not, the presence of the marines suggested to the returning seamen that bloodshed might ensue; certainly coercion seemed to be intended. Seeing only Giliarovsky and the armed marines, with no sign of their captain, the men drew the conclusion that some among their number were to be taught a lesson in the prescribed Tsarist manner.

Among them was Afanasy Matushenko, a revolutionary who had been working on a plot to suborn the entire squadron when it arrived at the anchorage. The present situation was clearly too good to waste, and Matushenko called out to the marines not to fire on their shipmates. Others, thought to have been members of Matushenko’s revolutionary cell, tried to disarm the gunners. As they surged forward, Giliarovsky allegedly compounded his high-handed stupidity by firing at one of them, Gunner Grigory Vakulenchuk, who fell mortally wounded. There followed a confused struggle in which a midshipman beside Giliarovsky was also mortally wounded, and an attempt by the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Tonn, to mediate and avert the frightful carnage that seemed about to ensue resulted in his death. With the men’s blood-lust provoked, all sense of reason vanished; revolt against generations of acquiescence, fawning and victimization spread through the Potemkin like fire. As other officers appeared they were shot at; Some who attempted to escape by jumping overboard where exposed to opportunist rifle fire. A handful was picked up by the N267 but most were massacred. Captain Golikov was apprehended and executed; Smirnov was caught in his cabin trying to kill himself. After being brutalized he was killed and thrown overboard. Lieutenant Alexeyev, the navigating officer, was found attempting to reach one of the magazines. Pleading that he was only obeying Golikov’s last orders, he begged for quarter and threw in his lot with the mutineers. He was granted his life on condition that he handle the Potemkin according to the instructions he would receive.

As Kapitan III Ranga Baron von Jurgensburg attempted to steam the N267 out of the Bay and out of range, his vessel received a shot from the Potemkin’s secondary armament. Intimidated, he brought his torpedo boat back alongside the battleship where he, his own officers and those he had rescued were secured in custody aboard the Potemkin.

The vast majority of the Potemkin’s crew had taken no part in the mutiny, though many were mute and astonished witnesses. As the situation gained momentum they stood stupefied by Matushenko’s oratory. From atop the capstan so recently vacated by Golikov, the revolutionary harangued them: they were heroes; they had lit the torch of revolution and were the first to throw off the chains of slavery. Soon they would carry the whole squadron with them, and then join their comrades ashore. It was heady and inspiriting stuff.

Matushenko was now in command, with Alexeyev ready to navigate the ship towards Odessa, a few miles along the coast, and Engineering Lieutenant Kovalenko, a Marxist sympathizer, keen to provide the motive power. At Odessa it was planned to make contact with revolutionary elements which were fomenting daily confrontations between strikers and the Tsarist forces. In addition to the police, the latter included Cossacks under General Kokhanov, the local military commander.

The arrival of the Kniaz Potemkin Tavritchesky off Odessa that evening flying the red flag encouraged the forces of reform and revolution. A student leader named Constantin Feldmann came aboard at the head of a group of ardent socialists. Learning of the death of Gunner Vakulenchuck in the night and of the desire of his shipmates to give him a suitable funeral, Feldman suggested that his body be landed as a symbolic act about which the revolution might coalesce. Most of the Potemkin’s bewildered crew merely wanted Vakulenchuk properly buried. As happened in most mutinies, once the heat of the insurrectionary moment had passed, there was a sense of rudderless impotence. If not exactly a political reaction, it was enough to persuade a disappointed Feldmann and his colleagues not to expect much from the Potemkin. The battleship’s presence offshore was stimulating enough, however, and when Vakulenchuk’s body was landed next day at the foot of the Richelieu steps it attracted sufficient popular attention to provoke Kokhanov into ordering the Cossacks to clear the crowds. Eisenstein is believed to have grossly exaggerated what followed; nevertheless few authorities entirely write off the event as anything other than `a massacre’. (In the so-called `Boston massacre’ of March 1770, be it recalled, British infantry actually killed only three and wounded two people.) Dismounting from their ponies, the Cossacks descended the wide steps firing over the heads of the assembly and then, as the populace appeared defiant, into the body of the crowd. Kokhanov claimed the dead to number 500, while the total number killed in Odessa over several days is put ten times higher.

Throughout the 28th Matushenko received demands from the shore that the revolutionaries aboard should assist the townspeople by opening fire with their guns, but he demurred. All would be well when the rest of the squadron arrived, he assured them though what exactly he meant by this he did not say. In the meantime the Potemkin had been taking coal aboard; that done, her crew had been subjected to further haranguing by Feldmann. As time passed, none of the rest of the Black Sea squadron arrived – only the solitary auxiliary Vekhia, bearing Golikov’s widow and heir. In a hiatus that day, Vakulenchuk’s body was buried by a dozen unarmed seamen, who were fired at by the Cossacks as they made their way back to the Potemkin’s boats; three of them were killed.

Matushenko’s confidence in his fellows aboard the other ships of the squadron was misplaced. At Sebastopol, in the temporary absence of the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Chukhnin, Vitse Admiral Krieger had learned of the defection of the Potemkin and ascertained the loyalty of the rest of the squadron. Ordering one ship to remain at her moorings, Kontr Admiral Vishnevetsky was to take three battleships, one cruiser and four torpedo boats to Odessa to overwhelm the mutineers, Krieger prepared to follow in his flagship, the Rostislav. Off Odessa the loss of some of the burial party focused the attention of the Potemkin’s crew on the shore. Feldmann’s blandishments were one thing, the death of their own comrades quite another. Informed that a meeting of the Tsarist military was to take place in the theatre at 19.30 that evening, the Potemkin’s secondary armament fired two blank warning shots and two live rounds. The latter landed wide and killed only more citizens; it was bathetic. Word had also arrived that the Black Sea Fleet was on its way.

Next morning Matushenko and his committee, along with Feldmann, saw the smoke of the approaching squadron. The hands were piped to their stations and the anchor was weighed. Alexeyev was ordered to head towards Vishnevetsky and the Potemkin’s guns were manned. Whether the Russian admiral doubted the temper of his men or feared the potency of Matushenko’s gunners is unclear. What is certain is that he turned away and headed for Tendra Bay `to await reinforcements’, presumably Admiral Krieger and his flagship. He earned himself a severe reprimand, but he met Krieger, who had brought another man-of-war with him in addition to the Rostislav. Forming two divisions, the Black Sea squadron next headed back towards Odessa. Here its approaching smoke signalled the end of a performance by the ship’s band on the quarterdeck of the Potemkin which, having seen off Vishnevetsky, had re-anchored off Odessa.

