>On March 10 Novosti reported that Russia and Belarus, united since 1997 in the Union State, will stage a “large-scale strategic military exercise” this September and October. The drill, called Zapad 2009, will involve around 13,000 service personnel from both countries. Zapad means “west” in the Russian language. Belarusian Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev revealed that the Russian military will contribute elements of its Ground Forces, Air Force, Air Defense Forces, and reconnaissance units. He elaborated: “The drill will, among other things, rehearse interoperability within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian integrated air defense system, which the two countries agreed to establish recently.”
In Belarus the KGB still operates under its old name and the Belarusian armed forces, like their Russian counterparts, proudly display the Bolshevik red star as their emblem. Belarus’ unreformed communist dictator Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Russia’s KGB-communist dictator Vladimir Putin, soothed over the troubling ramifications of a Soviet military drill next to former Warsaw Pact state Poland by saying: “Belarus is pursuing a peaceful foreign policy and does not regard any state as an enemy, but military force could not be discounted as an essential security factor.” The last combined Russian-Belarusian maneuver took place last fall, during the multi-theater Stability 2008 exercise, and before that, three years ago, during Union Shield 2006. Lukashenko is pictured above at the May 9 Victory Day celebration in Minsk.
Much to the Kremlin’s displeasure, Poland is to host 100 US service personnel and a Patriot theater anti-missile defense network by year’s end. “This will be the first time U.S. soldiers are stationed on Polish soil, other than those who come under NATO control, on exercises for example . . . This will be symbolic for Poland,” Poland’s deputy defense minister Stanislaw Komorowski is quoted by Novosti as saying on Thursday. The Patriot (MIM-104) system is designed to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and advanced aircraft. It is in service in Egypt, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.
On April 6 and 7 Nikolai Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, visited Minsk, where the Russian delegation conferred with Maltsev and Makarov’s Belarusian counterpart Syarhei Hurulyou. On April 21 Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, speaking from Minsk, described the intent behind and extent of Zapad 2009:
This will be the most spectacular military event since the establishment of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Significant Russian land, naval, and air forces will be deployed. The Zapad exercises will involve nearly 13,000 military personnel, including about 7,000 Russian soldiers. These exercises are both operational and tactical, and will objectively assess the state of combat readiness of both armies. Zapad 2009 will aim to counter a possible aggression against the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Previous Soviet military exercises designated “Zapad” occurred in 1981, when the Russians were still known as the “Soviets,” and again in 1999, after Soviet communism was supposedly defunct. Zapad 81 was the largest drill ever to be carried out by the Soviet Union, rivaled only by another that took place in 1984 and, in the “post”-Soviet era, last year’s Stability-2008 exercise. Zapad 81 began on September 4, 1981, lasted eight days, involved all branches of the Soviet Armed Forces, and introduced the RSD-20 medium-range strategic missile and the Kiev Project 1143 aircraft carrier. Zapad 81 included amphibious landings in Poland, near Gdańsk, reminding Poland’s striking shipyard workers and other dissidents that the Soviet Union could resort to military force if deemed necessary. The new Reagan Administration criticized Moscow for violating the Helsinki Final Act of Notification of Military Exercises. In response, the Kremlin broadcast propaganda tapes of the military offensives.
When “ex”-communist Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia, another large-scale military exercise, Zapad 99, was carried out in June 1999. The exercise revealed that Russia’s conventional armed forces could not repel a NATO offensive, which increased Moscow’s interest in employing tactical nuclear weapons. Zapad 99 sparked international tensions when US fighter jets intercepted Russian strategic bombers allegedly in violation of Icelandic and Norwegian airspace. That December Putin became prime minister of Russia for the first time and in March 2000 replaced Yeltsin as president.
The online Spanish edition of Novosti and Cuba’s Prensa Latina admit that Zapad-2009 and other scheduled drills are the Kremlin’s direct response to NATO’s ongoing Cooperative Longbow/Lancer 2009 exercise in the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, an aspirant to NATO membership. Referring to the “anti-Russian provocations” taking place under the watch of President Mikhail Saakashvili, Colonel-General Alexander Kolmakov, Russia’s deputy defense minister, explained: “We examined and analyzed these maneuvers carefully and we anticipate that it will result in certain corrective combat actions on our part.”
