Russia is back, but you already knew that or you wouldn’t be here.

This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Daniel May, a final year history student at the University of Bristol.

The precise details of how Russia has re-emerged are perhaps less clear, as is what it means for the rest of the world. Russian intelligence services have been in the news a lot, but what have the conventional forces been up to in the meantime, and how does it all fit together?

2007-2009 saw the Army enact major structural reforms, with the Navy following in 2013-2014 and the Air Force in 2015-2017. The MVD was reorganised as the National Guard in 2016. The core purpose of these reforms was to reduce the number of strategic commands of the armed forces.

This retasked the armed forces reduced in size from its Soviet era height, lowering costs and (in theory) cutting down on corruption. Divisions were reduced to Brigades, Naval Squadrons were amalgamated and Air Regiments were reordered as Aviation Base Commands.

These changes made sense for a smaller national defence budget with no need to maintain vast standing army groups capable of conquering Europe. Since 2012 these principles have changed, and the armed forces have taken an entirely new direction. 2014 brought the ceremonial refounding of the 1st Guards Order of the Red Banner Tank Army with assignment to Joint Strategic Command West. Major commands under this formation are the:

  • 2nd Guards ‘Tamanskaya’ Order of Suvorov Order of the Red Banner Motor Rifle Division
  • 4th Guards ‘Kantemirovskaya’ Order of Lenin Order of the Red Banner Tank Division
  • 27th Independent Guards ‘Sevastopol’ Motor Rifle Brigade
  • 6th Independent Guards Order of Kutuzov Order of the Red Banner Tank Brigade
  • 288th ‘Warsaw Brandenburg’ Order of the Red Banner Artillery Brigade
  • 53rd Order of the Red Banner Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade
  • 112th Guards Missile Brigade

The concentration of commands with ceremonial names and banners perhaps indicates a desire for a ceremonial unit to act as a focus for public pride in the armed forces. It is no coincidence that these units feature on the parade bill at most years’ Victory Day. The reformed 1st Guards Tank Army also serves as a sledgehammer that could push its way past most European armies on its own, freeing up the remainder of the Russian Armed Forces for duties elsewhere. The 6th Independent Guards Tank Brigade has seemingly made quite a name for itself in Donbass, and the 53rd AA Missile Brigade can add a Boeing 777 to their trophy cabinet Being ‘elite’ units, their reputation demands only the latest and most powerful equipment

The aftermath of the Chechen Wars left the public perception of the armed forces at a low point, and the reorganisation seems to indicate an armed forces deeply concerned with its public image. In modern Russia, the military is celebrated to a degree rivalling that in the United States, including its permeation into popular culture. The recreation of famed and ceremonial units is a public symbol of the might of the new Russia, but still drawing strength from what Russia used to be capable of and may be capable of once again.

Russian procurement strategy has come a long way since the ‘Better is the enemy of good enough’ doctrine espoused by Admiral Sergei Gorshkov in the 1960s, and appears more to reflect western procurement of a smaller number of higher quality equipment. The core elements of this in the last three years have been:

  • T-15 Armata IFV
  • BMPT Terminator IFV
  • T-14 Armata MBT
  • Karakut PKG
  • Gremyashchiy PKG
  • Belgorod SSXN
  • Sukhoi Su-57
  • Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35
  • Tupolev Tu-160M2

The military lessons of the Chechen Wars were that Infantry Fighting Vehicles need to be re-evaluated as the armour of BMP and BTR series often proved insufficient, and the armament inadequate (especially the limited weapon elevation). This study has resulted in the heavily armoured T-15 IFV and the heavily armed BMPT Terminator. Both vehicles emphasize survivability in a close urban environment, intended to act in partnership with Main Battle Tanks (especially in the case of the BMPT). In a modernisation of the partnership between armoured infantry and tank units that make up most of Russia’s brigades and divisions the Terminator is also intended to act as a soft support unit for traditional armoured operations in support of the tank battalions. Under these circumstances the new generation IFVs appear intended as force multipliers for existing Russian formations.

In the T-72, the USSR and later Russia developed a versatile chassis on which a variety of platforms could be mounted, resulting in the TOS-1 thermobaric assault gun, T-90 MBT and more recently the BMPT Terminator. More recent tank developments appear to continue the lineage of the T-72 as a cheaper alternative to the more advanced T-14 Armata, the basis for the T-15 and 2S35. The T-14 was initially proposed as a wholesale replacement for the T-72 and T-80 series tanks that make up the bulk of the army’s stock (in the same way the T-72 and T-80 were for the T-55 and T-62). The sanctions installed in 2014 and the consequent fall in the Rouble appear to have caused a significant slowdown in production, with only 100-200 combat models believed to exist at present.

Development of the proven T-72 chassis has continued, from the T-72B3 variant which upgraded older B models with a more advanced electronics and targeting system, and the latest B3M (or B4) variant entering service with the 6th Independent Guards Tank Brigade with further improvements allowing for newer ammunition and reactive armour packages. Upgrading the T-72 provides a cheaper alternative to the T-14, and also reduces conversion training time for units receiving an updated model. With a reduced production, it appears in the short to medium term the T-14 is destined for the parade units of the 1st Guards Tank Army only.

Navy funding has historically prioritised submarines for the Northern Fleet. Whilst there are now three Borei SSBNs in service and the second Yasen SSN expected by the end of the year, there have been some more unusual developments going on in the background. The Oscar class Belgorod and Delta class Podmoskovye submarines have been rebuilt as support platforms for the Losharik mini-submarine, a project open to great speculation. The US Navy operated the NR-1 Nuclear mini-submarine for 30 years in a variety of military purposes which needed submarine support, but required a specialised platform that attracted less attention than a full sized SSN. The converted Oscar motherships can provide a global reach to the smaller submarines, making the Losharik an effective strategic asset.

The Navy’s newest destroyer is 19 years old, with progress on the Lider class replacement for the

Sovremennyy and Udaloy destroyers and the Slava class cruiser moving at a glacial pace. Russia has been building smaller ships, especially corvettes at a rapid rate. 3 frigates have entered service in the last two years, with another five expected by the end of 2020. 14th July brought the commissioning of three Karakut frigates, successor to the Buyan-M. Another Buyan-M entered service earlier this year with another 6 planned by 2022, along with 4 of the larger Gremyashchiy class in the same time period. Such vessels seem to prioritise offensive capacity over individual survivability, typically carrying two quadruple P-800 Oniks or 3M22 Zircon anti-ship missiles and a battery of S-400 long range anti-air missiles. Such a design appears to be built around large quantities of these ships acting in a swarm. Volleys of hypersonic missiles would pose significant problems for NATO shipborne air defences, whilst S-400s are built around the strategic denial of airspace – the ideal weapon for countering aircraft from a supercarrier.

The long time required for the rebuilding of the ‘battlecruiser’ Admiral Nakhimov may suggest a change in function. In their original form the Kirovs were intended as the centrepiece of battlegroups designed to attack and destroy American Carrier Battle Groups at long range. Current assumptions incorporate the replacement of the processing systems, replacing the P-700 with the P-800 and the S-300 with the S-400. Why this has taken over 15 years could be explained in one of two ways. The first is that the fall in the Russian economy (exacerbated by sanctions) has sapped resources away from the maintenance and overhaul budget, with priorities going into bringing new ships into service. The second option is that the delays have been managed to incorporate new generation weaponry, such as the 3M22 Zircon anti-ship missile with twice the range and 50% greater speed than the P-800.

This more powerful weaponry would allow the Nakhimov to become a fleet in being almost on its own, with a more powerful offensive striking power than most surface action groups and three layers of air defences to protect itself from attack.

Although Russian aircraft have resumed patrol flights around the borders of European airspace these have been conducted almost entirely by Tu-95MS and Tu-142M aircraft. Despite extensive modernisation these airframes are old and will be under the strain of long years in and out of mothballs. Rather than develop an entirely new aircraft, production has resumed on the Tu-160 with the first Tu-160M2 completed earlier this year, seemingly incorporating lessons learned from the Tu-22M3M.

