Rondeli Russian Military Digest

Rondeli Russian Military Digest: Issue 31, 16 March - 22 March 2020

Author: David Batashvili

Rondeli Russian Military Digest is a weekly brief that reports key activities by and developments within the armed forces of the Russian Federation. Researchers, civil servants and everyone else interested in what is going on in the military of one of the most dangerous nations on the planet – tune in and enjoy.

For a comprehensive geographic view of the Russian military structure see our Interactive Map of the Russian Military Forces.


Geostrategic Activities

War in Ukraine – One Ukrainian soldier was killed and 12 were wounded by the Russian hybrid forces in Donbass during the week of 16-22 March 2020. Shooting on the frontline occurred every day of the week.

War in Syria – American troops intercepted another Russian patrol in north-eastern Syria on 17 March 2020. Also on 17 March, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Russia had killed “dozens of Turkish military personnel” in Syria.  No serious military operations took place in the Idlib region in the week of 16-22 March.

Gazprom’s pipe layer ship Akademik Cherskiy, capable of completing construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and moving from the Indo-Pacific region toward the European waters, appears to be doing so around Africa, instead of sailing through the Suez Canal. As of 24 March 2020, Akademik Cherskiy reportedly was near the east coast of South Africa, scheduled to arrive at Cape Town on 27 March. As of the previous week, the pipe layer ship reportedly was escorted by the Baltic Fleet’s Neustrashimyy / Project 11540 Yastreb class frigate Yaroslav Mudry.

Akademik Cherskiy

The Pacific Fleet’s Improved Yug / Project 862.2 class intelligence collection ship Marshal Gelovani, on its voyage to Antarctica, arrived to Jakarta, Indonesia on 18 March.

Russia and South Africa are preparing a training program for the South African peacekeepers in Russia.


Structural Changes

According to the Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, a mechanized division, an artillery brigade, and a missile brigade will be established within Russia’s Southern Military District in 2020. The new division will be created on the basis of the existing 19th Mechanized Brigade (Sputnik, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania) of the 58th Army (HQ in Vladikavkaz, Republic of North Ossetia-Alania). The new missile brigade will be armed with Iskander-M short-range ballistic missile systems.

Also according to Shoygu, mechanized and tank regiments are to be established in 2020 in the Eastern Military District, within the 127th Mechanized Division (Sergeyevka, Primorsky Krai) of the 5th Army (HQ in Ussuriysk, Primorsky Krai). The 127th Division was established in 2018 on the basis of two former mechanized brigades.

Russian Naval Aviation’s only two Ka-31R airborne early warning and control helicopters have been transferred to the 318th Mixed Aviation Regiment (Kacha air base, occupied Crimea, Ukraine). Prior to the transfer, the two Ka-31R helicopters were in the 859th Centre for Combat Application and Training of the Naval Aviation Air Crews (Yeysk air base, Krasnodar Krai), although reportedly they spent most of their time at the Northern Fleet’s Severomorsk-1 air base.

Ka-31R helicopter. Source: Zvezda TV, from bmpd.livejournal.com


Rearmament and Modernization

Two artillery batteries in the Southern Military District’s 49th Army were re-armed with Msta-S self-propelled howitzers.



Russian military GLONASS-M navigation satellite reached orbit after being launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome on 16 March.



About 1,500 troops, military transport planes, and landing ships of the Black Sea Fleet participated in an exercise held in the Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine. During the exercise, forces of the 7th Air Assault (Mountain) Division (HQ in Novorossiysk, Krasnodar Krai) practiced defending coast from the enemy’s landing operation.

Over 1,000 Russian mechanized troops and the Southern Military District’s army aviation forces drilled in occupied Abkhazia, Georgia. About 400 troops and UAVs staged an exercise in Georgia’s other Russian-occupied territory – Tskhinvali Region.


Arms Exports

According to the official Russian sources, since October 2019 Russia has signed arms export contracts worth USD 1 billion with various nations in Africa.



Russia has decided not to suspend its spring draft into the armed forces despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The yearly spring draft is set to start on 1 April 2020 and to last till 15 July.


*The weekly number of exercises in the Russian armed forces is very large. Therefore, all cannot be included in this digest. The exercises that are included are selected by the author for their strategic significance, particularly large scale, involvement of numerous units and locations, and/or involvement of other nations’ territories under the Russian occupation.

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