In particular, Russia’s North Caucasus Military District, which is located just to the north of Georgia, will hold, in collaboration with other military districts, the Kavkaz 2009 maneuvers this July. “These exercises,” Kolmakov continued, “will involve overcoming aquatic barriers and airborne assaults. Special attention will be given to the formation of sniper groups. This is extremely important and will help us to effectively judge our experience of antiterrorist operations in the Northern Caucasus [such as in Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan].”
It should not be forgotten that the Kremlin positioned its military to re-invade and re-occupy Georgia last August under the guise of the Caucasus Frontier 2008 drill. In contravention of last year’s European Union-brokered ceasefire, at least 15,000 Russian troops currently occupy Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Since Russia imposed a unilateral moratorium on its adherence to the Cold War-era Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in 2007 and to this day maintains 900 tanks in the Kaliningrad Oblast, wedged between Poland and Lithuania, Western governments should view with concern any Soviet military drill in Belarus, which is to the immediate east of Poland.
Kremlinologists should also be concerned by the possibility that Russia will hold a military maneuver near the Finnish border this September, concurrently with Zapad-2009. The Spanish edition of Novosti and Prensa Latina, linked above, mention in passing an operation by the name of Ladoga 2009. Internet search engines yield no additional information on this subject, suggesting that this is brand-new, open-source data. However, we speculate that Ladoga 2009 will take place near Lake Ladoga, a freshwater lake located in the Leningrad Oblast in northwestern Russia, near Saint Petersburg.
Ladoga is the largest lake in Europe, and the 14th largest lake by area in the world. As a stipulation of the criminal 1940 Moscow “Peace” Treaty, Lake Ladoga, previously shared with Finland, became an internal basin of the Soviet Union. Finland is not a member of NATO and has been discouraged by Russia from pursuing such a course. During the 1939-1940 Winter War the plucky Finns fended off an ineptly planned Soviet invasion that mistakenly took into account little resistance.
Last year Finnish military officials accused the Russians of ripping off a patented, computer-designed boreal camouflage pattern used by their forces. At the time Finnish Defense Staff spokesman Captain Eero Karhuvaara warned: “If Russian Ministry of the Interior troops were to invade Finland, we would have big trouble.”
Moscow Holds Belarus, Lures Sri Lanka within Its Orbit with Missile, Weapons Sales
As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization considers bringing Belarus and Sri Lanka on board as “dialogue partners,” Moscow, not so coincidentally, is seeking to offload military hardware in these two small communist-controlled states. On May 19 Rosoboronexport chief Anatoly Isaikin declared that “There are no problems with the sale of Tor-M2 and Buk-M2 air defense systems to Belarus. Today, major problems at the negotiations have been resolved and the issues are being discussed from the technical viewpoint. Price guidelines are being determined.” Isaikin issued this statement at the opening of the MILEX 2009 arms exhibition in the Belarusian capital. He revealed that the issue of Belarus’ purchase of Russia’s most advanced air defense system, the S-400 Triumf (NATO designation SA-21 Growler) and Iskander-E (SS-26 Stone), was being reviewed by an intergovernmental commission but “no decision had been made.”
The S-400 is believed to be able to destroy stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles. The Iskander-E, which is an export version of the Iskander-M system in service with the Russian Ground Forces, is a tactical surface-to-surface missile that can deliver high-precision strikes at ground targets from a distance of up to 280 kilometers (170 miles).
Last November and again this past February Moscow and Minsk signed agreements to implement an integrated regional air defense system. The network will consist of five air force units, 10 anti-aircraft units, five technical service and support units, and one electronic warfare unit. The system will be placed under the command of a Russian or Belarusian Air Force or Air Defense Force senior commander. These developments, as noted above, are taking place within the political framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Pavel Borodin, who is state secretary of the Union State, underscored the fact that the new integrated air defense system is “vital” in countering NATO’s ongoing eastward expansion: “Military speaking, it is virtually a shield against NATO.”
