Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Russia and the Caucasus Flashpoint

Russia is allowing/supporting the creation of a new Dagestani military/paramilitary force in an attempt to improve the security situation in that region of the war-torn Caucasus. This is an unfortunate development in a region that many argue is the most significant hot spot and the most likely venue for the next high-intensity conflict. It also comes at a time of apparent regression of the professionalism and modernization of the Russian Army by means of decreasing conscription. This unrest directly affects American interests as we continue to invest in Georgia’s future.
Russia’s Dagestan Province suffers from the Islamist militant movement that has overwhelmed much of the Northern Caucasus Region. The Interior Ministry has conducted raids in the region with mixed success, while the interagency security forces in the province have lost 104 members this year. Because of the losses, Russia seems to have taken a lesson from the “Awakening” or “Sons of Iraq” program from Iraq. This includes the formation of “3 Battalions” of forces (numbering only 700-800, the size of one American Battalion) made up completely of locals. This apparently follows a similar model the Russians used with Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya and may be relying on training from some of the Chechen forces. Putin is even personally getting involved.
This comes in the midst of major reforms in the Russian Army regarding personnel and equipment. The State Armaments Program 2020 has driven some of the initiative as the military is trying to modernize 70% of their equipment. The likelihood of this attempt is based on the forecast of constant rising prices of oil and that the Russian Military Industry can actually build what it is asked. Furthermore, money continues to be redirected to the strategic forces to ensure the prestige of nuclear arms.
The other prong of Russian reform lies in the professionalization of its soldiers. This includes an attempt to dramatically reduce the officer to enlisted ratio, and to reduce the percentage of conscripted soldiers. The contract vs. conscription rate argument has gone for more than two decades, even with a recent discussion on adopting a Swiss model of citizen-soldiery. Ill-discipline and hazing have caused many in the Russian military to argue strongly for a contract force, but many have said that it is easier to control the draftees than the contracted.
Back to Dagestan: In what is clearly the most important security front for the Russians, the shortcomings of military reform are being detailed in blood. When the MOD comes up short, the MVD attempts to fill the gaps, further complicating the arguments for modernization money for the military. Meanwhile, they continue to play games with the movement of tactical nukes on the European border and pushing for missile defense. The US should be concerned that their biggest NATO project, Georgia, lies so close to such a boiling flashpoint.

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