Once again the mutineers weighed anchor, manned their guns and steamed towards the advancing columns. Receiving a radioed demand to surrender, Matushenko told Alexeyev to maintain course and speed, sweeping aside the cruiser Kazarsky which was acting as advanced picket. What happened next was worthy of Eisenstein’s drama; the men on most of the opposing ships poured out of their gun turrets and abandoned their battle stations to cheer the Potemkin as she passed between them. Krieger, Vishnevetsky and the other captains and officers could only wring their hands in frustration. When the Potemkin had passed through the lines, Alexeyev turned her about and overtook the squadron, heading back towards Odessa. As Krieger ordered the squadron to turn away, the battleship Georgi Pobjedonosets (George the Conqueror) followed in Potemkin’s wake, anchoring in company off Odessa a little later.

Matushenko and Feldmann went aboard her only to find that the mutiny aboard the second battleship was incomplete: parts of the ship were in loyalist hands and the petty officers were resisting the demands of the revolutionaries. Feldmann talked himself hoarse convincing the waverers, and by the following dawn the revolutionary `fleet’ appeared to consist of the two battleships, the N267, the storeship Vekhia and a collier from which the Potemkin had bunkered.

This was an illusion. The following morning the Georgi Pobjedonosets was in fact uncommitted, and further attempts to suborn her failed. In the end her anchor was weighed and she headed for the inner harbour of Odessa, only to ground on a shoal, and afterwards to beg forgiveness from the Tsar. By now General Kokhanov had called up artillery and the heights above the town were invested with heavy guns. Taking the city was impossible, and with every hour that passed the men aboard the Potemkin became increasingly disillusioned. They knew what the regime would do to them if they submitted. For those in any doubt there was the example of the fate of the protesters of Bloody Sunday, who in the previous January had gone peacefully to present a petition to the Tsar at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. They had been shot down for their pains, and 130 of their number killed. While unwilling to prosecute the revolution so fervently called for by Matushenko and Feldmann, the majority knew that surrender meant death, or exile in Siberia. Not even rotten meat could persuade them to martyr themselves; instead they would head for the Romanian port of Constanza.

Hearing of Krieger’s humiliation on his return to Sebastopol, Admiral Chukhnin complained that `the sea is full of rebels’ and sanctioned Lieutenant Yanovitch’s wish to lead an attack by volunteer officers in the destroyer Stremitelny to avenge the deaths of their colleagues. Filled with zealous young bloods, the Stremitelny left after dark on 1 July but arrived off Odessa to find that the Potemkin and the N267 had slipped away some hours earlier.

On their arrival off Constanza the mutineers aboard the Potemkin appealed to the Romanian authorities for water, fuel and stores, but King Carol’s government repudiated any notion of offering them sanctuary. Disappointed, the Potemkin and the N267 put to sea again, avoiding the approaching Stremitelny and the battleships Sinop and Tri Sviatitelia, whose officers had persuaded their crews to remain loyal and do their duty.

Enclosed in a land-locked sea as she was, the Potemkin’s fate was now sealed, but Matushenko and his men were not yet ready to give up. Short of water they headed out to sea, bypassing Sebastopol and their hunters. In company with the little torpedo boat N267 they headed for Feodosia, on the far side of the Crimean peninsula from the Russian naval base. On board the daily routines went on, supervised by the petty officers, while Feldmann dreamed up revised plans for taking the revolution to the Chechens of Caucasia. When the battleship arrived off Feodosia, the ship’s ruling committee was welcomed, but only fresh water was offered them. Matushenko responded by demanding coal and food as well, or the battleship’s guns would blow the small town off the face of the globe. As the townsfolk fled to the hills Matushenko and Feldmann took a party of men to seize a coal hulk, and were fired upon by an infantry foot patrol. Three seamen were killed as the rest leapt back into the Potemkin’s picket boat and headed for their ship. Rifle-fire followed and another man was hit and fell into the water with a cry; courageously Feldmann dived after him. The picket boat steamed on, and a few minutes later a boat was pulled out from the shore to capture Feldmann and the wounded sailor.

For Matushenko and the others hell-bent on revolution the game was all but up, for now the Stremitelny arrived: failure, exile and death confronted them. Their vision of social justice was extinguished, and the Black Sea was `watered by our tears’. Only a breakdown in the Stremitelny’s steam-turbines prevented the affair ending then and there, but once again an element of farce prevailed. The Potemkin and her consort again escaped, weighing anchor and steaming away, to arrive off Constanza again on 8 July. Here the committee decided to scuttle the ship, and those of her crew who wished to do so were allowed to land, and gave themselves up to the Romanians. About five hundred were suffered to stay, and the Romanian government eventually rejected Russian attempts at extradition, on the grounds that the seamen’s act had been political, not criminal.

Some of these men found themselves caught up in a Romanian peasant revolt in 1906 and were subsequently deported to Russia, where the authorities promptly sent them into exile; some returned to Russia under an amnesty, only to find themselves tried, condemned and exiled like the others; a few emigrated to Britain and Argentina. But not all the Potemkin’s crew had followed Matushenko: about three hundred surrendered to the Russians, who almost within hours finally caught up with the Potemkin. Courts-martial condemned seven of those remaining to death; nineteen others received life sentences in Siberia, a further thirty-five long penal sentences. Incredibly, Alexeyev and the handful of surviving officers, pleading that they had been obliged to do as they were bid to save their lives, were exonerated. Feldmann later escaped from prison to Austria, and is today remembered in Odessa, where after the successful Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 the Nikolaevsy Boulevard was renamed in his honour.

As for Matushenko, he evaded the Ochrana’s agents in Romania and headed for New York where he worked for some time, associating with Russian emigre radicals and caught up in revolutionary fervour. In 1907 he foolishly returned to Russia using false papers, only to be recognized, tried and hanged at Sebastopol. As for the ship whose name is better remembered than those of any of the human participants, except perhaps the `martyred’ Vakulenchuk in Russia, the tragi-farcical nature of the mutiny aboard the Kniaz Potemkin Tavritchevsky was not at an end with her scuttling. Even this was botched. By 11 July the water had been pumped out of her, she had been re-floated, and the Imperial Russian naval ensign of St Andrew’s cross was re-hoisted. Taken in tow by the Tri Sviatitelia (the Holy Trinity) she was taken back to Sebastopol, where in October she was renamed Pantelymon – meaning a peasant of the most humble stock – and remained inactive throughout the First World War. Then, in 1919, as the tide of revolution closed on the Crimea, Tsarist officers scuttled her a second time, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Bolsheviks. Her final and lasting resurrection was in 1925, when to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of what Soviet historians came to call the First Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution Sergei Eisenstein made his celebrated film of the incident, dramatizing the events in five sequences that have, like his storming of the Winter Palace, come to be regarded as reality itself.