Soviets Relish Victory in the Indian Ocean: Sri Lankan Government Endorses Power-Sharing Arrangement with “Defeated” Marxist Tamil Tigers
According to Novosti, Sri Lanka has ordered a number of military helicopters and other weapons from Russia, the country’s defense secretary revealed in an exclusive interview with the Kremlin propaganda outlet. “I have managed to reach an agreement with Russia on a loan to purchase military equipment, primarily helicopters for the air force, and other weaponry,” Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa explained, adding: “The helicopters had been already ordered.” Rajapaksa did not specify the dollar amount of the deal or the number of helicopters. He did admit, however, that they were needed to transport military personnel:
We will need them in the future. We are already using [Soviet/Russian-made] Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters, and we need more. Sri Lanka is willing to develop stronger military ties with Russia. We would like to bring our relations to the level where we could share [combat] experience.
In addition, the Sri Lankan government may secure Russia’s help in clearing mines in the northern part of the country, where Colombo has waged war against the separatist Tamil Tigers since 1976. The pending shipment of Russian military hardware to Sri Lanka, interestingly, occurs as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have conceded defeat in the wake of a major government offensive against rebel positions. On May 20 the Kremlin, no doubt to grease the weapons sale, issued a congratulatory statement to Colombo: “The government of Russia has extended warmest congratulations to the president and the government of Sri Lanka on the success achieved by the island nation in defeating LTTE terrorism.”
However, the reported death of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has not been confirmed by military officials and the threat of renewed guerrilla warfare remains. The Tamil Tigers once controlled a “shadow state” complete with courts, police, and a tax system across 5,400 square miles, or nearly one-fifth of this Indian Ocean island state. This past Sunday, though, government troops surrounded the remaining rebels in a 0.4-square-mile patch of land and were fighting off suicide bombers. More than 80,000 people have died in the conflict since 1983. The United Nations states that over 6,000 civilians have died in fighting since January 2009.
Rebel official Selvarasa Pathmanathan emailed a statement to the Associated Press, saying:
This battle has reached its bitter end. It is our people who are dying now from bombs, shells, illness and hunger. We cannot permit any more harm to befall them. We remain with one last choice — to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied that the rebels had laid down their weapons: “Fighting is still going on in small pockets.” Sri Lankan Media Minister Anura Yapa dismissed Pathmanathan’s appeal: “We want to free this country from the terrorist LTTE.”
At one time the LTTE also maintained a conventional army, fielded artillery batteries, operated a large navy, and even boasted a nascent air force, funded by an estimated US$200 to $300 million per year accrued from smuggling, fraud, and appeals to Tamil expatriates. The Tamil Tigers carried out hundreds of suicide attacks, including the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and were listed as a terror group by the USA and European Union.
That the Soviet strategists would commend Colombo for decimating a Marxist insurgency, as noted above, may seem confusing, but is possibly understandable in view of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s offer to the rebels “to begin talks toward power sharing and political reconciliation.” Rajapaksa is a socialist who leads a center-left coalition containing communist members. The Wall Street Journal opines: “The war quickly became more about Prabhakaran’s determination to form an independent Tamil state under the exclusive control of his Marxist Tigers than about those Tamil grievances. The Tigers killed many moderate Tamil politicians who would have been willing to cooperate politically with Colombo.”
New Indian Government Dumps Communists but Maintains Strategic Partnership with Moscow
Meanwhile, north of Palk Strait, the social democratic Indian National Congress scored a resounding victory in that country’s five-week parliamentary election. On May 22, under the leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the INC will organize a second government with a stronger mandate that will not require the backing of India’s parliamentary communist parties. With more than 700 million eligible voters, India is the largest multiparty democracy in the world. The 76-year-old Singh is the first Indian head of government to win re-election after serving a five-year term since Indira Gandhi in 1971. Born into a Sikh family, Singh studied economics at Oxford University. As finance minister in the INC government of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao from 1991 to 1996, Singh abandoned Soviet-style state planning and introduced free-market policies that have quadrupled the size of India’s economy. Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born widow of Rajiv, mentioned above, is the dynastic head of the ruling party.
Strategic partners Russia and India are cooperating in the development of the BrahMos missile and a fifth-generation T-50 PAK-FA multi-role fighter. The latter, which is viewed as a competitor to the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, was jointly designed and developed by the Sukhoi design bureau, which is part of the Kremlin’s United Aircraft Corporation, along with India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., under an intergovernmental agreement signed in October 2007. Russia and India have also conducted joint military exercises, the last being this past January’s Indra-2009, which saw the arrival of Russia’s Peter the Great missile cruiser in the Indian Ocean.