Russian Air Assault Units to Expand into the Caucasus and Central Asia

Source: Ria Novosti

Russian military bases in Central Asia and the Caucasus are to be considerably strengthened. They might be reinforced by units of the national Airborne Force to increase mobility and combat efficiency, said the force’s commander, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov.

First of all, judging by the experience of the Airborne Force’s peacekeeping operations, forward bases are required in order to successfully accomplish the objectives set by Russia’s leaders, General Shamanov believes. He added that such bases would make it possible to expand operations in specific sectors. Another factor is the international commitments of Russia and the CIS countries within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The CSTO’s Collective Rapid Reaction Force comprises Russia’s 98th Guards Airborne Division and the 31st Detached Guards Air Assault Brigade. Russian paratroopers were deployed at an air base in Kyrgyzstan and at other local Russian military installations during the unrest in the country in 2009. The re-deployment of airborne units to Tajikistan was enacted during a strategic military exercise in 2011. In 2012, the Airborne Force is planning exercises at the 102nd military base in Armenia, which will involve elements of the above-mentioned Collective Rapid Reaction Force. But it is unclear whether airborne units will remain there on a permanent basis.

General Shamanov also proposes subordinating helicopter units to airborne formations. Such units, providing air assault strike capabilities, might also be deployed at Russian military bases abroad.

Shamanov said last February that Russia’s military-political leaders had already decided to deploy a helicopter regiment near Novorossiisk in southern Russia. Shamanov justified this decision by the fact that the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was becoming increasing complex, and that Russian-Georgian relations were continuing to deteriorate. Consequently, airborne units needed to become more mobile.

The regiment, to comprise 60 military transport and attack helicopters, should support the Seventh Air Assault Division, which was successfully deployed during the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. At that time, it took ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet several days to re-deploy to the conflict zone near the Georgian-Abkhazian border. The helicopter regiment can do the same in the space of a few hours.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry has protested the deployment of a helicopter regiment in Novorossiisk, saying Russia looks like it is preparing for new hostilities. Tbilisi is also worried by the upcoming Caucasus-2012 military exercise, which would reportedly involve Russian personnel from military bases in the Caucasus. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that there were no plans to involve the personnel of Russian military bases abroad or foreign armed forces.

A Russian military analyst said a possible decision to deploy air assault units and helicopters at Russian military bases in the Caucasus had only positive aspects. He added that a recent Georgian-U.S. exercise had involved counter-insurgency operations which served to remind people of Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers in August 2008.

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