In reality there was no stirring climax, only the end common to most mutinies – failure. Such is the power of the moving visual image, however, that the mutiny aboard the `Battleship Potemkin’ is as well-established a myth as that aboard the Bounty. Perhaps the most interesting fact about the mutiny aboard the Kniaz Potemkin Tavritchesky is that it established itself as a key event solely because it coincided with the civil unrest in Odessa, circumstantially linking mutiny with social change. What had its genesis in a specific, traditional ship-board complaint about bad food has become a defining moment in the great move for social change and the advancement of the less well-off. The first mutinies, those against Magellan and Drake, were about command, fomented among those vying for high office. Later, exemplified by the masterly revolt at Spithead, they concerned genuine grievances, only to be followed by a degenerate series of cathartic expressions of discontent, envy and malice on the path of minorities challenging an inadequate command structure backed by law and usage, neither of which proved of the slightest use when mutiny actually occurred. With the possible exception – which if anything proves the general rule – of some evidence of political agitation at the Nore, the mutiny aboard the Potemkin marks another shift in gear; it is the first mutiny to become indissolubly linked with a greater social movement and a more general aspiration for real change, as opposed to a redress of complaints.

Had not the ship anchored off Odessa, and had not the indefatigable Feldmann and his associates clambered on board full of revolutionary zeal, it is unlikely that the Potemkin mutiny would have acquired this iconic status. As was so often the case in earlier mutinies, it is clear that Matushenko and his colleagues had little idea what to do once they had seized the ship, committed murder and placed themselves outside the law. Any ray of hope that might have been kindled by the ambiguous conduct of the Black Sea squadron under Kontr Admiral Vishnevetsky soon evaporated. The indifference or confusion of the majority of the Potemkin’s crew as to what was going on suggests that in due course the affair would have fizzled out, as it did on the Georgi Pobjedonosets.

Putin’s Military, Humbled and Subsequent Transformation


‘. . . progress of the Empress Catherine to the Crimea, the façades of villages set up at spaced intervals along the way. The façades made of wood and painted canvas were placed a quarter of a league from the route to make the triumphant sovereign believe that the desert had been peopled under her reign. Russian minds are still presented by similar preoccupations. Everyone hides the bad and presents the good to the eyes of the master.’

Marquis de Custine, Journey for Our Time

The date was 12 August 2000. At 11.28 Central European Time seismographs at Western monitoring posts registered a major explosion in the Barents Sea, off the Murmansk coast, and a mere 135 seconds later another one, ten times stronger. It took the Russian naval staff more than two days to admit that the Kursk, Russia’s most modern submarine – Oscar II class in Nato code, put into service in 1994 and armed with twenty-two nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, the entire structure surrounded by a titanium-plus-rubber skin – had been lost at sea, together with all 118 of her crew.

It took days and weeks to uncover the true story of what had happened. Clumsiness, secretive habits and outright lies surrounded the catastrophe. First the admirals wanted to hide the terrible truth from the Kremlin, then from the families and general public, and finally from the world at large. The reasons given for the Kursk disaster varied, from running upon a Second World War German mine to collision with a Nato spy submarine thus turning it into a public relations breakdown and a serious test for the President Vladimir Putin. None of this contained any truth, but even a moderate and well-informed Duma member like Alexei Arbatov from Yabloko, member of the defence committee, thundered that Russia had to expect ‘growing tensions with the West’.

President Putin at first refused any help from other countries to lift the wreckage, which was of course full of sensitive military information but also implied human tragedy and political mismanagement. After a few days of humiliating ineffectiveness and failure, including official lies about the sailors still being alive and Russian rescue teams working their way close to them, a Norwegian offer was finally accepted and a salvage company from Norway brought in, but the divers were not allowed to go anywhere near where the Russian naval command knew the sensitive information was hidden. Putin did not at first find it necessary to interrupt his holiday at the Black Sea. After six days of handling the crisis from a distance, however, he realized that this indifference would not be forgiven by the man in the street, the sailors’ widows and the men in uniform, so he took action to avoid the impression that the political authorities were heartless and out of touch, that the naval command was only interested in saving its skin, and that, Soviet system or no, human lives did not count. It is to Putin’s credit that he finally decided to invite the Norwegians in, regardless of the admirals’ interest in letting the Kursk – and the truth – rest on the bottom of the sea. Of course, Putin also wanted Russian naval engineers to find out what had really sent the pride of the Russian navy to its early grave. Finally, he took the decision to allot substantial payments to the families of the dead men to help them rebuild their lives. It was late in the day when he preserved at least the appearance of competence and caring.

Beyond the world of conspiracy theories the Kursk prompted speculation that an ultra-modern torpedo with liquid fuel had been mishandled on loading, that the captain realized danger was looming and did not deem the submarine seaworthy, and that the few sailors who had survived the initial blast never had a chance to escape from the grave 120 metres below the stormy surface of the Barents Sea.

The loss of the monster submarine, twenty metres high, had many implications. It revealed not only the crew’s poor training, inadequate for handling such high-tech wizardry as the Kursk and its dangerous cargo. It also revealed dramatic failure on the part of the Kremlin to handle the sense of frustration, doubt and open unrest set in motion by the disaster. Above all, it forced the General Staff as well as the Ministry of Defence into some serious rethinking as to the future of nuclear deterrence. Any effective modernization of the navy, which would also involve refurbishing the satellite systems guiding the nuclear-tipped missiles, would by far exceed the modest USD 16 billion defence budget of the time. So the Kursk disaster not only tested the government, the admirals and the President, it put a question mark over Russia’s future nuclear strategy.

Moreover, ever since Peter the Great naval ambition had been Russia’s attempt to overcome the limitations of a landlocked power and develop a naval capability second to none. The Kursk would have been one of the vessels accompanying the aircraft carrier that Putin had intended to send into the Mediterranean in order to demonstrate a naval presence approaching that of the mighty US Sixth Fleet. It was the navy that seemed to promise the Russians a chance to keep up with Nato forces and the very ambitious naval programme of the Chinese. That dream had disappeared off the coast of Murmansk for a long time to come. The refusal to admit defeat in the high-tech race for naval supremacy was the reason for both the initial clumsiness of the response to the crisis and the long-term inability to come up with a coherent strategy for the future of the navy and, by implication, the fine-tuning of the nuclear balance.

The strategic implications of the disaster were far-ranging. The political shockwaves could be felt even behind the red-brick walls of the Kremlin, and crisis management was visibly inadequate and poor. The Kursk catastrophe left Russians as well as the rest of the world asking, once again: who is Putin? It took the shine off the carefully crafted appearance of strong and decisive leadership. A naval officer in Murmansk complained openly: ‘I thought I had a president. Now it turns out he is merely another state official.’ Meanwhile, by the time Putin was up for re-election in 2004, the miserable death of the 118 sailors had been all but forgotten.


Transformation

In 2006-7 the armed forces of Russia, according to figures provided by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, comprised altogether 1,027,000 men and women (army 395,000, navy 142,000, air force 160,000, strategic deterrent force 80,000, command and support 250,000), plus paramilitary forces of 480,000. In theory, there is a reserve of twenty million, of whom only one out of ten has served during the last five years. Reserve status is mandatory until the age of fifty. The defence budget is minute compared with that of the US, and even taking into account real purchasing power it is small. Counted as a percentage of GDP, however, the two countries allow themselves about the same outlay for the military. Sergei Ivanov, while still defence minister under Putin, stated at a meeting with visitors from abroad that Russia would not repeat the fatal mistake of the Soviet Union: to arm itself to death.

In the army, ethnic Russians prevail by far. Only the Tatars at 4 per cent and Ukrainians at 3 per cent make a noticeable contribution; all other nationalities, like Bashkirs, Belarusians, and Moldovans, count for 1 per cent or less.

The deterrent forces, known to the West not only through strategic spying but even more so through various arms control agreements and a remarkable amount of cooperation in securing nuclear warheads against accidental use, are the one element of the military establishment that still allows Russia a claim to world power. There are, after the Kursk, fifteen nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed strategic submarines, some of them probably more dangerous to their own crew than to any enemy, and not seaworthy. Six of the Delta III class are stationed along the Pacific coast, five Delta IV are attached to the Northern Fleet. The land-based systems comprise three rocket armies operating silo and mobile missile-launchers. There are 506 intercontinental ballistic missiles and the long range aviation command called the 37th Air Army. Some aircraft, Nato code Blackjack and Bear, were put back into active service by Putin in the summer of 2007 to patrol the open seas and fly the flag. It was a gesture to remind the world that Russia still has a claim to world power, at least in military symbolism. There are about twenty-two anti-ballistic-missile radars, placed for 360-degree control of airspace and covering approaches from the west and south-west, north-east and south-east, and partially from the south. The space forces number altogether 40,000 personnel in various formations and units withdrawn from strategic missile and air defence forces to detect missile attacks on Russia and its allies, to implement ballistic missile defence and to conduct military and dual-use spacecraft launch and control.

The navy’s overall serviceability is generally seen as low. There are four major forces: the Northern fleet with air arm and naval infantry, the Pacific Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet and the Baltic Fleet plus the Caspian Sea Flotilla.

Deployment abroad is very limited. What is controversial for the West is the 3000 soldiers in Georgia’s disputed areas South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the so-called 14th Army with 1400 men (365 accepted as peacekeepers) in Moldova. Those troops are the ones Russia wants to keep where they are while the West is demanding their withdrawal. This has recently translated into Russia suspending the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) Treaty, which offered confidence and security-building measures to both sides. There are still 3500 Russian soldiers in Armenia, some anti-air units in Belarus, a small naval detachment in Syria, 500 soldiers in Kyrgyzstan, some more in Tajikistan. In Ukraine, where the Russian Fleet has leased berthing and port facilities on the Black Sea in Sebastopol, the Russians have deployed one regiment of marines and a small flotilla, a naval headquarters. The rest are small units under the blue helmets of the UN or, as in Lebanon, one batallion of engineers, placed there by bilateral agreement, parallel to the UNIFIL mission.

Except in the nuclear dimension, Russia is no longer the military giant of 5 million men at arms that the Soviet Union was even in the days when it had passed its apogee. On 10 May 2006 Putin, in his annual address to the Federal Assembly, spoke about the state of the military. He maintained that in spite of many economic weaknesses, the army would still be able to fulfil its mission and guarantee the defence and security of the country. Looking back at 1999-2000 – the time of Nato’s Kosovo war and Russia’s Chechen war – he said that the country had not been able to field a minimum of 65,000 well-trained and combat-ready soldiers and send them to fight the rebels in Chechnya. At that time, according to the President, Russia had altogether no more than 55,000 soldiers ready to go, and they were dispersed all over Russia. Putin sounded like Nato’s Secretary General at the time, Lord George Robertson, when he complained that out of 1.4 million Russian men and women in uniform no more than a few were ready for active combat.

Back in business

In 2006, in his state-of-the-army speech Putin went on to present a much improved picture. Modernized and high-tech weaponry had been introduced into the forces, but chiefly in the strategic dimension and patently useless for deployment against Chechen rebels hiding in the northern slopes of the Caucasus. Putin praised the introduction of two intercontinental missile complexes, Topol-M and Bulawa-30, and the building of two new nuclear submarines – the first since 1990. As far as conventional arms were concerned, Putin had little to offer. He praised improved training, a better fighting spirit among soldiers and officers, and the high morale of the troops. But not much hardware would be coming their way though Putin asked for high-class performance: ‘We must have forces capable of taking up the fight in global, regional and, if necessary, several local conflicts, and at the same time.’ In this, Putin echoed the Pentagon in the mid-1990s, which had boasted that two and a half wars could be fought simultaneously, and be won. Time and again, the US is the mirror image that sets the standards for the Russians.

In particular, Putin singled out six objectives for the next decade, some hard, some soft, some strictly military, some much broader – and altogether probably overambitious:

  • The Russian forces should study and understand the planning and development of competing forces abroad and find superior responses. One wonders to what extent the Chinese armed forces on their way to Asian dominance are silently included in this threat assessment.
  • Two-thirds of the armed forces should be transformed into an all-volunteer army, and military conscription reduced to twelve months – revealing a strategy based much more on high-tech weaponry than on the traditional Russian mass army.
  • Adressing a problem unsolved since the withdrawal of the Red Army from much of Central Europe and Central Asia, housing for officers and soldiers should be of a much higher standard.
  • Half of military expenditure should be invested in better training, more effective weaponry and technical development.
  • Discipline among the troops should be enhanced, but no recipe was offered for how to transform the disciplinary code and rough customs throughout the army into behaviour consonant with a modern high-tech establishment.
  • The prestige of those serving in the army should be restored. Somebody defending the motherland, Putin put it, should have a high social and financial status. But how to achieve this lofty goal, except by fiat, the soldiers were not told. One wonders what the reaction may have been among the rank and file, most probably the traditional Russian philosophy of ‘The God is high, and the tsar is far away’.