The introduction of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal stand-off missile could diminish the need for large heavy bombers, being small enough for a single unit to be carried beneath a MiG-29 or Su-27 sized aircraft. As with the army, large aircraft are a symbol of national strength and a potent comparison to the United States Air Force, one of the few major air forces that still operate dedicated heavy bombers, and at a fraction of the cost of the B-21 Raider project.

The introduction of the Su-34 provided Russia with a new generation fighter-bomber, much as the introduction of the Su-35S raised the hopes of the Air Force with a new generation of fighter aircraft. Issues with manufacturing lead to production of only 109 Su-34 and 71 Su-35S airframes. With the Russian economy in a weaker position that it was in 2012, it appears likely that the much celebrated Su-57 will see even fewer units enter service, again only with highly publicised elite units.

Although the MiG-35 is no real competitor to the F-35 B and C variants entering naval service it serves the double purpose of replacing the problematic Su-33 in carrier service and also providing the Mikoyan-Gurevich division of UAC with a real project to engage with, furthering the perception of an actual united aircraft corporation as opposed to just Sukhoi taking over the competition. The Russian UAV industry appears to have made considerable strides in recent years, experience in Syria proving the need for UCAVs in asymmetrical warfare both as reconnaissance and strike units. The Mikoyan-Gurevich ‘Skat’ project has recently been taken over by Sukhoi, and is believed to be heading in the direction of a stealthy Suppression of Enemy Air Defences UCAV, clearing the way for manned fighter-bombers. A stealthy aircraft could replace the reliance on long range stand-off missiles for a swarm of smaller missiles launched at closer range, giving the opponent less time to react.

Putting all the changes to its armed forces together with the actions of its intelligence services a picture begins to emerge. When on the attack, the new units appear to prioritise a ‘Shock and Awe’ approach, followed by a second wave of lower cost area denial units to prevent a counter-offensive by Western powers. By co-ordinating this strategy with support for anti-establishment politics in western democracies (Trump, Five Star) resulting in a dumbing down of strategy to sound-bites, western policy ends up fixated on memories of failures in Iraq and Libya.

Anti-establishment politicians spurn established alliances and Realpolitik, and either respect the strong-arm tactics of the Russian state or have spent so long opposing their own countries foreign and military policies that the combination of military deterrent and ideological barriers prevent western powers from forming an effective unified counter-strategy, as has been the case in Syria and Ukraine. This approach is compatible with smaller numbers of units equipped with better equipment acting as a force multiplier for a larger army equipped with ‘good enough’ equipment.

This entire strategy indicates a move away from the Soviet model of trying to emulate the global reach of the USA whilst simultaneously maintaining dominance over its own sphere of influence. Simple geography has meant that America has needed to focus less on domestic defence, allowing it to focus on its power projection assets. The new Russia sees itself as needing to reassert itself locally, allowing the fear of Russia, and a system of expanded alliances with Syria, Iran and India to extend its reach further when needed. Not only does this show to the domestic audience that Russia cannot be pushed around by external forces, but it shows foreign powers that Russia regards the ‘Near Abroad’ as its exclusive buffer zone once again.

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David Steeper

Russia is certainly a threat but the article was well thought out. To probably oversimplify i’d compare the USSR and Russia with Hitler and Mussolini. The USSR was an existential threat. Russia is only a threat if we dismiss it. The prime state to deter Russia is the EU when you compare there respective GDP and populations it should be a ridiculously simple task. Whether the EU for once acts is down to them and them alone. If they choose not to we should accept their choice and leave them to it. We cannot/should not defend others who refuse to… Read more »


Germany’s heavy dependence on Russian energy must sit uncomfortably with other Nato members? Russia has the right to defend itself, and with US foreign policy now so fluid; they may be right to ensure the right level of military growth?

For the UK, a strong Russian military maintains a watchful level of MOD spending, if not muddled in parts? An erratic US foreign policy does no one any favours, but the recent Trump / Putin summit did open some possibilities for a less harmful relationship.


In answer to you last sentence… no it didn’t! Putin is only interested in winning and securing his place in history. Nothing else counts to him.


