Proposed Russian Military Deployment in Iraq Fraught w/Consequences

PINR (Power & Interest News Report)
Aug 30 2004

”Proposed Russian Military Deployment in Iraq Fraught with

Over the last several months, political discussion has centered on
the rumored deployment of up to 40,000 Russian troops to either Iraq
or Afghanistan in order to help the United States fight the “war on
terrorism” and to provide much-needed relief to Washington’s forces.
While there are no final details yet on whether or not the deployment
will actually occur, the idea itself raises a number of strategic
concerns for the Russian Federation as it tries to re-establish its
influence in world affairs.

Positive Effects of Deployment

The proposed deployment would have positive aspects to both Moscow
and Washington. For the U.S., a major deployment of an international
military force to either Iraq or Afghanistan means a much-needed
foreign policy victory for President Bush in the closing months of
the presidential election campaign. Such a sizeable deployment means
much relief for the American forces that have been fighting nonstop
since the end of major combat operations in the spring of 2003.
Washington will also be able to dilute a strong French-German-Russian
quasi-alliance that defied the United States prior to and during its
war in Iraq.

For Russia, the future benefits of such an overseas military
deployment mean a greater economic stake in Iraq, especially for its
oil and gas companies, and a possible membership in the World Trade
Organization. While the benefits of this possible deployment are
significant, questions still remain over whether Russia will indeed
be able to pull off such a large deployment of men and materiel to
major military hotspots.

Moscow Attempts to Strengthen its Regional Influence

Since the end of the Cold War, Moscow has tried to reassert its
military weight in world affairs, and is bent on regaining influence
amongst its former satellites, most notably in Central Asia. It
already maintains military bases in Kyrgyzstan and restive Georgia,
helps to protect the borders in Tajikistan, and has a very strong
military alliance with Armenia. All signs point to the increase of
such activities in the years to come, as the Russian Federation will
compete with the United States and China for influence in Central
Asia and the Caucasus. Over the years, Moscow has been holding
military exercises in order to strengthen influence in its near
abroad and to re-orient its military towards the new challenges of
the 21st century. Two such recent exercises are useful tests of
whether or not Russia will be able to successfully deploy a large
contingent and maintain its military edge in the Middle East or

This summer, Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Tajik special forces and
marine detachments — comprising a thousand soldiers — have engaged
in a mock battle with a “terrorist” contingent of several hundred
fighters in the “Frontier-2004” exercise, conducted on the border
region between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. On June 21-25, Russia
conducted the “Mobility-2004” exercise in the Far East region,
preparing for a possible deployment of a rapid reaction force from
one part of the country to the other. As the coalition forces battled
the “insurgents” during “Frontier-2004,” they had to first deploy the
troops around the suspected “rebels” via newest and upgraded
helicopters and under cover of close-support aviation, and then fight
their way into a village taken over by the retreating “enemy.”
Coordinated actions of this multinational force finished off the
“insurgents” in just several hours.

While this type of operation might be exactly the kind of warfare
Russian troops will be experiencing in possible conflicts in Central
Asia, the Caucasus, and even Iraq or Afghanistan, the success of the
exercise was almost guaranteed by the presence of Russia’s Defense
Minister Sergei Ivanov, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and a large
number of Russian and Central Asian military and political
representatives. To hand a defeat to this coalition force or to
suffer a setback would have embarrassed the generals and ministers
present, all of whom wanted a victory — even if somewhat scripted —
in order to declare preparedness to fight new types of wars against
terrorist- and religious-fundamentalist formations.

Russia’s second exercise, “Mobility-2004,” involved 3,000 troops,
several hundred armored vehicles and artillery pieces and several
dozen support ships and aircraft. This particular exercise was held
in order to simulate the deployment of a marine-type military
formation to an unfamiliar environment in order to conduct short- and
long-term operations. To the Russian military, which has been based
for decades on the offensive-defensive Cold War-style warfare, this
type of deployment is a new and untested territory. It will call its
forces to act on local conflicts happening either deep inside another
country or within its coastal regions, demanding mobility and rapid
reaction to the constantly changing battlefield environment.