The Kremlin is acutely aware of the shortcomings, and Putin’s announcements in 2006 could also be read as an overall, and not too favourable, evaluation of what the five-year plan announced in the year 2000 had achieved – or failed to achieve. That plan, originally handed over to Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, formerly of the KGB and not a military man, had been a roadmap for reform. But where did the road lead? First of all, and inevitably, into serious confrontation with the generals as no fewer than 300 general officers’ posts would be scrapped, traditional arms programmes discontinued and the giant military establishment of the Cold War cut down.

In due course, Ivanov’s first step had been to reduce the overall size of the army to its present numbers of just over 1.1 million personnel. He then proceeded to change budget allocations and, by implication, the composition of the army. Before, 70 per cent of the budget had gone towards manpower and maintenance, and only 30 per cent into research and development. Official figures for 2006 indicate a much improved ratio of 60:40. This should continue until in 2010 a 50:50 ratio will be achieved.

In addition, between 2010 and 2015 the armed forces will no longer be administered through military districts but organized according to territorial integration on land, at sea and in the air. The Far Eastern Command will include the Far East, Siberia, the Volga-Urals district and the Pacific Fleet; the Central Asian Command will comprise the Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea Fleet; and the West European Command will include the military districts of St Petersburg and Moscow as well as the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet.

LEONTII LEONTIEVICH BENNIGSEN

(Levin August Theophile) (b. 10 February 1745, Brunswick – d. 3 October 1826, Hannover) was born to a Hanoverian noble family in the Brunswick, where his father was a colonel in the guards. His family also owned estates at Banteln in Hanover. Due to his father’s connections at the Hanoverian court, Bennigsen began his service at the age of ten as a page. Four years later he was commissioned as ensign in the guard and, in 1763, as a captain, he participated in the final campaign of the Seven Years War. A year later, after the death of his father and his own marriage to the Baroness Steimberg, he retired to his estates at Banteln, disillusioned with military service and widely regarded as an unpromising officer. Bennigsen apparently squandered his inheritance and, after his wife’s untimely death, he briefly reentered Hanoverian service before deciding to seek a career in Russia. He was accepted into the Russian service with a rank of premier major and assigned to the Vyatka Musketeer Regiment in 1773.

During the Russo-Turkish War, Bennigsen served in the Narva Musketeer Regiment and was noticed by Rumyantsev and Saltykov. In January 1779, he became a lieutenant colonel in the Kiev Light Cavalry Regiment. In 1787, he was appointed commander of the Izumsk Light Cavalry Regiment and fought at Ochakov and Bender, receiving promotion to brigadier in 1788. In 1792-1794, Bennigsen took part in the operations against the Polish insurgents, was promoted to major general on 9 July 1794 and awarded the Order of St. George (3rd class) on 26 September 1794. In 1795, he commanded a brigade at Vasilkov. After returning to St. Petersburg, he formed a close association with Valerian Zubov, the brother of the Empress’ last favorite. In 1796, he took part in the Persian Campaign along the Caspian Sea and fought at Derbent. After Paul’s accession to the throne, Bennigsen was named chef of the Rostov Dragoons Regiment (14 December 1796) and was promoted to lieutenant general (25 February 1798). However, he was dismissed from service on 11 October 1798 during Paul’s military purge of high-ranking officers. He participated in the conspiracy to overthrow Paul and according to the memoirs of the participants, was chosen to lead the coup d’état because of his reputation for audacity and courage. Despite his role in the conspiracy, Bennigsen’s career did not suffer under Alexander. He was appointed the Military Governor of Vilna and inspector of the Lithuanian Inspection on 23 July 1801. Bennigsen was then promoted to general of cavalry on 23 June 1802 with seniority dating from 4 December 1799.

During the 1805 Campaign, Bennigsen commanded a reserve corps of some 48,000 men arranged between Taurrogen and Grodno. In 1806, he was directed to take up quarters in Silesia and assist the Prussians against the French. After the Prussian defeat, Bennigsen withdrew to Poland, where he fought the French army at Golymin and Pultusk. He claimed these battles as decisive Russian victories, received the Order of St. George (2nd class) on 8 January 1807 and was appointed commander-in-chief of the Russian army on 13 January 1807. He launched an offensive in January 1807 and fought the French army at Eylau (received the Order of St. Andrew the First Called), Guttstadt, Heilsberg and Friedland, where his poor tactics resulted in the Russian defeats with heavy losses. Displeased with his actions, Emperor Alexander discharged Bennigsen on 9 July 1807. Bennigsen remained in exile until 1812, when he was ordered to join the Imperial Retinue (8 May 1812). He was considered for the post of commander-in-chief in August 1812, but was rejected in favor of Mikhail Kutuzov. Instead, he was appointed the chief of staff of the united Russian armies and bickered with Kutuzov for command throughout the campaign. After Borodino, he advised against abandoning Moscow to the French. He distinguished himself at Tarutino, where he was wounded in the leg. However, in late 1812, Bennigsen was finally dismissed because of his ongoing disagreements with Kutuzov.

Bennigsen returned to the army in early 1813 and received command of the Army of Poland. He later fought at Lutzen, Bautzen and Leipzig and besieged Torgau and Magdeburg; for his actions, he was conferred the title of count of the Russian Empire on 10 January 1814. He then commanded the Russian troops besieging Hamburg and was decorated with the Order of St. George (1st class) on 3 August 1814 for his conduct. He commanded the 2nd Army in 1815-1817 but was criticized for poor administration and forced to retire on 15 May 1818. He spent next eight years at Hanover. He was awarded almost all the highest Russian awards, including the Orders of St. Andrew with diamonds, of St. Vladimir (1st class), of St. Alexander of Neva, of St. Anna (1st class), of St. George (1st class) and a golden sword with diamonds for courage. In addition, he had six foreign decorations, the Prussian Order of Black Eagle, the Hanoverian Order of Guelf, the Dutch Order of the Elephant, the French Legion of Honor, the Swedish Order of the Sword and the Austrian Order of Maria Theresa.