I simply can’t necessarily accept your view. Yes, Putin has an agenda and we do not know what his ultimate goal is? That said, I do feel he is capable of opening his mind to a better relationship with the West, if it, is willing to investigate the possibilities?


eeer no ,putin is responsible for a chemical attack on uk soil ,and all the rest of all the bad things hes done just because his regime is bitter with the west success and his nations poor living standards and flat lined economy. This Russian regime blames the west for its own F##k ups and they killed because of it , they need to be taken out.


I have told you his ultimate goal. To break it down more: unite East Slavic peoples and native Russian speakers; recapture when possible parts of the former USSR; expand Russian influence throughout the world, including the Arctic and space; to stand up to and defeat the West in every little way possible and make fun of them while doing it; and from doing all the former, to secure his place in history.


yep I here you but they will fail because they will run out of money like last time ,but then again that makes them dangerouse because the clock is ticking before Russia degrades even more . Putin is going for the artic as his last chance ,his just moved all his artic upgraded old T80 tanks there.

Daniele Mandelli

T80 Tanks in the Arctic? Where? The Kola Peninsula bordering Norway?

Daniele Mandelli

Would be fun to see him move his Tanks anywhere else in the Arctic considering there’s water underneath ?


People in Russia are not living a great life. There are major infrastructure issues, major problems with poverty, jobs, corruption, freedom and many other things. Putin can only survive this by distracting the population with stories of an evil west that is causing all these issues for Russia. He is not interested in peace, although I am not sure he is interested in hot war either. It is in his interests to generate a cold war so that all Russians can rally behind him against a common enemy and so ignore all the problems he is causing for them. I… Read more »


Very true best comment on here


Yes, they will fail in the long run, but they may have minor (maybe even major) successes along the way. They will bankrupt themselves trying.

Cold War league: The West 2 – 0 Russia/Soviet Union

Nigel Collins

Putin is scared of China.

Siberia and the Russian Far East are sparsely populated and China borders the area. He’s so scared that he’s offering all Russians, i.e. from all over the country, free land to go to those areas to populate them… before the Chinese inevitably do!

Hence he keeps China on his side as an ally. But China is already way more powerful than Russia in all ways except for nuclear missile count. The day will come when China moves in.


China has already populated a lot of Siberia border lands. China sees these lands as theirs much like they See Taiwan and the South China Sea as theirs.


What scares me is not Putin Russia but what would happen if they reached financial break point due to international pressures. At the end of the war there was a coup, which ended fairly peacefully but what happens if this time around it tears the country apart and results in a civil war and all that gear ending up on the black market including the nukes, scary stuff.


The stuff is already not that secure. A missile was stolen a year or so ago. Basically the Russian mafia are already in control of large amounts of dangerous weaponry.

Also financial break point is not purely down to international pressures. The fact they are spending so much on their military is a major problem. Also corruption is another major factor.

David Steeper

Ok a quick word of advice for any of our friends from St. Petersburg who might be passing. Your very easy to spot and for a very simple reason. No-one in the UK thinks of your Pres as a good guy. Everyone I know who is aware of his existence thinks he’s basically a homosexual who is overcompensating by trying to prove how macho he is. Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine, Syria etc etc. I’m not even going to get started about how much he loves seeing all those huge missiles trundling along at his parades. So how do you proceed. It’s… Read more »


“Anti-establishment politicians spurn established alliances and Realpolitik, and either respect the strong-arm tactics of the Russian state or have spent so long opposing their own countries foreign and military policies that the combination of military deterrent and ideological barriers prevent western powers from forming an effective unified counter-strategy, as has been the case in Syria and Ukraine” Should that not be a counter counter strategy? as far as i, and many others can see, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria was the “counter strategy” to western aggression. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded to the actual facts. It was clear… Read more »


Still pretending to be a UK national with pro kremlins views soleski , you only come on here when russia is mentioned like when you tried to defend russia from them shooting down MH17 lol!!!
Russia lost respect from the west when invaded the ukraine and used chemical weapons on UK soil . Go back to your RT chat forum with all the other ruskys.


And Russia cant claim its a great power just a mafia state whos economy is smaller than italys ,ranked 12th in the world,and only bargaining chip is its many nukes left over from the cold war.

Daniele Mandelli

dave12 I don’t mean to become a target of your ire but I agree with most of what Sole has written. Does that make ME Russian? No. I think in politics and international relations its wise to look at things from the others perspective, to understand a potential enemies mindset. And just so you know, before I’m shot down like Sole is for having a differing opinion. I’m a patriotic Brit, vocally and proudly pro Brexit, actively campaigned for it, and support NATO, the Anglosphere, our US cousins, and the UK being a proud important member of the worlds nations… Read more »


“I think in politics and international relations its wise to look at things from the others perspective, to understand a potential enemies mindset.”

Be careful with all that common sense Daniele peoples heads might explode!


You clearly don’t come on here often then, I have had debates about all sorts of subjects on here for a while now, and it seems you are the only one trolling me under comments I make. And you seem to be only commenting on the Russia articles, you’re hardly filling these pages with expert opinion are you? Calling anyone who does not agree with you “Russian” “in the Kremlin” and “RT chat forum” which you constantly do, without actually engaging in what I said makes you look stupid and incapable of any serious debate on the issue. You’re comments… Read more »


Sorry solski free time is short and all and yes I do comment on other topics other than ranting at Russians like yourself .
The fact is Russians paid or not too comment on these sites tend to lack reality like yourself and cant be taken seriously. keep wearing that putin tin foil hat lol!!!

Keep the Novichoks conspiracy theories coming, its comedy.

Daniele Mandelli

Afternoon Sole

“Either Trump needs to stick to his principles and stop the hostility, go against the US military industrial complex and entire deep state, or Europe needs to break with Washington for European policy. They are the only two ways a better relationship and outcome can come from this.”

Hmmm. I cannot see either happening, certainly the first.


Afternoon mate No me neither really, although I think the second one is more likely given the EU (without us) and the US are drifting further and further apart on policy. I think after we leave it will only grow wider apart. I found it fascinating the hostility Trump received after his meeting with Putin, his support base are at total odds with the mainstream media and the US political establishment, most of his core support back healing wounds with Russia, when he said he wanted to be friends with Putin during the election the cheer and reception he got… Read more »


No soleski ,Trump is not a great example of a US leader and looks like he is Russias only supporter .
US congress on the other hand is still in good form and saw sense in dishing out more sanctions on Russia and going by recent news on trumps ex lawyers more sanctions will come from a Republican!!!! controlled senate.


Though I wish for better relations with Russia and it is one of the things that I know Trump wants. The office of the President can only do so much. The leaders of the American Left (such as it is) saw Russia as someone to blame their failures on. So they want to put the screws to them whenever they can. While half the leaders of the American right are so wedded to the idea of NATO that anything not a member is seen as a threat. Which is rather stupid considering when polled more Americans identify China as a… Read more »


Yeah I agree Elliott, also Sergei Skripal was working with Orbis intelligence, which was ran by Christopher Steele who produced the Trump Dossier for the democrats, It’s all connected, so it’s either the Russians attempted the worst assassination attempt in espionage history, or the anti-Trump establishment was covering their tracks on the Trump dossier, and then made it look like the Russians for good measure. While I may agree and disagree with some of Trumps politics, I actually feel sorry for him, he is being slowly devoured by the US establishment just for being anti establishment, I’m actually rooting for… Read more »


I live in Russia, have done for many years, and know the mentality here inside out. Putin is a little man with the biggest inferiority complex in the world. He saw his beloved USSR collapse before his eyes and lose the Cold War. He can’t get over the fact and it eats at him every single day. He will do everything to reverse the situation. He is 100% responsible for the Salisbury attack. The fact that it didn’t achieve it’s goal shows you the incompetence of the Russians. Russia is a mess! Low life expectancy, poor infrastructure and people who… Read more »


You have said you live in Russia a couple of times now, then proceeded to use that as way of confirming your “100%” accusation.

If you do indeed live in Russia, and like you say it is a complete mess, why on earth do you live there?


I say that because I know the mentality very well. Of course, there is always the chance of being wrong with anything. But I still say i’m right.

As to the second question, it’s a long story. But I am leaving.