While “Mobility-2004” was a worthy attempt at simulating this type of
warfare, the exercise was handicapped by a small number of troops and
materiel present. Essentially, Russia was capable of “deploying” only
several battalions into the “unfamiliar” territory — while the real
battle scenario might call for thousands more troops. The total
number of marines in Russia is currently a fraction of its equivalent
force in the United States — the country Russia tries to imitate
through its military reforms. Nor does Russia have enough equipment
to support a deployment in excess of its recently conducted exercise.

Negative Effects of Deployment

The proposed deployment of Russian forces to either Iraq or
Afghanistan will expose them once again to the very environment that
is painfully familiar to the entire country. From 1994 to 1996, and
from the fall of 1999 to the present day, Russian forces are fighting
a bloody and difficult war in its restive republic of Chechnya.
Officially, the Kremlin keeps assuring its people and the
international community that it has full control over the republic
and only few pockets of resistance remain. Thousands of Russian
soldiers have lost their lives in quelling the Chechen rebellion, and
thousands more have been wounded. Russia has expended enormous
resources in order to sustain its military operations there, and
nearly all of its combat-ready troops are located there or in the
surrounding territory.

Chechen warfare is eerily similar to what is happening in Iraq at the
moment, especially in Najaf and the Sunni Triangle. Even as Russian
forces brought overwhelming military superiority to bear on the
rebels, no clear end is in sight for this war that is straining
Russia’s patience and is a constant source of embarrassment for the
government. And while in “Frontier-2004” Russian and allied forces
have been able to successfully defeat the enemy troops that resemble
Chechen fighters, the unscripted reality is a much darker and
bloodier picture.

In June of this year, for example, a large rebel formation of between
several hundred to more than a thousand men attacked Russian military
positions and installations in Ingushetia, Chechnya’s neighboring
republic. Russian forces were caught by surprise, and nearly a
hundred perished in one night of fighting. The Russian military was
not able to mobilize close support in time to beat back the attack —
the insurgents simply melted away, either retreating back into
Chechnya or disappearing amongst the local Ingushetian population. To
this day, no perpetrators or ringleaders have been found, prompting a
government shake-up at the highest levels of power, including the
dismissal of the Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin and head of the
interior ministry forces Vyachesalv Tikhomirov.

This latest round of violence resulted in more troops to be stationed
in Chechnya. As the Russian military continues its long campaign in
the republic, major questions remain if the country will be able to
sustain a second Chechnya-style war conducted overseas. Even
well-equipped, well-motivated and well-trained American forces have
not been able to put an end to the insurrections in both Iraq and
Afghanistan. While Russian and American troops have a lot in common
as they counter guerrilla-style warfare, Russian forces display their
combat inability to win this type of war in Chechnya, and offer only
limited level of success in their military exercises designed for
combating possible Iraqi- and Afghan-style warfare.

In addition, Russia’s deployment to either Iraq or Afghanistan has
profound consequences for its relationship with Arab and Muslim
countries. Long a patron of Middle Eastern and South Asian states, it
might find its support slipping in exactly the area where Russia
still can exercise some international clout. The Soviet Union, and
later, Russia, have been able to provide support to a wide range of
countries, from Algeria to Indonesia, acquiring favor amongst the
millions of Muslims around the world.

Russian companies have been active in Iraq all the way prior to the
U.S. invasion. Even during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s, Russia was
able to sell weapons to both countries. Russia currently is one of
the strongest supporters of the Iranian nuclear program, long a
source of agitation and discomfort in Washington. Furthermore, Russia
is often perceived as a counter-balance to U.S. influence in the
Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Thus, the military deployment to
the areas which remain an active source of discussion and unrest in
the Muslim world can turn the “Arab street,” long the tacit supporter
of Moscow’s policies, against Russia proper.