Bennigsen is an over rated general. Brave officer, he showed no tactical or strategic abilities in 1806-1807 and 1813 Campaigns. Despite his claims to victories, the battles of Pultusk and Eylau were draws at best. At Heilsberg, he lost consciousness and other senior Russian commanders conducted the battle. At Friedland, he chose disadvantageous positions that led to heavy Russian casualties. Bennigsen was very ambitious officer and able courtier, who easily navigated in the court politics. His three-volume Mémoires du général Bennigsen, published in Paris in 1907-1908, contain fascinating details on the Russian operations in 1806-1813 but often embellish facts.

Battle of Tarutino on 6 (18) October 1812

Germany, 1847 by Peter von Hess, 1792-1871

The painting is a part of the series devoted to the great battles of the Patriotic War of 1812. On 6 (18) October 1812 in Tarutino the Russian Army made the first attack since the beginning of the war which resulted in the defeat of Murat’s unit. The next day Napoleon ordered his soldiers to leave Moscow. Here the critical stage of the battle after the attack of ten Cossack Regiments under the command of Vasily Orlov-Denisov is depicted. Cossacks rapidly attacked elements of the 2nd Cavalry Corps of the French. “…At 9 a.m., when we were going to look for provisions, lots of Cossacks attacked us. The 4th Division of Cuirassiers and the whole unit of Seguin were defeated – all fled in disorder.” That was how a French cuirassier captain recalled these events in his letter. The Cossacks returned with rich booty and captives after the defeat of the enemy bivouacs. Several soldiers caught by surprise were still in their coats which they used as wrapping for the night and in caps that they usually wore out of ranks. General Levin (Leonty) Bennigsen on a bay horse is depicted on the left. His command staff includes Quartermaster-General Karl Toll and a company officer of the Semenovsky Life-Guards Regiment wearing the Order of St. Vladimir of the Fourth Class with a bow and the Prussian Pour le Merite. General Vasily Orlov-Denisov, the commander of a Cossack unit, approaches them riding a grey horse. He is wearing a red jacket of the Cossack Life-Guards Regiment, which he commanded. Several Cossacks escort French cavalry captives; among them there are carabineers in white collars, gilt cuirasses and helmets with red horse hair plumes, cuirassiers in blue jackets, silver cuirasses and horsetail helmets. One of the Cossacks raises the Standard of the 1st Cuirassier Regiment high in the air – the first French colour that was captured by the Russians as trophy during the Patriotic War. Imperial Cossacks (who differed from other Cossack Regiments which wore blue uniform by wearing a red one) are passing by and greeting their commander and the trophies. In the right corner of the picture the artist portrays a Don Cossack Artillery team entering their position. On the left there are elements of the unit commanded by General Egor Meller-Zakomelsky. Imperial Hussars in red hussar pelisses are riding with their sabers naked, ready for battle. A French cuirassier, who helps a wounded officer, is asking for aid. In the middle, behind the Hussars the Imperial Uhlans, Dragoons and horse artillery are placed. Egor Meller-Zakomelsky wearing a Hussar uniform and a hat with a white plume is shown next to Bennigsen. He gives orders to an officer of the Chuguevsk Uhlan Regiment. In the background of the picture one can see Cossacks and French Cavalry still fighting as well as other French elements approaching. Murat “… was throwing himself on all bivouacs, gathering all horsemen on his way and when he managed to gather a squadron of those, immediately started an attack… During his entire military career Murat, who was nicknamed “the child of victory” (L’enfant gate de la Victoire), had never been wounded before that day, when he shed his blood for the first time. He got hit by a [Don Cossack] pike in his thigh”. At a distance a church of the Teterinki village can be seen, where the French artillery is bombarding the attacking Russian infantry.

Hell’s Battlefield: Heilsberg.

 

The Russian Way of Warfare

The BM-30 Smerch, a Russian heavy multiple rocket launcher.

Russian electronic warfare equipment.

Russian MiG-35 multi-role combat jet.

Russian Armata T-14 tank.

By employing well known methods of warfare in innovative ways and with the help of new technologies, Russia’s strategy in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine took most of the West by surprise. The Russians refer to these methods collectively as New Generation Warfare (NGW). Almost Immediately, Western analysts started looking for definitions, mostly within the West’s own theoretical framework and ignoring the vast Russian theoretical debate about new ways of conducting warfare.

Initially, Western analysts referred to it as Fourth Generation Warfare, referring to William Lind’s idea of the state losing the monopoly of violence and fighting non-state adversaries. Another term, this time made popular by Mark Galeotti but coined by Putin’s close advisor Vladislav Surkov’s (under the pseudonym of Nathan Dubovitsky), was ‘Non-Linear Warfare.’ It appeared for the first time in an article describing the Fifth World War, in which all will fight against all.

The main rationale is that since traditional geo-political paradigms no longer hold, the Kremlin gambles with the idea that old alliances like the European Union and NATO are less valuable then the economic interests it has with Western companies. Besides, many Western countries welcome obscure financial flows from the post-Soviet space, as part of their own mode of economic regulation.

Therefore, the Kremlin bets that these interconnections mean that Russia can get away with aggression. More recently, Oscar Jonsson and Robert Seely used the term, ‘Russian Full-Spectrum Conflict’ to refer to New Generation Warfare. Today, the most widely accepted term for Russian New Generation Warfare is Hybrid Warfare. NATO itself has adopted it. The seminal work on Hybrid Warfare is Frank Hoffman’s, “Hybrid Warfare and Challenges.” He developed the idea that the main challenge results from state and non-state actors employing technologies and strategies that are more appropriate for their own field, in a multi-mode confrontation.

Hoffman’s concept is appealing, but like all approaches discussed above, Hybrid Warfare still presupposes the application of kinetic force in some way. Although Russia might resort in using military power, conceptually Russian New Generation Warfare does not require it. Besides, the Russian military uses the term Hybrid Warfare to refer to the strategy of Color Revolutions allegedly employed by the West in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Russian New Generation Warfare is not something new, or even an entirely novel creation of Russian military thinkers. Rather, it reflects how Russian military thinkers understand the evolution of military art, especially in the West. Although it is not correct to affirm that the Western way of conducting warfare determined how Russian military thinkers developed their own understanding on the subject, its influence is undeniable. Thus, to analyze the way Russia does warfare, it is necessary to think within the Russian framework.

The Russian strategy has five elements. The first and most important one is Asymmetric Warfare. It forms the main base defining the Russian way of conducting warfare. The second is the strategy of Low Intensity Conflict, as borrowed from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which developed it in the 1980s. The third is Russia’s understanding and theoretical development of Network-Centric Warfare. The fourth element is General Vladimir Slipchenko’s Sixth Generation Warfare, which essentially reflects his understanding of the strategic implications of Operation Desert Storm and the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia. The final element is the strategic concept of Reflexive Control, which has a vital role in shaping how military and non-military means are combined. These means can be combined in different proportions accordingly to the strategic characteristics of each operation.

For example, in Ukraine the Russians used mostly Low Intensity Conflict while in Syria they have been resorting mostly to Sixth Generation Warfare.

The operational application of Russian New Generation Warfare follows eight phases. They are to be employed in a sequential way, although they are not rigid or mutually exclusive. The phases are:

  1. Non-military asymmetric warfare, encompassing information, moral, psychological, ideological, diplomatic, and economic measures as part of a plan to establish a favorable political, economic, and military setup.
  2. Special operations, to mislead political and military leaders by coordinated measures carried out through diplomatic channels, media, and top government and military agencies leaking false data, orders, directives, and instructions.
  3. Intimidation, deception, and bribery of government officials and military officers, with the objective of making them abandon their service duties.
  4. Issuing destabilizing propaganda to increase discontent among the population, boosted by the arrival of Russian bands of militants who engage in subversion.
  5. Establishing no-fly zones over the country to be attacked, imposition of blockades, and extensive use of private military companies in close cooperation with armed opposition units.
  6. Conducting military action, immediately preceded by large- scale reconnaissance and subversive missions. This involves all types of military activity, including special operations forces, space, radio, radio engineering, electronic, diplomatic, intelligence, and industrial espionage.
  7. Combination of a targeted information operation, electronic warfare operation, aerospace operation, and continuous air force harassment, combined with the use of high-precision weapons launched from various platforms (long-range artillery, and weapons based on new physical principles, including microwaves, radiation, and non-lethal biological weapons).
  8. Crushing remaining points of resistance and destroying surviving enemy units. This is accomplished using special operations forces to spot which enemy units have survived; artillery and missile units to fire barrages at the remaining enemy units; airborne units to surround points of resistance; and regular infantry to conduct mop-up operations.

The first four phases are basically non- kinetic, using strategies of Low Intensity Conflict as understood by the Russians. The fifth phase is when military action really starts, by setting the theater for a kinetic operation. It is important to stress the role of private military companies (PMCs). The United States has extensively used them in Iraq and Afghanistan from operating mess halls to providing security and, sometimes, performing military duties. For the Russians, PMCs must be understood as mercenaries in the worst sense of the word. The objective is to have an active military force that cannot be linked to the Russian Armed Forces. These mercenaries can act as if they were locals, part of the enemy’s Armed Forces, police, or whatever necessary. They will often engage in sabotage, blackmailing, subversive activities, terrorism, kidnapping, or any other activity that is not considered regular warfare. Russia can and will deny any connection with its mercenaries, publicly accusing them of being part of the enemy’s forces. The last three phases are a combination of Network Centric Warfare, Sixth Generation Warfare, and Reflexive Control.

Throughout all of these phases, because Russia considers itself weaker in comparison to the United States and NATO, its actions are going to be asymmetric. This a symmetry will occur not only in terms of operations and capabilities but also in terms of what is and what is not acceptable in warfare. Russia is ready to go much farther than what might be acceptable to the West. At this moment, NATO’s and Europe’s greatest challenge is to establish a feasible strategy to cope with this, without jeopardizing Western values.

The Role of Pre-Conflict Conflict and the Importance of the Syrian Crucible

Russian private military contractors in Syria, March 2017

The vibrant writing and discussion that forms the corpus of ideas in Russian military thought is exemplary of a timeless tradition among defense establishments, ever debating the changing character of war, operational concepts, and capabilities that will define the battlefield. Naturally the debates never end, but eventually the time comes for military reform, modernization, and to choose a direction for the development of the armed forces based on a congealed view of the operating environment and the future tendencies in warfare. For Russia’s General staff this period began with the military reforms of 2008- 2012, and a state armament program launched in 2011 that was subsequently renewed in 2018. Since 2014, the Russian military has also had ample opportunity to bloody itself in multiple conflicts, putting the new force through a trial by fire, and integrating those experiences into the next cycle of concept development for armed forces.

The evolution of current Russian thinking on warfare can be confidently traced to the debates in the 1980s on how best to reform Soviet armed forces, and the subsequent discussions on the nature of Sixth Generation warfare in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Russian General Staff’s understanding may begin with a classical reading of the correlation forces, but is based more on the correlation of forms and methods in warfare. As such, the salient features of Russian military thought include: a greater appreciation that modern precision guided weapons and standoff conventional capabilities can create effects throughout the depth of the enemy’s lines, that there are no longer operational pauses in conflict, and non-military or indirect methods are at times much more effective than direct action. The absence of spatial distance, made prominent by advancements in global domains such as cyber, space, or information, all of which are commonly integrated in Russian writing on information superiority, has led to a battlefield shaped by capabilities that yield persistent effects.

Russian conceptualization of the modern battlefield sees a leveling off of the tactical, operational and strategic, with the armed forces now living more firmly in the operational-strategic or operational-tactical space. Based on a strong appreciation of the U.S. way of warfare, which is principally aerospace blitzkrieg enabled by an information driven military machine, Russia sees the initial period of war as being decisive to the conflict. Modern weapons, persistent effects, and a host of capabilities that are employed during a threatened period prior to the onset of overt hostilities have raised fundamental questions about the viability of territorial defense and the pacing of conflict. In the Russian view, massed conventional strikes with precision guided weapons can impose damage equivalent to that previously assigned to tactical nuclear weapons. As a consequence, the emphasis has shifted from 20th century industrial warfare to the threatened period of war and the initial period of conflict. Large armored formations, or operational maneuver groups of the 1980s, are now consigned to the much later and less relevant phases of war.

