Russian Defense Ministry sources told the semiofficial news agency Interfax that action plans are being finalized to react to an armed conflict involving Iran and its nuclear program. The General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces “calculates” that military action against Iran will commence “in the summer” of 2012. Since Israel does not have sufficient assets to defeat Iranian defenses, the Russian military considers US military involvement inevitable (Interfax, March 30).
Bits of information have been appearing, indicating the essence of Russian military action. Last December it was disclosed that families of servicemen from the Russian base in Armenia have been evacuated to Russia, while the troops have been moved from the capital, Yerevan, north to Gumri – closer to the borders of Georgia and Turkey. The preparation of Russian forces in Armenia for action in the event of military conflict with Iran began “two years ago” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15).
After the short Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, break-away provinces Abkhazia and South Ossetia were occupied by Russian troops. Tbilisi in turn stopped military transit to the Russian troops in landlocked Armenia. There is only an air link to Russia, while fuel and other essentials reportedly come over the Iran-Armenia border. Moscow believes this border may be closed in the event of war. According to Lt. General (retired) Yury Netkachev – former deputy commander of Russian forces in Transcaucasia – “Possibly, it will be necessary to use military means to breach the Georgian transport blockade and establish transport corridors, leading into Armenia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 15). The geography of the region implies that any such “corridor” may go through the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
Large scale “strategic” military exercises Kavkaz-2012 are planned for next September, but it is reported that preparations and deployments of assets have begun already because of the threat of the possible war with Iran. New command and control equipment has been deployed in the region capable of using GLONASS (Russian GPS) targeting information. The air force in the South Military District (SMD) is reported to have been rearmed “almost 100 percent” with new jets and helicopters. In 2008, Kavkaz-2008 maneuvers allowed the Russian military to covertly deploy forces that successfully invaded Georgia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, January 16).
Last September it was announced that sniper units will be created in all Russian army brigades. The first 1,300 newly trained snipers have been deployed in the SMD (RIA Novosti, January 16). SMD units in Abkhazia, Ossetia, Chechnya and Volgograd have been rearmed with new T-90A and T-72BM tanks and new armored vehicles. In 2010 and 2011, SMD units received more than 7,000 pieces of new heavy weapons and have been more than 70 percent rearmed (RIA Novosti, January 16). According to President Dmitry Medvedev, by 2011 the overall rearmament of the entire Russian military with new weapons was much less – 16 percent (www.kremlin.ru, March 20).
Last January the newly appointed commander of the 58th army that spearheaded the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, Major General Andrei Gurulev, announced: “The army is a front-line force that keeps the peace in the region and has been rearmed more than 60 percent” (www.newsru.com, January 28). After an inspection of the SMD by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, it was announced that new Special Forces units will be deployed in Stavropol and Kislovodsk “to further strengthen the security of the region” (RIA Novosti, January 26). Stavropol and Kislovodsk are ethnic Russian-inhabited North Caucasian regions that have not seen much Islamist or separatist activity.
A new 120-kilometer range land-mobile guided anti-ship missile, Bal-E, has been deployed on the Caspian shore of Dagestan (Interfax, February 8). The Russian military believes that when the US goes to war with Iran, it may deploy forces in friendly Georgia and warships in the Caspian with the possible help of Azerbaijan. It is reported that in 2012 SMD forces will be 65 percent equipped with new communication devices, while the rest of the Russian military will have 26 percent (RIA Novosti, February 9). SMD units have received 20 new Tornado-G MRLS launchers (first procured in 2012) to replace the aging Grad MRLS. The Grad was massively used by the Russian troops against the Georgians in 2008. The 122-mm Tornado-G is reported to be “three times more effective than Grad,” with increased accuracy, firepower, mobility and a range of up to 100 kilometers (Interfax, April 3). The commander of the airborne troops (VDV), Lt. General Vladimir Shamanov, has announced the Russian troops in Armenia will be reinforced by paratroopers, possibly together with attack and transport helicopters. According to Netkachev, assault VDV units with helicopters may be moved into Abkhazia and South Ossetian (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 4).
The above stream of reports by official spokesmen and carried by government news agencies describes the forming of an offensive spearhead force in the SMD facing Transcaucasia. The force is too heavily armed with modern long-range weapons to be exclusively intended to take on the dispersed rebel guerrilla forces in Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. This week, the Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council Giga Bokeria told radio Ekho Moskvi about the growing threat of a war with Russia (Ekho Moskvi, April 2).
In Tbilisi, the possible threat of a new Russian invasion is connected to the parliamentary elections scheduled for next October and possible disturbances that may accompany them. According to polls, the ruling party of President Mikheil Saakashvili seems to be poised for another landslide victory, while the opposition movement, organized by the Russian-based billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, seems to be failing to gather mass support.
Of course, Moscow would be glad to see the electoral defeat of Saakashvili, but the Iranian war is a much more important issue. The Russian spearhead may be ordered to strike south to prevent the presumed deployment of US bases in Transcaucasia, to link up with the troops in Armenia, and take over the South Caucasus energy corridor along which Azeri, Turkmen and, other Caspian natural gas and oil may reach European markets. By one swift military strike Russia may ensure control of all the Caucasus and the Caspian states that were its former realm, establishing a fiat accompli the West, too preoccupied with Iran, would not reverse. At the same time, a small victorious war would unite the Russian nation behind the Kremlin, allowing it to crush the remnants of the prodemocracy movement “for fair elections.” And as a final bonus, Russia’s military action could perhaps finally destroy the Saakashvili regime.