Well that’s a risky game you’re playing there mate, criticising the state deep behind enemy lines, deep in the bears den. You better clear your hardrive when you’re leaving and don’t tell anyone your train time. Otherwise the KGB will onto you and you might cop for a dose of uncle vlads special sauce. And wherever you live in Russia that is not a representation of the whole of Russia, certainly not from what I’ve seen, I’ve been to St Petersburg and Moscow on long weekends with my girlfriend and Moscow again with friends, they’re amazing places with a buzzing… Read more »


You have it the wrong way around; it is Moscow and St Petersburg that are not representative of the rest of Russia. All the money is spent there, and sod everywhere else pretty much. And only spending weekends in the city centre of the country’s biggest cities gives a person no true insight into Russia as a whole or the mindset. It is being nothing more than a tourist.

The KGB doesn’t exist anymore.

Daniele Mandelli

Yes much of it is just propaganda to suit a narrative. All countries have good and bad, rich and poor. Russia has a horrendous drink problem with people so desperate for Vodka they drink all sorts of crap in its stead. Meanwhile, we have an obesity problem. It’s all swings and roundabouts. Have not been to Moscow myself but loved St Petersburg. Yes many of the pundits on ITV and BBC were amazed at the atmosphere and friendliness at the stadiums. They had probably expected thousands of hooded hooligans, dreary depressed people and intimidating police. Of course Russia has all… Read more »


Antidote So it’s a bit like most western countries then? You think London represents the whole of the U.K… A seaside town with massive drug and unemployment problems, people lying on the streets in the town centre off their heads on spice, is not representative of central London is it. What you’re doing is like saying that seaside town is the whole of the U.K. Every country has its problems mate. Russia certainly does, big problems as well, but so does every other country. Daniele St Petersburg is a beautiful city I wish I had more time there, there is… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

As an avid reader and researcher of the Great Patriotic War I just had to see the furthest point the Germans reached outside Leningrad. There is an Anti Tank Gun there marking the spot. Saw the palaces, Hermitage obviously, and the Amber Room, also of WW2 fame, though found that disappointing.


Fascinating Daniele.

Would like to see the amber room, would much prefer to see the original ?

Daniele Mandelli

Yes who knows where that went.

On the Wilhelm Gustav or burned in Konigsburg, who knows.


The Moscow region is full of hooligans and neo-nazi types. They were obviously told to stay away from the World Cup or else. And being the subservients they are, they did. You only have to look at the life expectancy in Russia to understand the life here. Getting better, maybe, but a long long way from Western countries. Russia doesn’t care about its people, only about the end result and the image. Everything is about image, hence they spend money in the two biggest cities where foreigners are likely to visit. People do not talk about politics because they are… Read more »

Anthony D

Georgia, crimera, Ukraine, cyber attack, airspace probing, chemical and radiological asassinations. This is a pattern of hostile and irresponsible behaviour by or allowed by the state. It cannot be defended or denied.

Daniele Mandelli

No, course not. As long as you also realise the west often does the same in their eyes. Georgia. Crimea. Ukraine =Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria and everywhere in between. Cyber Attack. Do you REALLY think we don’t do the same back? Rightly too. GCHQ are world leaders and probably developed much of it. Airspace Probing. I love it when people moan about this. The press and some here have a fit when ancient Bear bombers fly around the periphery of the UKADR. Have they ever flown DIRECTLY over British Soil? Have a read about Gary Powers. SAC and RAF flights right… Read more »

Anthony D

I think we have to be careful about how far we go back. The cold war is over but may be culturally relevant. They do not explain the present day actions of the state. I don’t think you cant compare Afghanistan with the examples I gave, it was a failed state that we didn’t invade. Iraq was unjustified and is a fair cop. It’s more about motives. Putin wants to destabilise and fragment the international rules based system to further his interests, largely prestige, rather than for the benefit of his people. He could have chosen to be a strategic… Read more »


Having looked through the thread it seems that we are all in agreement:

– Russia will lose Cold War 2.
– Putin is to blame for the Salisbury incident.
– Putin will bankrupt his country trying to win at all costs, even though his people are already. living much poorer lives than in the West.
– Putin will be beaten by the West.
– Putin deserves to have Novichok put on his door handle.

Good stuff. We’re all in agreement.

God save the Queen.