Monday, May 09, 2016

Putin Preparing for a Civil War?

Strategypage writes that Putin's new "national guard" is a traditional way for dictators and their ilk to have a counter-weight to the regular army in case of a civil war. Is Russia really at risk of a civil war?

So Putin will fight to remain in charge of Russia?

In early April 2016 Russia revealed the revival of another Soviet tradition; a special armed force whose main purpose was to protect the rulers from disloyalty in the national police or military as well as from popular uprisings. President Putin is the main beneficiary because the commander of the new National Guard will be the man who was in charge of Putin’s personal security detachment for many years.

Is Russia really in danger of a civil war, during which the regular army could fight against the regime?

And if secession is the problem, why wouldn't the regular army--or even just the best of the lot, the paratroopers, which are getting priority on modernization--be willing to fight to preserve Mother Russia?

Sure, in case of a coup the army might sit it out--as they did in 1991 for the most part, which ended the Soviet Union. So I get that. But is coup really in the air?

Such a personal army as Putin has formed can serve a number of purposes.

It can guard against coups and revolts.

It can fight the army in a civil war.

It can keep a nation fighting longer because of its loyalty and resources, even if the regular army is ready to call it quits.

And it can carry out operations for the ruler that the regulars may be unwilling to perform, perhaps because the regulars don't see the operation as serving the nation as much as it serves the supreme ruler.

It's the last thing that I worry about.

Rather than being a response to threats of coup or civil war, I suspect the difficulties of finding Russian troops ready to fight in the Donbas region of Ukraine is the motivation.

So if Putin decides to make an effort to reabsorb Estonia, Latvia, and/or Lithuania (or, heck, Belarus) into Holy Mother Russia, such a personally loyal army would be very useful:

Sure, one might think that fear of a coup is the logical reason for such a private army. But perhaps not.

Perhaps the stress of picking out small bits of Russia's ground forces from across Russia to send into Ukraine (or elsewhere) to avoid the fingerprints of an open Russian intervention is straining his military too much.

Now Putin has his own "little green men." Let's hope they don't appear at Narva, Estonia.

Sure, reports that the new force will be allowed to shoot at civilians will allow it to fire at Russian civilians opposing the government, making it seem like a force designed to preserve the government.

But it can do more, as that article states:

At the moment, the size of the Guard force has not been confirmed. Unconfirmed estimates range from 250,000 to 400,000. With a wide mandate and armed with tanks, heavy artillery and attack aircraft, an entity of this size would be a very powerful force.

“This looks to be Putin’s personal army. Basically, you have a person who can declare his own wars on countries with small armies,” said Anna Borchshevskaya, Russia expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an interview with VOA. Other European national guards are “dwarfed compared to Putin’s National Guard in sheer numbers,” she said.

Remember that before Russia took over Crimea, I speculated about a Russian move on Ukraine and figured that the paramilitary forces from Russia's Ministry of the Interior (that are providing the vast majority of Putin's new army) would spearhead a takeover of portions of Ukraine's east:

Forty thousand paramilitary forces would head into eastern Ukraine, with half committed to cities from Kharkov anchoring the northern flank and points south; and the other half in the southern part, especially around Donetsk. These non-army troops would be the visible face in the cities of the intervention.

Remember, such a law will also allow Putin's new personal army to fire at new Russians brought into Holy Mother Russia by conquest and rapid annexation.

Russia got lucky in Crimea, where resistance never took off to the conquest and annexation. But in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania (or even Belarus), it might be another situation altogether with many new "Russian" citizens unhappy enough about their fate willing to resist conquest by Putin's personal army.

I know that the consensus seems to be that Russia wants to be ready for unrest should the economy go further south.

But I also remember that the best way to hide your intentions isn't to throw up a wall that hides everything you are doing. There is simply no way to hide everything. And we do see the formation of a new army.

No, the best way to hide your intentions is to get your enemies to believe another plausible reason for what they see. And in this case, the plausible reason for seeing Putin create a personally loyal army is to be prepared for unrest in his own people.

Which is a conveniently comforting reason for the West to believe, no?

Yeah, we are living in an era that has an odd inter-war vibe about it.

If we are, let's hope that Putin is the main and not the supporting character in this drama.

Because things can always be worse than what we think could be the worst.

UPDATE: Oh, and consider this description of Russian maneuvers last year:

Russian forces rehearsed the invasion of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark during a military exercise involving 33,000 troops, according to a new study of Baltic security.

The manoeuvres, which took place in March, assumed that a Western-backed uprising against President Vladimir Putin was taking place in Moscow. Under the scenario posited by the exercise, Russia responded by launching a simulated assault on four regional neighbours.

So perhaps Putin really is preparing for an uprising within Russia--or at least preparing the excuse for aggression.

So beware how he might respond to even actual internal unrest--with his own personal army to grab territory to supposedly block NATO intervention in Russia. Although without his own personal navy and air force, the targets could be more limited.

But taking the Baltic states would do just fine.