Russian thinking is informed by the desire to acquire the advanced capabilities fielded by Western militaries, as successful organizations often seek to replicate each other’s advancements, but to use them for different purposes, adopting said technology or approaches to counter and defend against the perceived Western way of warfare. Hence Russian armed forces are investing heavily in precision guided munitions, electronic warfare, new generations of long range standoff weapons, unmanned systems, and robotics designed to integrate into Russia’s advantages in the area of ground-based fires. Beyond making the current force much more lethal and capable against current generation counterparts, the goal is to successfully engage in confrontation via non-military means during crisis, establishing information superiority over the adversary, and blunt or retaliate against a massed aerospace attack in the initial period of war. Understanding that Russia is not an expeditionary maritime or aerospace power, it does not need these capabilities for global power projection, but instead for defense of the homeland, to impose the Kremlin’s will on neighbors, and to project power into adjacent regions just beyond Russia’s near abroad.

Several offense and defense centered concepts have emerged to answer the challenges defined by this conception of the threat environment, integrating newly available capabilities after considerable investment in the armed forces. Russian armed forces are organized around a series of ‘strategic operations’, many of them overlapping. These are designed to attack the adversary as a system, targeting the opponent’s ability and will to sustain a fight, with emphasis on logistical, information, and critical civilian infrastructure.

A second approach develops the tactical-operational space, allowing Russia’s ability to conduct war through the adversary’s operational depth by linking reconnaissance complexes with long range fires. This is designed to leverage Russia’s firepower and compensate for the military’s historic blindness – that is, its inability to target enemy forces in real time beyond the tactical ranges of a battlefield. Russia’s goal is to make much greater use of that 100km-500km tactical-operational space, which will allow it to successfully conduct warfare across domains, and substantially bolster its conventional deterrence against would-be attackers, regardless of their technological or numerical superiority.

Finally, the country is headlong into developing the capability and capacity to conduct long range fires that can target the full depth of adversary lines, at operational-strategic distances (500km-2500km), investing in the number of available fires. Such strikes will be integrated with offensive non-kinetic capabilities targeting enemy infrastructure, based around the desire to challenge the adversary’s will, create operational pauses during conflict for negotiation, and destroy key infrastructure that the other side would need to sustain a campaign. This approach is flexible, aimed at both denial and punishment. It is an attempt to coerce through cost imposition while remaining scalable to achieve warfighting aims. The scalability remains aspirational, as Russia still has a long way to go in acquiring conventional standoff weapons in large quantities.

Defensive concepts seek to solve the Russian nation’s historic vulnerability and penetration by opponents’ modern offensive systems, against which defense is both technically and economically difficult to mount. Russia is integrating civilian and military infrastructure under a concept in which everyone fights, creating new decision-making mechanisms like the National Defense Control Centre, and bringing civilian leadership into military simulations. This is in effect the ability to conduct total mobilization, particularly effective in bolstering a country’s coercive credibility in a crisis, allowing them to signal the readiness to absorb casualties and engage in total war. Meanwhile, the job of aerospace forces is to blunt aerospace attacks and impose high costs with integrated air defenses against technologically superior air powers like the United States. Air defense, missile defense, and electronic warfare come together to reduce the effectiveness of Western weapons, absorb those fires, and protect critical infrastructure in the Russian homeland.

A phased concept of strategic deterrence, increasingly prominent since 2009, is intended to make use of imposed operational pauses to effect escalation management, or deterrence in conflict. Integrating instruments of national power, Moscow seeks to prevent hostilities via anticipatory operations in a time of crisis, and attack key enemy nodes during the initial period of war. A pulsed attack on critical enemy infrastructure, for example, could impose ‘gut checks’ on an opponent’s desire to further continue fighting, assuming the asymmetry of interests at stake favors Moscow (and in the Kremlin’s conception it always does). If escalation management fails, the final step is to demonstrate the readiness and determination to use nuclear weapons, and if necessary, employ them. Nuclear escalation when defending is quite credible, as it presumes greater resolve, based off of interests at stake, and distinct force advantages favoring the Russian side. In this respect Russian nuclear concepts differ little from NATO’s Flexible Response of the 1960s and the Schlesinger Doctrine of limited nuclear options of the 1970s. However, for Russia such approaches are inherently much more credible, as Russia’s deterrence is central versus extended, and the decision-making mechanisms involved will be unitary as opposed to in consultation with allies or an alliance command.

However, military thought and operational concepts rarely survive actual combat like nothing else. Whatever senior officers m ay write or say, all militaries have a tendency to want the same things: high-end capabilities, larger force structures, expensive platforms, and numerous general officer billets. These are what one might call institutional proclivities borne of the profession. It is war that helps to focus the minds of General Staff officers on those capabilities and concepts they need in order to win. Ukraine demonstrated the need to restructure the ground force, rethink maneuver elements like battalion tactical groups, and tilt back from overly focusing on just defending against the U.S. way of warfare.

There is no substitute for a large and effective ground force if one seeks to impose their will on neighbors, because only a capable ground force can hold terrain. Without it one cannot threaten invasion, and thus cannot effectively coerce, as airpower is notoriously ineffective as a tool of coercive diplomacy. At the end of the day, Russia is a Eurasian land power, and at the heart of its force beats land-based firepower together with a large armored fist. Ukraine was a stark reminder that local and regional wars remain the most likely contingencies for Moscow, and Russia would have to reinvest in not just equipment but the force itself, dramatically increasing the number of contract servicemen, improving their personal kit, and integrating land-based fires with autonomous ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems on the battlefield.

Syria on the other hand is proving a transformative conflict for the Russian armed forces, where not only equipment but the entire Russian cadre of senior officers have gained operational experience in warfighting. Russian Aerospace forces came of age in Syria, with much of the air force intentionally bloodied in the conflict. Most long-range missiles and other high-end capabilities have been tested in Syria, together with various reconnaissance platforms to direct them. Russian armed forces quickly realized their limitations in both the dearth of weapons available to prosecute moving targets on the battlefield, and the lack of planning experience that would permit real time integration of ground forces with airpower. These problems are in the process of being addressed. The Russian military establishment has proven fairly forthright in evaluation of its performance, seeking to leverage Syria in order to build a proven military.

However, the Russian armed forces deployed in Syria today are already quite different from the force that first began the campaign in fall 2015. Based on that experience, the backbone infrastructure is slowly falling into place, allowing Russian airpower to effectively support ground units, in real time, with newly developed precision weapons. Most importantly, the Russian military experience in Syria exposed the weaknesses in modern equipment, force structures, and operational concepts at a time when they were relatively nascent, giving the Russian General Staff useful results when there is plenty of opportunity to adjust course. As a result, Russian armed forces are increasingly able to conduct combined arms warfare, project fires at operational distances, and e stablish the state’s coercive credibility to shape adversary decision-making, restoring the military as a useful and reliable instrument of national power.