Rondeli Russian Military Digest

Rondeli Russian Military Digest: Issue 40, 18 May - 24 May 2020

Author: David Batashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation

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.

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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 military serviceman was killed and 11 were wounded by the Russian hybrid forces on the Donbass frontline during the week of 18-24 May 2020. Shooting on the frontline occurred every day of the week.

Russia in Africa – In Libya, Russian-backed forces of the rebel leader Halifa Khaftar suffered a string of defeats in the region around capital Tripoli. This outcome was not prevented by the presence of Moscow’s Wagner mercenaries on the frontline. The Wagner members were forced to retreat, with their former positions and some of their belongings falling into the hands of the Libyan government fighters. The latter also reportedly discovered a dead body of a Russian mercenary. Meanwhile, nine Russian-produced Pantsir-S1 medium-range surface-to-air missile systems, operating on the side of Haftar’s forces, were destroyed or damaged on 17, 18 and 20 May. At least some, if not all of them, were hit by the Turkish drones. Some sources claim that the number of Pantsirs destroyed by the Turkish drones is even greater. Several Pantsirs were captured by the government forces. While the Pantsirs in Libya are usually reported to be supplied to Haftar by the United Arab Emirates, which acquired them from Russia in the past, there are indications that some of the Pantsirs could have come to Libya directly from Russia.

Government fighters display Wagner members’ belongings from one of their captured bases

Turkish Anadolu news agency’s (Russian-language edition) map of the nine Pantsirs destroyed or damaged in Libya between 17-20 May 2020

Libyans parade the captured Pantsir-S1 on the streets of Tripoli on 18 May 2020

Russia in Africa – According to the Libyan government, Russia has sent at least six MiG-29 fighters and two Su-24 attack aircraft to Haftar’s forces, following the latter’s defeats in western Libya. The aircraft arrived from Russia’s Khmeimim air base in Syria. It was previously reported by some sources that on 12-15 May 2020, six MiG-29 fighters had been transferred to the Khmeimim air base from the Privolzhskiy air base in Russia’s Astrakhan Oblast.

NATO official said that the alliance’s “jets intercepted Russian planes flying close to NATO airspace nearly 300 times in 2019.” The incidents of this kind keep occurring in 2020. In one of the latest, on 19 May, “five NATO jets from… BulgariaRomania, and Turkey were scrambled to respond to two Russian Tu-22 strategic bombers and two Su-27 fighter jets who approached the three countries’ shared airspace in a western part of the Black Sea.”

The Black Sea Fleet’s Admiral Grigorovich / Project 11356P/M class guided missile frigate Admiral Grigorovich moved to the Indian Ocean from the Mediterranian Sea, through the Suez Canal. Russians report that the frigate is now on a long-range voyage.

The Northern Fleet’s Project 22010 Kruys class special purpose intelligence collection ship Yantar has been undergoing repairs in Kaliningrad since early April 2020. The ship is planned to get operational again by the end of June. In the fall of 2019 Yantar reportedly operated in the Caribbean Sea, near Trinidad and Tobago. As we reported in the previous issues of this digest, in December 2019 it entered the Pacific Ocean after passing through the Panama Canal, and by late January 2020 it was operating near Russia’s Bellingshausen Station, on the King George Island in Antarctica.


Military Strategy

The U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien stated that “Russians have built huge amounts of missiles and weapons in Kaliningrad that are threatening all of our European allies and the Baltic states.” O’Brien added that “what the Russians are doing in the Kaliningrad region, is a dagger in the heart of Western Europe.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu identified the western strategic direction as the one that is “the most threatening for the military security of the Russian Federation.”


Rearmament and Modernization

Russian Defense Ministry plans to acquire at least two battalions of the S-350 surface-to-air missile systems a year during the period till 2027. The 24th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade (Abakan, Republic of Khakassia), and then the 388th Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiment (Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai) have been identified as the first future recipients of the S-350 systems. Both units belong to the 41st Air Defense Division (HQ in Novosibirsk) of the 14th Air and Air Defense Forces Army (HQ in Yekateringburg).

Artillery units of the 144th Mechanized Division (HQ in Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast), based in Bryansk Oblast near the border with Ukraine and Belarus, received a batch of ten Msta-SM2 self-propelled howitzers. While the units in question have not been officially identified, they could belong to the 144th Division’s 856th Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (Pochep, Bryansk Oblast).

The first batch of ten new Koalitsiya-SV self-propelled guns has reportedly been delivered to the units of the Western Military District.

Koalitsiya-SV self-propelled gun


Russians have put another military satellite in orbit, following a launch of the Soyuz-2.1b rocket from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, on 22 May.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on 19 May 2020 that Moscow had “scaled down its military drills amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Russia’s and the Assad regime’s military forces conducted a joint exercise at the naval base in Tartus, Syria.

Kavkaz-2020 is set to be the largest Russian military exercise in 2020. The exercise is planned for September, and will be held in the Caucasus region.


*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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