The prospect of major fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan would mean that
Russian troops will be equal to the American forces in the eyes of
the world’s Muslims, who perceive U.S. actions in both countries as
unjustified and detrimental to the region. The turning of the Arab
tide against Moscow itself might exacerbate the volatile situation in
Chechnya, where most of the rebel fighters come from Arab countries
and are known to have connections to al-Qaeda.

Russia’s return to Afghanistan or Iraq might give more strength to
al-Qaeda, which has been negatively affected by U.S.
counter-terrorism operations. The return of a once-vanquished
“infidel” power to the old battlegrounds of Afghanistan might
generate a new wave of enlistment to the ranks of the mujahideen, in
turn leading to renewed attacks on Russian territory and worldwide

Russia’s war in Chechnya and American efforts in both Iraq and
Afghanistan demonstrated that this type of warfare couldn’t be
achieved without significant battlefield losses. The Russian public
has been angered by the military losses in Chechnya, prompting a rise
of powerful grassroots movements that even advise Russians to avoid
military service. Even if the tightly-controlled Russian media
carefully filters information about its overseas deployments, news of
the combat losses — which inevitably will be in the hundreds and
thousands — will reach the Russian people who see Iraq and
Afghanistan as America’s war, and not their own.

The fact that the Russian government did not expressly rule out such
deployments might indicate that Moscow, for the time being, has
largely conceded to Washington its once formidable influence in the
Muslim world. With an American military presence in Iraq and
Afghanistan, with Egypt and Jordan in the U.S. sphere of influence,
with Libya re-establishing diplomatic relations with Washington, with
the American Pan-Sahel initiative achieving success in the Western
Saharan countries, and with U.S. forces present in Somalia and
Central Asia, Russia might see its deployment as an attempt to regain
trust with its former Muslim clients. However, it is wrong for
Russian policymakers to think that the presence of their soldiers in
Iraq or Afghanistan will be met with less resistance than given to
the American forces. The rebels in both countries will meet Russian
troops with just as much antagonism as is currently directed at U.S.

Russia’s deployment can also be perceived as an attempt to catch up
to its former satellites, who now receive significant favors from
Washington. Poland has sent thousands of troops to Iraq. Tiny
Georgia, locked in an antagonistic and currently escalating
relationship with Russia, will be sending a battalion of its
U.S.-trained forces to Iraq. In light of its former clients receiving
benefits for their support of U.S. military operations, Russia might
want to gain even more from its evolving relationship with Washington
by also sending its military contingents.


As the military exercises discussed earlier have shown, Russia is
capable of deploying and maintaining a limited military force — not
the 40,000 troops discussed in previous months — in order to
properly manage its combat operations. Furthermore, given the Russian
government’s insensitivity to combat losses in order to achieve
objectives, a military force might indeed be sent to either Iraq or
Afghanistan. Russia has been trying to build its relations with the
United States on an equal footing, especially after the September 11
terrorist attacks. One of the ways America might concede a greater
role in world affairs to Russia is to ask it to step up to the plate
— to deliver a military force in order to assist Washington in its
endeavors. To do so would mean a greater role for Russia, with which
it is possible for the United States to agree on many issues — in
contrast to the current deadlock in relations with France and

Yet, there has not been a single major overseas deployment of Russian
forces since the fall of the Soviet Union. Throughout the Cold War,
only Korea and Afghanistan were the major arenas of fighting for
Soviet forces — its troops acted mostly in an advisory capacity in
the world’s other hotspots. The proposed military deployment is truly
an untested territory for the Russian armed forces that are currently
taxed to the limit by lack of funds and necessary reforms, as well as
by the war in Chechnya. Russia’s possible deployment to either Iraq
or Afghanistan is fraught with consequences, which will shape its
position in world affairs for decades to come.

Report Drafted By:
Yevgeny Bendersky

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From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress